Air Tahiti Nui repas cuisine SMailion

Tahitian cuisine: best restaurants

The traditional Tahitian cuisine has evolved, like most cuisines in the world, over hundreds of years, with the seasons, taking into account local food supplies availability, plants edibility, and of course the bounty of the sea. Travel to French Polynesia with us to know all the best delicious tips for your trip in Tahiti ! 

The traditional Tahitian cuisine has evolved, like most cuisines in the world, over hundreds of years, with the seasons, taking into account local food supplies availability, plants edibility, and of course the bounty of the sea. Travel to French Polynesia with us to know all the best delicious tips for your trip in Tahiti ! 

An original preservation of food

Tahitian cuisine was original due to its staple foods. The ancient Polynesians were eating breadfruit tree (‘uru), rather than taro or ‘umara (sweet potato) preferred in the Western Pacific. Its originality also came from the food storage; no drying or salting as in Aotearoa, due to high humidity; no smoking system as in Hawaii, but “standing” conservation. In other words, products were constantly fresh through permanent crop rotations, but also constant farming and fish farms. Finally, fermentations in the 'uru' oven (preparation called mahi) made it possible to deal with hard times or to wait between two cycles.

Cooking stew-style : the traditional oven

You will probably have the chance to attend the preparation of a buried oven, the famous ahimā'a, or its opening. This cooking method gave birth to a much-awaited weekly meeting: the mā'a Tahiti.

Mā'a Tahiti is ‘the buried oven’ cooking method, where volcanic stones are heated. Once the right temperature is reached, the food (vegetables, tubers, fish, crustaceans, meats) is wrapped in leaves of different natures and flavors (bananas, noni), placed on the stones, and covered with other hot stones and sand. They are finally smothered for several hours. The opening of an ahimā'a is a feast. All the dishes are then laid out on large tables and shared between people during meals called tāmā'ara'a.

Many hotels and some restaurants in the archipelagos offer this activity at the end of the week. In the Marquesas it is called umu kaikai. Its name is umu 'ai in the Australs (the apostrophe before a vowel is pronounced like a "k").

menu a bord d'air tahiti nui

English influences

The British were the first Europeans to settle in the Polynesian islands. Their primary culinary influence is the famous “pie” - both a fruit tart and a meat pie - which the missionaries loved and which were adopted by the Tahitians. Some also say that the po'e has an English origin, especially with the mei'a (bananas), based on the famous pudding.

Air Tahiti Nui repas cuisine SMailion

French influences

From 1842 and the Protectorate imposed by France on Queen Pomare IV, the French settled more and more in Tahiti than in the other islands. The influence of French products and cuisine, based on locally processed foods, has created a more refined cuisine, with local products often valued.

Air Tahiti Nui repas cuisine Ju-J

Chinese influences

In 1865, 300 Chinese from southern China arrived in Tahiti to work in the Atimaono sugar cane plantation in Papara. When the plantation went bankrupt, some preferred to stay in Tahiti. Rapidly their community had grown with new members over the years. They have established themselves sustainably. Producing one of the best cuisines in the world, the Chinese culinary culture majorly contributed to the local gastronomy (spices, cooking). It is now complemented by other influences from Southeast Asia such as Viet Nam and Thailand amongst others. This is why chao men, nems, bouchons, phô, taro, and crab fritter are now part of the traditional diet.

Une cuisine plus recherchée, avec les aliments locaux souvent valorisés et transformés.
Air Tahiti Nui repas cuisine SMailion

 American influences 

In 1942, an American base was created in Bora Bora when the general staff feared an invasion of French Polynesia by the Imperial Japanese Army. The GIs were fed by entire boatloads of corned beef (locally called punu pua’a atoro) and coke. The inhabitants of the Raromatai (the Polynesian name for the archipelago of the Leeward Islands) took advantage of these commodities and became very fond of them even before this food arrived in Tahiti and Moorea. For several years, burgers and pizza have been the undisputed king and queen of Tahitian tables, from trailers to restaurants.

