Whether you’re after beautiful, fresh organic produce, a cheap feed, some fresh seafood or you simply want to immerse yourself in the vibrant community atmosphere, Vanuatu fruit and vegetable markets are definitely worth the effort to visit.
They’re also generally way cheaper than the supermarkets so it’s also a win-win for your wallet as well!
The biggest outdoor Vanuatu food markets are based in Port Vila on Efate Island and Luganville on Espiritu Santo Island. They run 7 days a week, from early in the morning to late at night (except for Sunday nights), however just about every island has a central market as well as smaller roadside or village stalls selling a variety of seasonal produce.
Our 12 “Must Have” tips are the ultimate local’s guide to navigating these Vanuatu food markets – they will not only save you heaps of time, money and effort but also ensure you have a culinary adventure in paradise!
TIP 1 – MONEY
Make sure to take lots of small notes and coins as most of the Vanuatu food market holders do not have much change (they will simply shake their heads and say “no-got”).
All the produce is usually cleared marked (per piece or per bundle) – do not try to barter with them on the price (this is not Asia), just pay the asking price or walk away if you’re not happy. And don’t try to make them break up their bundles or baskets of fruits/veges into smaller parcels – they will just look at you blankly and shake their heads.
TIP 2 – CARRY BAGS
Always bring a couple of large carry bags with you (or buy some hand-made woven baskets/bags) to put your fruit and veges in – Vanuatu is working hard to get rid of plastic bags and you can help by encouraging the stallholders to stop handing them out! In saying that, you’ll find that many of the larger root veges already come bundled up in woven baskets made from local palm leaves (you get to keep these as part of the purchase!).
TIP 3 – BRING A LOCAL WITH YOU (OR ASK LOCALS FOR ADVICE/HELP AT THE MARKET ITSELF)
Why? Because there are so many strange and exotic tropical fruits and vegetables at the Vanuatu food markets (not to mention other odd items) that you are potentially missing out on the culinary experience of a lifetime if you don’t find out what they are called, what they taste like or how to cook them.
For example, the naus fruit (a cross between an apple, a pineapple and ginger root) is a taste sensation & worth trying grated in salads and curries. So get out of your comfort zone and cook/eat something different! Check out our blog here for more information on Vanuatu’s weird and wonderful fruits.
One other point to note – by bringing a friend or talking to a local shopper, you get to interact with the stallholders and find out their background stories (after all many are from remote rural villages). For more info on Vanuatu food markets click here .
TIP 4 – GO EARLY IF POSSIBLE
All the good stuff disappears by around lunchtime, so if you want the best choice, shop in the morning instead of the afternoon. The other point being, everything is seasonal, so if there are some odd bags of say, tomatoes or pineapples lying around slightly out of season, they will be snapped up first! Finally, keep in mind that all the stall holders you see at the markets (and they are mostly “Mamas”) work very long hours – they actually sleep under their market tables (sometimes for days), until they have sold all their produce – by going in early you have a better chance of interacting with them while they relaxed and happy from a good night’s sleep!
Tip 5 – GO ON AN EMPTY STOMACH Vanuatu Food Markets
In the bigger markets, there are often stalls selling Vanuatu’s version of takeaway fast food – plates of fried local fish, parcels of lap lap and tuluk (vegetable cakes/rolls made from manioc, sweet potato or yam mixed with coconut milk, cabbage and either chicken/beef/pork and wrapped in banana leaves). It’s all freshly made, safe to eat and cheap as chips (around $2.50 AUD per plate). Best of all you can wash it down with pure, refreshing coconut water (straight from the coconut of course!). If you’re after a larger, sit down meal, look no further than the nearby Mama-run food kitchens – they whip up huge plates of rice, meat, fish and vegetables to order for around $4-6 AUD. It’s probably the best value meal on the whole of the islands. Grab a stool, sip on a freshly squeezed lime juice (or buy a cold beer from a nearby shop) and strike up a conversation with a local. You never know where it could lead.
TIP 6 – LOAD UP ON HEALTHY LOCAL SNACKS
In addition to the fruits and vegetables, you will often find some great local snacks at the market. Look out for bags of crispy, fried chips made from plantain bananas, manioc or sweet potato, bundles of fresh roasted peanuts still in their shell, long sticks of tasty, pierced nangai nuts, cut nuts (navel nuts) and natapoa nuts (Vanuatu almonds), bags of dried fruits and of course fresh coconuts (both to eat and to drink).
TIP 7 – LOOK AROUND AND TAKE YOUR TIME
Although the prices won’t vary by much from stall to stall, the quality will, so take the time to look around and find the best produce. You’ll also start to notice subtle differences in the variety of fruit and veges on offer – for example, did you know there are 17 different types of banana in Vanuatu, not to mention dozens of different types of yam, sweet potato, taro and breadfruit? And the same goes for the leafy vegetables – in addition to the array of Asian greens – bok choys – there are also island cabbage leaves of various varieties as well as the soft tender shoots of ferns. Again, live a little, get out of your comfort zone and try something new! Click here for more information on Vanuatu’s amazing varieties of fruits and vegetables.
TIP 8 – SCORE SOME FRESH SEAFOOD
At the front of both the Port Vila and Luganville Vanuatu food markets are seafood vendors selling a variety of fresh seafood (usually caught that day) from eskys/chilly bins filled with ice. Deep water snapper (poulet), mackerel, tuna, reef fish, even lobsters and crabs can all be found here on a daily basis for a very reasonable price. Avoid reef fish (they sometimes contain ciguatera toxin) and always check to make sure the fish is fresh.
TIP 9 – DIG AROUND FOR SPICES & HERBS vanuatu food markets
Sadly, there’s not much variety in Vanuatu food markets when it comes to locally grown spices and herbs (the exception being Port Vila), so you really have to make the effort to dig around to find them. Fresh and pickled chillies, knobs of ginger, fresh peppercorns, the occasional bulb of garlic, shallots, peppery watercress. vanilla beans and the odd bunches of mint, parsley and coriander can be unearthed if you’re lucky. The rest you will need to go to a supermarket for.
TIP 10 – GO THE JUICY FRUITS vanuatu food markets
There’s always some type of citrus fruit on offer at the Vanuatu food markets, and it’s all amazingly sweet and juicy! Grab a few dozen (they are almost always individually priced) and use them not only for healthy snacks but also for refreshing juices, cocktails, marinades and salad dressings! We recommend the small intense limes, the pink pamplemousse (grapefruit) and the pomelos (giant grapefruit). Or try the passionfruit, mango, pineapple, papaya and watermelon – they all make great fruit snacks as well as amazing drinks and smoothies. Click here for a link to a great blog on Port Vila food markets.
TIP 11 – WASH YOUR VEGES & FRUIT WHEN YOU GET HOME
Just because the vegetables in the Vanuatu food markets are naturally grown and haven’t been sprayed with pesticides doesn’t mean they’re clean or devoid of bugs, parasites, bacteria etc. Always wash them thoroughly in clean water (add a little vinegar if you are paranoid) to get all the dirt and other critters off! Better to be safe than sorry.
Tip 12 – WHAT YOU SEE IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT YOU GET
Some fruits and vegetables in the Vanuatu food markets look the same as the stuff we have in the supermarkets back home but they aren’t. For example, the corn grown in Vanuatu is not sweet corn but maize, and can be dry and starchy. Some of the bananas are not sweet but savoury, the avocados look huge but have big stones inside them, the mangoes can be stringy or delicious depending on the type and variety chosen (the list goes on but you get the drift). If in doubt ask a local shopper for advice.
*Note: Main Photo courtesy of Vanuatu Daily Post