The Ultimate Guide to Food in Tonga
It’s hard to think of anywhere better to try island-style cooking than Tonga. Tongan cuisine is a memorable experience for travellers, whether it’s trying food slow-cooked in an umu to retain flavours and add a hint of smokiness or an intriguing mix of fresh seafood and earthy flavours from staple root crops such as cassava, yams and sweet potato. That’s not to say that Tonga hasn’t embraced international favourites, of course, often adding a South Pacific twist.
So take a look at the restaurants and food-related experiences to be had across the islands in this complete food guide to Tonga. We even cover self-catering and vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. It’s the only food guide to Tonga you’re ever going to need.
The 10 Best Places to Eat in Tonga
This food guide to Tonga is pretty darn detailed, so let’s ease into it with a nice simple list of the best places to eat in Tonga according to our team of travel journalists!
- The TOP Restaurant & Lounge (Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu)
- Leleno ki Moana (Hihifo, Ha’apai)
- Basque Tavern (Neiafu, Vava’u)
- Friends Cafe (Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu)
- Little Italy Restaurant (Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu)
- Tupu’Anga Cafe (Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu)
- Chef Zero Restaurant (Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu)
- The Harbourview (Toula, Vava’u)
- Talei’s Restaurant (Angaha, ‘Eua)
- Garden Cafe (Vaini, Tongatapu)
Scroll down to “About The Best Places to Eat in Tonga” to learn more about our top picks!
The Best Destinations for Food in Tonga
What are the best islands for food in Tonga? Well, that totally depends on what style of food you’re looking for.
Food on Tongatapu
Tonga’s most populated island, Tongatapu is a hub for culture, which incidentally means it’s a hub for foodie experiences too. From eating out in the island’s small metropolis, Nuku’alofa, to going to Tongan feasts and floor shows, there are many ways to experience the food of Tonga on Tongatapu.
Tongatapu is the arrival island of Tonga and therefore, the cheapest island to get to, which is ideal for foodies on a budget. To extend your budget further, you may want to consider staying in one of the hotels or self-catering accommodations in Nuku’alofa, making use of the local produce markets for an authentic local experience. Alternatively, there are a couple of resorts in the eastern forest and shores of Tongatapu, offering their own foodie drawcards, such as traditional Tongan feasts accompanied by cultural performances.
Food in Ha’apai
The central island group of Tonga, Ha’apai is made up of 62 islands. This is where you’ll find your postcard islands with white sandy shores and swaying coconut palms. Of course, drinking straight from the coconut is the obvious way to enjoy these islands in a food-related way, but taking part in a kai fava or umu night or catching your own meal on a fishing charter are other ways to elevate the palate.
The main town of the group is Pangai, which is on the island of Lifuka. Here, you can browse the waterfront produce market and pick up cooked Tongan desserts. And although restaurant options are limited, there are some real hidden gems among these islands.
For more on having a foodie experience in Ha’apai, take a look at The Food Guide to Ha’apai.
Food in Vava’u
An island group that flourishes in tropical plantations, Vava’u is an interesting destination for foodies. Learn about tropical crops, from vanilla to noni fruit, at the ‘Ene’io Botanical Garden or take a vanilla plantation tour to dive deeper into the world’s most labour-intensive crop.
If you’d rather be out on the water, then consider jumping on a fishing tour to catch dinner. Be sure to state your intentions to the skipper, however, so that they can help you target fish that you can eat. You’ll be able to prepare the fish at your accommodation’s barbecue or if you want to skip the whole fishing part, enjoy seafood at the resorts or Neiafu’s restaurants.
Learn more about a foodie getaway to Vava’u in The Food Guide to Vava’u.
Food on ‘Eua
Admittedly, ‘Eua offers little in the way of restaurants and cafes. What it does provide are more authentic foodie experiences, where meals are served at guesthouses, most of which are local and focus on local dishes like lu and pele. ‘Eua is also a fantastic destination to effortlessly ease into food and drink-related traditions, such as kava circles and umu dinners, which we list how to experience in the 50 Best Things to Do on ‘Eua.
