Food Tours and Activities in Tonga
Food might be one of life’s simple pleasures but it means much more than that in the Tongan culture. Tonga is a nation of grand feasts, traditional cooking methods such as using an underground oven known as an “umu”, larger-than-life portions, and has its own selection of local dishes to try. Experience the tropical produce grown on the islands, catch some seafood for yourself, learn how to prepare traditional Tongan food, and much more, as we explain in this list of foodie experiences in Tonga.
1. Experience an Umu and Tongan Floor Show
Watch Tongan men perform a warrior’s dance or women gracefully use their hands to tell a story; just a small part of a Tongan floor show and umu night, these evening shows include an array of cultural dances, as well as the opportunity to sample authentic Tongan cuisine prepared in an underground oven known as an “umu“. And in true Tongan spirit, you will be encouraged to eat more than is reasonable! Floor shows and umu nights can be found in resorts and restaurants across several island groups, which we list in the 10 Best Cultural Shows in Tonga.
Location: All over Tonga! See the link above for recommendations and their locations.
2. Visit a Local Market
Checking out a local market is a must-do foodie experience in Tonga, as it gives a good insight into the local culture and allows you the opportunity to mingle with the locals. Visit the Talamahu Market in Nuku’alofa, the ‘Utakalongalu Market in Neiafu or the Pangai Market in Lifuka to see an array of tropical fruit and vegetables for sale, presented in piles and bunches. Very often, but usually on a Saturday morning, there are also cooked Tongan meals and treats for sale. For recommended fruit to sample, however, see the 10 Exotic Fruits in Tonga You Have to Try.
Location: All over Tonga! See recommended markets and their locations in the 5 Best Markets in Tonga.
3. Learn How to Prepare an Umu
We’ve already touched on sampling food cooked in an “umu” at Tongan floor shows, but a rewarding and more hands-on foodie experience is learning how to prepare one. Learn how Tongans have cooked umu for centuries on an educational culture tour with Ancient Tonga in Nuku’alofa. Aside from learning about Tongan weaving, tapa-making, medicines and more, you’ll discover how to prepare traditional Tongan food. See how ingredients are wrapped in banana leaves, as well as how to husk a coconut to extract the coconut cream. Learn more about this tour in the 10 Best Cultural Activities in Tonga.
Location: Tamakautonga Road, Popua, Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu.
4. Try Kava
Kava is the national drink of Tonga, which is made from the ground-up roots of a pepper plant. It has been drunk in kava circles known as faikava (to do kava) for centuries, typically only reserved for men while the women start the kava drinking off with a blessing. However, tourists of any gender are welcome to try kava. Kava is available to try at some resorts around Tonga, while some accommodations on ‘Eua, in particular, can organise for you to drink with a local kava circle. Learn more about this cultural and foodie experience, as well as what to bring to a faikava, in our guide Where to Try Kava in Tonga.
Location: All over Tonga! See the link above for recommended locations.
5. Tour a Vanilla Plantation
Vanilla is one of the most labour-intensive agricultural crops in the world, where you can learn more about the aromatic bean on a vanilla tour. The main island of Vava’u, ‘Utu Vava’u, is renowned for its vanilla growing, where each flower needs to be hand-pollinated. Learn all about this and more on plantation tours with Albert Guttenbiel Vanilla, where tours can be organised through the local visitor centre. They offer short but laidback and informative tours of one of their vanilla plantations where you’ll learn about the lifecycle of these complex vines, the history of vanilla growing in Tonga, as well as the opportunity to purchase the raw product on this already very affordable tour.
Location: Tours take place at the Albert Guttenbiel Vanilla Plantation between Feletoa and Mataika villages, ‘Utu Vava’u, Vava’u. At the large crossroads in Mataika, turn west towards the airport and Feletoa. The vanilla plantation is approximately 125 m (137 yards) down this road.
6. Learn About Natural Superfoods and Enjoy a Tongan Buffet at ‘Ene’io Botanical Garden
Speaking of Vava’u, learn about tropical plants, fruit and vegetables and their health benefits on a garden tour of the ‘Ene’io Botanical Gardens, which also makes its own health foods and natural products. Your tour guide and curator of the gardens, Haniteli Fa’anunu, will show you a wide range of interesting plants from Vava’u and all around the world. Better yet, upgrade to the “Ene’io Grand Tour” with the addition of a demonstration or live show of how plants are processed into valuable products by the local women. The Grand Tours concludes with a traditional umu feast and cultural show! Find out more about the tour in the 5 Best Guided Island Land Tours of Vava’u.
Location: For the “Grand Tour”, pick-ups are offered from Neiafu. For the standard tour, make your way to the east side of ‘Utu Vava’u (the main island of Vava’u), south of Tu’anikivale. Keep left at the fork in Tu’anikivale and ‘Ene’io is approximately 900 m (980 yards) down this road. If no one is waiting for you at the gate entrance, continue down to the beach.
