Tonga Food Guide for Travellers
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 try the intriguing mix of seafood with earthy flavours from staple root crops such as cassava, yams and kumala (sweet potato). Tonga is also a place to try some of your international favourites using fresh South Pacific ingredients. So take a look at the restaurants, self-catering and food-related experiences to be had across the islands in this guide to the food in Tonga.
Things to Know About Food in Tonga
- Restaurants can only be found in Tonga’s main towns and some resorts
- Restaurants typically serve international cuisine but you can sometimes find Tongan dishes in Tongan takeaways in Nuku’alofa and some resort restaurants
- 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).
Check out more tips in the 10 Things to Know About Food in Tonga TTD374.
Restaurants 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 and Neiafu have a choice when it comes to eating out, while towns in the other islands, such as Pangai in Ha’apai and Pangai in ‘Eua (yes, they are are a lot of “Pangais” in Tonga) only have one option.
Many resorts across Tonga also have restaurants that are open to both guests and non-guests (assuming non-guests can get there). Especially resorts with no other dining or self-catering options nearby will either have a restaurant or a set meal plan for guests.
For getting out and trying the different restaurants around Tonga, check out the recommendations in the following articles:
- Guide to the Best Eats & Restaurants in Nuku’alofa
- Guide to the Best Eats & Restaurants in Tongatapu
- Guide to the Best Eats & Restaurants in Vava’u
- Guide to the Best Eats & Restaurants in Tonga
Cheap Eats in Tonga
Dining out in Tonga is not typically cheap, but there are a few restaurants especially in Nuku’alofa 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.
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.
As for special dietary restaurants, like vegan and vegetarian restaurants, no such restaurants exist in Tonga. However, you will find vegetarian options on most menus, as restaurants in Tonga tend to cater to customers of all kinds of cultures.
Self-Catering in Tonga
If staying in Tongatapu, Lifuka in Ha’apai or one of the causeway-connected islands of Vava’u, self-catering is easy enough to achieve thanks to the nearby supermarkets, market stalls and fale koloa (convenience stores). Self-catering is also achievable in ‘Eua, but there is only one supermarket on the island that is a long walk from most accommodations, so it’s usually best to bring your own supplies to the island with you. Find out more about purchasing groceries in Tonga in The Guide to Food Shopping in Tonga.
The Cost of Food in Tonga
Tongan supermarkets and fale koloa sell imports from New Zealand and Australia to satisfy western food demands, while Chinese supermarkets that are fairly abundant in the main towns will also have some eastern food goods. Fresh fruit and vegetables are available at the town markets, as well as roadside stalls.
Typical food prices in Tonga include:
- 1.5l (50 fluid ounces) box of milk: TOP$3.80
- 30 tray eggs: TOP$16
- 1kg (2.2 pounds) of rice: TOP$2.90
- 500g (1.1 pounds) pasta: TOP$2.10
- A loaf of sliced bread: TOP$1.80
- 1kg (2.2 pounds) cheese: TOP$16-$17
- 1kg (2.2 pounds) of chicken: TOP$4.50
- 1kg (2.2 pounds) of pork: TOP$10
- Bag of fish (6-8 fish): TOP$40-$50
- 300g (12 ounces) of corned beef: TOP$10.30
- 4 apples: TOP$5
- Bunch of bananas: TOP$5-$10
- 4 tomatoes: TOP$3-4
For more food prices, check out What is the Cost of Food in Tonga?
Traditional Tongan Food
The Tongan diet typically consists of pork, chicken, lamb and fresh fish, combined with things like coconut milk, taro leaves, yams, kumala (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 and lu pulu on some restaurant menus, especially in resorts. The best way to try some traditional Tongan food is at Tongan buffet and cultural nights – see Where to Try Real Tongan Food in Tonga TTD360 for more information and suggestions.
Tonga has a few traditional dishes that are still enjoyed to this day, including:
- ‘Ota Ika – Raw fish marinated in coconut cream, citrus juice and sometimes chilli and tomatoes
- Lu Pulu – Corned beef, onions, tomatoes and coconut cream combined and cooked wrapped in taro leaves
- Kapisi Pulu – Similar to Lu Pulu but wrapped in cabbage leaves
- Feke – Octopus cooked in a coconut sauce
- Faikakai Topai – Dumplings in a coconut syrup
- Keki – Tongan doughnuts
Learn more about these dishes in the 6 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, which is usually a very popular drink among locals, but visitors can try it through resorts and other accommodations. Another drink to try is ‘otai, a fruit drink typically made with watermelon and mango.
As for artisan beverage products of Tonga, there’s Tongan coffee, such as Tupu’Anga Coffee and Kingdom Koffie, while Tongan craft beers from Pacific Brewing Co and Tonga Breweries are usually on offer in Tonga’s bars and liquor stores.
Learn more about Tonga’s drinks in 10 Drinks in Tonga You Have to Try.
Food-Related 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.
Foodie Things to Do in Tonga
Here are just a few ways you can experience the food in Tonga:
- Go to a Tongan cultural show and feast TTD361
- Visit a local market TTD359
- Try a traditional umu at an accommodation or Ancient Tonga (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Try kava through your accommodation or with Ancient Tonga
- Catch dinner on a fishing charter
- Have a private dining experience on the beach with your resort
- Tour a vanilla plantation in Vava’u
- Tour the Tupu’Anga Coffee Roastery in Nuku’alofa
- Indulge at one of the local restaurants
Learn more about each experience in the 10 Best Foodie Experiences in Tonga.
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 eating runny eggs or undercooked meat to avoid salmonella.
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 the 5 Ways to Make Sure the Water is Safe to Drink in Tonga for tips on drinking water in Tonga, while you can get more advice in Can You Drink the Water in Tonga?