Tahitian cooking today 

Mā’a Tahiti is a must-try during your trip in French Polynesia. You will enjoy a large variety of fish, marinated raw fish with coconut milk. The chicken fāfā (young leaf of the taro, also called “Polynesian spinach”), the pua’a (pork roast) with cabbage, and lagoon fishes cooked in leaves within the sand to maintain heat. The steaming process releases the flavors. You will also have the chance to taste tubers (taro, ‘umara, sweet potato, ufi - yam, cassava…) in various cooking methods and other vegetables (fē’ī - plantain, sometimes māpe, the Polynesian chestnut, often sold in small packets at traffic lights). At the end of your meal, the traditional poe will lull you into a well-deserved nap in the shade of an Autera’a tree (Badamier).

The taste of French Polynesia

Do you want to know our best travel tips ?  If you have the opportunity, you should try :

  • Kaveu, the coconut crab, prepared by some restaurants
  • Varo, or “Mantis shrimp” (fishing is prohibited from the end of October to February), is known to be even more delicate than lobster. Other crustaceans (shrimp, slipper lobster) are excellent.
  • Ma’a tinito is a dish derived from Asian, Polynesian, and French cuisine, according to a recipe invented in the 1930s.
  • Uru punu pua’a atoro, 'uru baked with pan-roasted corned beef and fried onions.
  • Vana (local sea urchin tongues), garnished with lemon juice from the Marquesas Islands. You can eat it directly on the beach.
  • Remu vine, seaweed nicknamed “Austral caviar” whose texture resembles lemon caviar and whose salty flavor is reminiscent of the South Seas.
Air Tahiti Nui repas cuisine SMailion

The traditional Ma’a Tahiti

People will probably suggest you have a try on a Sunday of mā’a Tahiti - accompanied by a big smile that will inevitably end in a burst of laughter - the fāfaru. A specialty of our islands is fresh fish or shellfish immersed for a precise time (from a few minutes to several hours) in a brine made up of seawater and fermented chevrettes (freshwater prawns). The initial smell is not very pleasant, and the taste is uncanny. You either love or hate it, such as Maroilles cheese, spicy chili, or sour Chinese candy... It is an experience that will make you laugh or not… 

With our partner Tama'a magazine, we offer you this selection of restaurants highlighting local products with taste and originality.

Best restaurants in Papeete


Heiarii Hoiore, a native of Raiatea, and his companion Heimataiki Contios run this gourmet beachfront restaurant in Papeete by the Pearl Museum. An inventive market cuisine composed of fresh/ local products and magnified by fine products from abroad. A special tasting menu is offered every day. It is one of the 4 best addresses on the island.

Maru Maru

Originally Chef Teao Maiarii wasn’t intended to be a cook. During his studies in France, he changed course to the delight of your taste buds. His restaurant - hosted in the shade of a beautiful marumaru tree - celebrates the local products he knows better than anyone. His restaurant is undoubtedly one of the 4 best places to eat in Tahiti.


You must climb to the heights of Papeete - at the Pic rouge - to taste the cuisine of Chef Fabrice Metais. This Tahitian chef loves turning the recipes of the most traditional dishes into a disconcerting but always gourmet creation. One of the 4 best addresses on the island.

Best restaurants in Punaauia

Le Lotus – Intercontinental Tahiti

Famous restaurant of the Intercontinental Tahiti Hotel, especially for its two rotundas overlooking the lagoon.
The Lotus has distinguished itself locally by its fine authentic, and local cuisine. Under the leadership of chef Franck David and advised by the two Michelin-star chefs Bruno Oger, this is one of the best restaurants on the island.

Best restaurants in Papara

Snack roulotte O Tumu Māpe

Food trucks like this are uncommon in Tahiti: say goodbye to the junk food far too represented in our local snacks and food trucks. O Tumu Māpe is a food truck that has an exceptional cooking style, using products from the fa'a'apu (vegetable garden), the mountain, and the lagoon, making their guests feel at home. It is an ideal stop during your tour of the island.

Best restaurants in Taravao (Peninsula)

Le Manoa

Here is a joyful and gourmet address in Taravao. The dishes are hearty, with a strong presence of seafood. Remember to book before coming, especially if you travel during the hot season. Thus you will be able to enjoy the air-conditioned room.

Best restaurants in Vairao (Maui Beach)

Famous stopover of the liner France. It is a beachfront snack-style restaurant located a few kilometers before the mythical wave of Teahupo'o. Here, you can taste giant clam (tridacna), goat curry or shrimp, and various dishes to share that celebrate the different archipelagos' culinary cultures.