Although we don’t have a full food guide to ‘Eua, restaurants are listed in The Complete Travel Guide to ‘Eua.
The Best Food Tours and Activities in Tonga
If you want to dive a little deeper into the food culture of Tonga, then there are plenty of experiences to help you do so. From browsing the markets to jumping on plantation tours, there are many ways to experience the Tongan culture through its cuisine.
Umu and Tongan Floor Shows
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.
Ancient Tonga Food and Culture Tour
Take the “umu” experience to the next level with a more hands-on foodie workshop learning how to prepare one. Discover 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 15 Best Cultural Tours & Activities in Tonga.
Vava’u Vanilla Plantation Tour
Vanilla is one of the most labour-intensive 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.
‘Ene’io Botanical Garden Tour
Speaking of Vava’u, learn about tropical plants, fruit and vegetables and their health benefits on a garden tour of the ‘Ene’io Botanical Garden, 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 Tour 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.
Teta Tours Culture Tour
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.
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.
More Food Tours in Tonga
And that’s not all the food scene of Tonga has to offer. Here are just a few more ways you can experience the food in Tonga:
- Visit a local market
- Try kava through your accommodation or a culture tour
- Catch dinner on a fishing charter
- Tour the Tupu’Anga Coffee Roastery in Nuku’alofa
- Try traditional Tongan food and snacks
- Indulge at one of the local restaurants
- Experience the buzz of a Saturday Fish Market
- Sample local beers, coffee and juices.
Learn more about each experience in the 15 Best Foodie Experiences in Tonga.
More About the Best Places to Eat in Tonga
Tonga’s main towns and some resorts have restaurants for visitors to experience international cuisine with a Pacific twist. Only the towns of Nuku’alofa (Tongatapu) and Neiafu (Vava’u) have a choice when it comes to eating out, while the island/island group of ‘Eua and Ha’apai only have a couple of options.
Many resorts across Tonga also have restaurants that are open to both guests and non-guests (assuming non-guests can get there). Resorts with no other dining or self-catering options nearby will either have a restaurant or a set meal plan for guests.
The Best Restaurants in Tonga
Check out some of our top picks for the best restaurants in Tonga below or head to The 20 Best Restaurants in Tonga for our full listing with opening hours, locations and more.
The TOP Restaurant & Lounge (Tongatapu)
Get amazing views of the Nuku’alofa CBD and the tops of the Royal Palace from The TOP Restaurant & Lounge. Easy to miss, the entrance is simply an elevator taking you to a large lounge and dining area where you can choose from an array of international dishes, from tacos to seafood to gourmet burgers; there’s something for just about anyone.
Leleno ki Moana (Ha’apai)
Nestled among coconut palms of the beachfront approximately 400 m (440 yards) south of Hihifo, Leleno ki Moana meaning “Run to the Ocean”, is a quirky beach hut restaurant serving quality meals for an affordable price. Delight in fresh fish and chips, beasty burgers, aromatic curries, Tongan dishes and more, all lovingly presented on timber boards and banana leaves.
Basque Tavern (Vava’u)
More than your harbour town watering hole, Basque Tavern reinforces the social vibe by serving a range of sharing plates. The Spanish-inspired tapas bar in Neiafu (with Tongan-portion tapas, obviously) boasts a creative tapas menu that changes weekly, giving you more reasons to return.
Little Italy Restaurant (Tongatapu)
Probably the most out-of-place restaurant in the islands of the South Pacific, Little Italy Restaurant transports you to Europe in its cuisine, decor and architecture. There’s a wonderful choice of creative pizzas, as well as safe favourites. Pasta, steak, lobster and fish are also on the menu.