7. Enjoy a Kava and Coconut Demonstration with Teta Tours
The insightful food-related demonstrations are one thing but experiencing it all in the magnificent setting of ‘Anahulu Cave is what makes the “Culture Tour” with Teta Tours & Travel extra special. The famous stalactite-filled limestone cave is your backdrop to a kava ceremony, tapa mat-making and coconut demonstration on this interactive and cultural experience with local guides. If you like this tour, you’ll also like Teta Tours’ range of sightseeing tours on Tongatapu, as listed in the 10 Best Sightseeing Tours in Tonga.
Location: ‘Anahulu Cave, Haveluliku, east side of Tongatapu. Transfers from Nuku’alofa are available.
8. Experience a Medicine and Cultural Walk at Katea Retreat
Katea Retreat might be known for its cultural shows and umu buffets, but the beach resort also offers a unique guided walk. The walk begins on the resort’s breathtaking beach backed with caves before delving into the forest where you’ll learn about the vegetation and how they are used in traditional Tongan medicine and food. Along the way, you’ll also check out sacred landmarks and learn more about Tonga’s unique history from your knowledgeable local guide. The experience concludes with a fabulous lunch. See more walks across the islands in the 10 Best Walks & Hikes in Tonga.
Location: Katea Retreat, Nakolo (access road off Liku Road, just south of Nakolo village), southeast coast of Tongatapu.
9. Indulge at a Local Restaurant
Tonga has plenty of options when it comes to dining out, from the local dishes to try at your resort’s restaurant to the multitude of international cuisines represented in the towns of Nuku’alofa and Neiafu. As there’s a lot to unpack when it comes to Tonga’s restaurants, check out the 20 Best Restaurants in Tonga and The Guide to the Food in Tonga to get some recommendations.
Location: All over Tonga! See the links above for recommendations and their locations.
10. Take a Tour of a Coffee Roaster and Cassava Chip Factory
A great example of the artisan products completely produced in Tonga, head to the Tupu’Anga Cafe near the southern end of Umusi Road in eastern Nuku’alofa. The cafe offers informal tours of their coffee roastery, as well as their cassava chip factory which is a popular snack across Tongatapu. The cafe also sells a range of Tongan-style cakes, pies and other treats. See more foodie experiences nearby in the 10 Best Foodie Experiences on Tongatapu.
Location: Towards the southern end of Umusi Road, Popua, Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu.
11. Catch Dinner on a Fishing Charter
Seafood is understandably part of this island nation’s diet so jumping on a fishing charter to reel in eating fish like mahimahi and wahoo is one way to have a foodie experience in Tonga (even if it’s more about the sport of fishing). There are fishing charters in most island groups with skippers and guides eager to show their favourite fishing grounds to catch some large pelagics of the southern Pacific Ocean. Find out more about this activity in The Complete Guide to Fishing in Tonga.
Location: All over Tonga! See the best locations detailed in the link above.
12. Try Traditional Tongan Food and Snacks
Eating Tongan cuisine is all part of the cultural experience of visiting Tonga! Tongan staples like lu sipi, lo’i ika, ota ika and much more can be sampled in local restaurants across Tonga’s main island groups. Otherwise, there are plenty of roadside market stalls selling Tongan snacks, typically sweet treats like topai and fai kakai! More information about Tongan food can be found in the 10 Unique Foods in Tonga You Have to Try.
Location: All over Tonga! See the links above for recommendations and their locations.
13. Experience the Buzz of a Saturday Fish Market
Tonga’s main wharves become a hive of activity on Saturday morning when fisherfolk arrive to sell last night’s catch. Locals flock to the wharf in Nuku’alofa, Neiafu and Pangai to rummage through the cooler bins in a frenzy of colourful reef fish, pelagic monsters and crayfish. Head down between 6 am and 8 am to join in the fun.
14. Try Keki from a Local Bakery
The bakeries are kind of a big deal in Tonga, which is one of the very few businesses that are open on a Sunday! While you can pick up coconut bread and buns, which are pretty magical, keki is the most iconic baked good to try in Tonga. Keki is a Tongan-style doughnut, which you can find in bakeries across Nuku’alofa and the Matuku-ae-tau Bakery in Ha’apai. Of course, many bakeries have their specialities, like the chocolate and coconut cakes from Ini’s Cakes, cream-filled doughnuts from Agape Donuts, and cookies from Momo Cookies. Speaking of the island group, check out more from Ha’apai in the 10 Best Foodie Experiences in Ha’apai.
Location: All over Tonga (but mostly in Nuku’alofa)! See The Guide to the Food in Tonga for recommendations and their locations.
15. Sample Local Beers, Coffee and Juices
Tonga is also home to its own array of beverages, such as beers from Pacific Brewing Co., coffee from Kingdom Koffie and fruit drinks like ‘otai. Try some of these local beverages at one of the many bars, restaurants and markets across the islands, with some listed in the 10 Best Bars in Tonga. Plus, see what drinks to try in the 10 Drinks in Tonga You Have to Try.
Location: All over Tonga! Check out the links above for recommendations and their locations.
More Foodie Experiences in Tonga
That’s it for our list of the best foodie experiences in Tonga. For more food-related goodness, check out more of our insightful guides:
- 10 Unique Foods in Tonga You Have to Try
- 10 Drinks in Tonga You Have to Try
- The Guide to the Food in Tonga