Fiji’s Toberua Island Resort head chef Malakai Lutumailagi is responsible for the extensive, ever-changing menu of this island paradise off the coast of Suva.
Fiji’s Toberua Island Resort head chef Malakai Lutumailagi is responsible for the extensive, ever-changing menu of this island paradise off the coast of Suva. Shirley Sinclair

Island secrets tantalise tastebuds

IF you closed your eyes, you would swear the more-ish entree before you was a spicy take on pumpkin soup.

But this creamy, smooth specialty of Malakai Lutumailagi - head chef at Fiji's Toberua Island Resort - contains no pumpkin.

In fact, the main ingredient is a fruit.

The dish is resort manager Shelley White's favourite on the extensive, ever-changing menu of this island paradise off the coast of Suva.

And it soon becomes a popular choice for those in the know.

Red papaya soup epitomises all this is simple and healthy about Fijian cooking and is lovingly prepared in Malakai's kitchen from the fresh produce available locally.

The big Fijian has spent nearly half of his 43 years on Toberua after having grown up across the other side of the main island of Viti Levu on Malola Island.

He arrived at the resort 20 years ago after training at cooking school in Suva for three years and doing work experience in Australia at the Hunter Valley's Casuarina Estate Winery in Pokolbin and New Zealand's Huka Lodge in Taupo.

Twice a week now, he travels to the nearby Nausori village markets - 20 minutes by boat and another 20 minutes by car - to buy fruit and vegetables for the three- and four-course menus he prepares for guests for lunch and dinner plus the breakfast buffets. He stocks up on pumpkin, carrots, lettuce, spinach, taro, onions, kumera, potatoes and other root vegetable, fruits including pineapples, watermelons, papaya, bananas, and coconuts as well as seasonal produce such as mangoes.

Malakai lives in Nausori but due to his 12-day roster, he only manages to stay there with his family for his three days off.

And like any chef, he works long hours in the kitchen - starting at 8am and menu planning, preparing food, cooking and supervising through until 3, before hitting the water in his boat for a spot of fishing in the waters off the resort, before returning to the pots and pans from six until about 9 or 11 o'clock, depending on resort guest numbers.

While visitors always enjoy the spectacle and tasty offerings from the lovo feast - with meats and vegetables slow-cooked underground in coconut leaves - Malakai's own favourite dish is fresh rock cod, pan-fried, with a simple accompaniment of vegetables. And of course, nothing tastes better than the fish you've caught yourself.

Here's a couple of Malakai's recipes to try at home.

KOKODA (pronounced ko-kon-da)


  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 300g cubed fish
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • 1 tbl chopped coriander
  • 1 medium chili
  • 1 grated onion
  • salt and pepper to taste


Marinate cubed fish in lemon juice overnight or within five to six hours. Squeeze off the lemon juice once the fish is done and leave aside. Mix other ingredients together with fish and adjust seasoning.



  • 1 medium papaya blended
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • 1 clove chopped garlic
  • 1 medium chilli if desired
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Saute onion, garlic, ginger and chilli without browning. Add papaya and coconut cream, seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot.


  • 250g tuna fillet
  • 1 cup curry potato mash (mashed potato with curry powder)
  • salt and pepper to taste



  • ½ cup diced papaya
  • 1 tbsp coriander leaves
  • 1 tbsp mint leaves
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp olive oil



Season tuna, fry - not overdone but still pink inside - and set aside. Mix all the ingredients for papaya salsa and set aside. Heat the potato mash, place in the middle of the plate, place tuna on top and the papaya salsa over the top to finish.

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