Chef Zero Restaurant (Tongatapu)
Another one a little out of town in Nuku’alofa, Chef Zero is well worth getting to for an upmarket dine-in experience in Tonga. The family-run restaurant specialises in fresh ingredients transformed into European-style cuisine. Have steak with a wide choice of sauces, pork with tasty apple sauce, or fish (their most popular) cooked Polynesian style, mornay or blackened.
The Best Cafes in Tonga
For coffee, sweet treats and lunchtime delights, check out these cafes in Tonga or head to the 10 Best Cafes in Tonga.
Garden Cafe (Tongatapu)
A must-stop while road-tripping around Tongatapu, the Garden Cafe offers an attractive setting for cold drinks, salads, Mexican food and cake. The roadside cafe in Vaini village serves dishes of chicken salad, tacos and quesadillas while cooked breakfasts taste as good as they look. Fruit juleps are served with bamboo straws at this cafe that aims for minimal single-use plastic.
Moli Green Cafe (Tongatapu)
Pop in for a sit-down or use the drive-thru at Moli Green Cafe. The cafe close to Nuku’alofa city centre provides a healthier breakfast and lunch option, specialising in fresh fruit smoothies (try them with moringa!), sandwiches made with homebaked wholemeal bread, cooked breakfasts with veggies on the side, oatmeal, porridge and more!
Friends Cafe (Tongatapu)
As one of the capital’s hotspots, Friends Cafe rarely needs an introduction. Learn about the history of the 100+-year-old building on the notices found on each table and treat yourself to a light lunch of toasties, paninis, salads, soups, burgers, all-day breakfasts and more.
Cafe Tropicana (Vava’u)
The Swiss-army knife of cafes, Cafe Tropicana not only keeps you well-fed and caffeinated for breakfast and lunch but offers information services, vehicle and bicycle rental, snorkel rental, internet, phone top-ups, laundry, order-ahead deli goods, super yacht agent and more in Vava’u!
Siva’s Dream Cafe (Tongatapu)
If you have plenty of time on your hands and want to get out of Nuku’alofa, escape to Siva’s Dream Cafe. Food is made with love at this locally run cafe in the village of Te’ekiu, which can take a little bit of time but is well worth the wait for the “Waimanalo Burger” marinated in honey soy sauce or the creamy chicken pasta.
The Best Restaurants in Tonga for Vegetarians and Vegans
For more sustainable food choices, these are our top picks for vegan and vegetarian food in Tonga that we list below, as well as in Tonga for Vegans & Vegetarians + 10 Best Restaurants.
The Harbourview (Vava’u)
Past the list of burgers and seafood, The Harbourview delights vegetarians with Italian-inspired dishes, such as risotto balls with a cheesy heart, and even vegans with their tomatoey peperonata and bruschetta!
Cafe Escape (Tongatapu)
This cafe nestled in Nuku’alofa city centre is one of the few with menus for vegans and vegetarians, even if their options are still quite limited. Cafe Escape often has a couple of fully vegan options with the likes of “pesto pasta with cherry tomatoes” and “eggplant stack”.
Matafonua Lodge (Ha’apai)
Offering a little more variety for vegetarians than the usual Tonga resort, Matafonua Lodge delights with their “Garden Burger” with a feta and quinoa pattie and usually a variety of vegetarian pies, curries and fritters. The resort is also popular for its pizzas, of which there is a vegetarian option.
42 Evergreen (Tongatapu)
When it comes to a bit of variety in your vegetable dishes, the few Asian restaurants in Nuku’alofa are a good go-to for vegans and vegetarians, such as 42 Evergreen at Faua Wharf. Last time we checked, they had around eight different vegetarian dishes, including braised tofu with mushroom, fried roasted eggplant, and scaled okra with garlic soy sauce.
Cheap Eats in Tonga
Dining out in Tonga is not typically cheap, but there are a few restaurants that are more aimed toward locals, therefore allowing visitors to try authentic Tongan cuisine at more budget-friendly prices. Check out some of the cheaper restaurants in The Top Cheap Eats in Tonga.
Ofeina Restaurant (Tongatapu)
That’s right, the cheapest restaurants are, indeed, outside of the capital. Ofeina Restaurant in the village of Veitongo serves up Tongan dishes like lu sipi, sipi soya, naketi moa, kelevi ika and more starting from TOP$10.
Chand’s Curry House (Tongatapu)
A long-established hole-in-the-wall eatery at the Nuku’alofa Tonga Post Building food court, Chand’s Curry House is a popular Indian takeaway. Treat yourself to a variety of curries with various boned and boneless meats, all served with rice, roti and a chilli chutney – amazing value for the price!
MJ Seafood (Vava’u)
Although MJ Seafood, tucked behind Halavalu Wharf, might scare off some patrons with their TOP$75 lobster, their classic Tongan meals of kelevi ika, kale ika, feke and ‘ota ika are all around the TOP$15 mark.
Talei’s Restaurant (‘Eua)
Talei’s Restaurant in the central ‘Eua village of Angaha is ridiculously cheap with full fish/sausage/chicken and chips/manioke and fish curry meals for around TOP$10 (last time we checked).
Lucky Pot Restaurant (Ha’apai)
Although limited, the local eateries in the island group of Ha’apai are well-priced! Lucky Pot Restaurant at the Pangai Market offers incredibly affordable curry, fried chicken combos, fish in gravy and pele sipi all for under TOP$15.
Local Food in Tonga and Where to Try Traditional Food
The Tongan diet typically consists of pork, chicken, lamb and fresh fish, combined with coconut milk, taro leaves, yams, sweet potato, cassava, tapioca and more. Admittedly, most restaurants in Tonga serve more international cuisine, but you can try a few staple foods like ‘ota ika, lu and pele on some restaurant menus, especially in resorts. The best way to try traditional Tongan food is at Tongan buffet and cultural nights.
Traditional Meals of Tonga
Tonga has a few traditional dishes that are still enjoyed to this day, some of which are cooked in an umu where food is wrapped in banana leaves (or tin foil) and surrounded by hot rocks for slow cooking. One of the staple of umu food is lu which combines coconut cream, taro leaves and meat, whether it’s puaka (pork), pulu (beef/corned beef) or sipi (lamb).
The easiest dish to find on restaurant menus in Tonga is ‘ota ika, which is raw fish marinated in coconut cream and citrus juice. The concoction may also have tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and/or chillis.
Feke or lo’i feke is grilled octopus or squid prepared in a coconut sauce. The octopus is cooked by simmering in a pot with coconut cream and usually onions and chilli for extra flavour.
And for a sweet treat, look out for faikakai, which are locally grown vegetables or fruit cooked in sweet coconut syrup. For instance, try faikakai mei (breadfruit in coconut syrup), faikakai ngou’a (taro leaves), faikakai malimali (ripe bananas) or faikakai manioke tama (tapioca or cassava).
Learn more about these dishes and where to try them in the 10 Unique Foods in Tonga You Have to Try.
Tonga has a couple of traditional-style drinks, as well as contemporary drink products that are made in Tonga. A traditional drink is kava made from the ground-up roots of a pepper plant. Although a very popular drink among local men, visitors of any gender can try it through resorts and other accommodations.
Another drink to try is ‘otai, a fruit drink typically made with watermelon but can also be made with mango, pineapple or ambarella.
As for the artisan beverage products of Tonga, there’s Tongan coffee, such as Tupu’Anga Coffee and Kingdom Koffie, while Tongan craft beer from Pacific Brewing Co. is usually on offer in Tonga’s bars and liquor stores.
Learn more about Tonga’s drinks in the 10 Drinks in Tonga You Have to Try.
What is the Food Etiquette in Tonga?
It’s important to know that, if dining with Tongans, it is usually customary to say a prayer before eating a meal. Tonga is a deeply religious Christian country, so “thanking God for the meal provided” is done before eating. For more rules of etiquette, check out our guide to Tonga Etiquette: Local Customs & Traditions.
Self-Catering in Tonga
Self-catering is easy enough to achieve in Tonga, as long as you’re not staying at a remote island resort. There are supermarkets, market stalls and fale koloa (convenience stores) found in most towns and villages. Find out more about purchasing groceries and what to expect from grocery stores in The Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping in Tonga. You also might like to know about bringing food to Tonga, which you can read up on in our guide, Taking Food to Tonga: What You Need to Know.
There are plenty of accommodations with kitchen facilities across all four of Tonga’s main island groups, which we list in the following:
- 10 Best Self-Catering Accommodations in Nuku’alofa & Tongatapu
- 5 Best Self-Catering Accommodations on ‘Eua
- 5 Best Self-Catering Accommodations in Ha’apai
- 10 Best Self-Catering Accommodations in Vava’u…
… And if you’re still deciding on a destination, make more sense of the situation with Where to Stay in Tonga: The Best Accommodations.
Food Health and Safety in Tonga
While eating food from restaurants and resorts is generally safe in Tonga, you will want to be more cautious when eating food through other means.
Food Safety Tips for Tonga
If you’re in an area that may have unsafe water, such as remote outer islands, avoid eating salads or uncooked food that might have been washed with contaminated water. Try to eat food that has been cooked in front of you. Vegetarian food is usually a safer option than eating meat or fish.
Avoid gastro bugs by using hand disinfectant and only eating cooked food. If you get diarrhoea, drink water regularly and alternate between electrolytes and water. See a doctor if other symptoms occur.
A more common type of food poisoning in Tonga is ciguatera caused by eating reef fish that has eaten toxic algae. Locals know what reef fish to avoid eating, so only eat what the locals eat or simply avoid eating reef fish altogether.
Finally, do not eat runny eggs or undercooked meat to avoid salmonella.
For more advice on keeping safe and healthy when visiting Tonga, check out our Tonga Safety Tips.
Can You Drink the Water in Tonga?
Tap water might be suitable for the locals in Tonga who have built up an immunity to any parasites commonly found in Tonga’s tap water, but for visitors, it’s best to take precautions. To avoid water-borne diseases, such as traveller’s diarrhoea, boil water for about 10 minutes before drinking it or use a Lifestraw bottle. See our guide, Can You Drink the Water in Tonga? for tips.
Dining with Dietary Requirements
For those staying in a resort in Tonga, let your resort know in advance if you have any dietary requirements. Almost always, resorts can cater to dietary needs but will need advance notice to get special supplies to their remote location. Otherwise, they may encourage you to bring some of your own.
As for special dietary restaurants, like vegan and vegetarian restaurants, no such restaurants exist in Tonga. It’s not a given that every restaurant menu has something vegetarian, let alone vegan, so we recommend going in with a plan when it comes to veganism, vegetarianism or eating gluten-free. See our guides, Tonga for Vegans & Vegetarians and The Gluten-Free Guide to Tonga for more tips on the subject.
7 Last Things to Know About Food in Tonga
So, what are some quick things you need to know about food in Tonga?
- Restaurants can only be found in each island group’s main towns and some resorts
- Restaurants typically serve international cuisine but you can sometimes find Tongan dishes in Tongan takeaways and cultural shows
- The drinking age in Tonga is 18 years old
- Tongan portions are huge, but asking for a doggy bag is acceptable
- Local meat, seafood and poultry are generally safe to eat
- Visitors should treat tap water before drinking
- You will need cash to pay for food from markets and fale koloa (convenience stores).
Food Itineraries for Tonga
By now, you’re probably wondering how you’re going to bring all of these restaurants, food tours and destinations all together?! Well, we’ve done the hard work for you with our complete foodie itineraries:
- Tonga Food Itinerary: 14 Days
- Tonga Food Itinerary: 7 Days
- Tonga Food Itinerary: 5 Days
- Tonga Food Itinerary: 3 Days
Finally, anything else to do with organising a trip to Tonga can be found in The Best Tonga Travel Guide.