Beach Club Healing
When Vaviola Varo was just nine years old, her grandparents would take her to their family’s sacred picnic island in the Mamanuca’s. It was abundant in fresh fish, mangoes and breadfruit, and blessed with medicinal trees of dilo, pandanus, tavola and coconut, which made it the perfect place to heal the body, mind and spirit. With only a few bread shops back then, their traditional family picnic consisted of a healthy lunch of fire-roasted fish, fresh fruit and mashed breadfruit. These were the life giving foods of her ancestors and enjoyed long before she had heard of non-communicable diseases. Now in her early 40s, Vaviola has returned to her childhood playground to offer local and international guests a taste of what she once enjoyed as a little girl, as part of Fiji’s newest foodie experience and my latest culinary journey of local produce with influences of Pacific Island gastronomy. WHAT IS AN ISLAND BEACH CLUB? Taking its cue from luxury world class beach clubs in Bali, Formentera, Barcelona, Greece and Croatia, Malamala Beach Club is believed to be the first club located on its own island. With no bures or guest accommodation, the club is a salubrious experience of all day dining and drinks, set against a backdrop of white sandy beaches, a sparkling infinity pool, private cabanas with butlers who serve dilo ‘chocolates’ for the skin, and curated designer cocktails. Open from 9.30am daily, there is no lunchtime at Malamala - you can graze, get spun and luxuriate all day as you watch the world go by. And the best part for travellers is that is located just 25 minutes ferry ride from Port Denarau with South Sea Cruises. There are no membership fees, landing fees or all-you-can-eat packages. You just come, eat, drink and rest to your heart’s content. You can’t bring your own picnic lunch, snacks or drinks because what awaits you is a day long experience of designer food and drinks that Fiji has never seen before. PACIFIC ISLAND INSPIRED MENU When I started designing the Malamala menu I was adamant it had to include 100% Fijian-grown produce. It also had to be international beach cuisine inspired by my travels of the Pacific Island nations but not necessarily their native foods. The importance of local produce to the island communities goes to the very core of their battle against noncommunicable diseases, increasing their income opportunities and reducing import food bills. Taking inspiration from that philosophy it meant no imported fruits or vegetables, no imported seafood and no imported meats. I also wanted to reduce the use of imported processed foods like tomato sauce, French fries and potato wedges; the staples of island food menus. You won’t find any Heinz tomato or Masterfoods BBQ sauce on Malamala but you will find a fresh-made smoked pineapple, raw pineapple vinegar and hydroponic tomato sauce. All the sauces, marinades and fermented components of my menu are made on the island. The ubiquitous French fry has been replaced with root crops of cassava, dalo (taro), kumala (sweet potato), ubi (yams) and uto (breadfruit). Typical poolside fare like burgers, Caesar salad, Club sandwich and even kokoda have had the Malamala makeover and will be unrecognisable at first – until you taste them. Vaviola’s story of eating healing also inspired me to create more healthier choices with many gluten free, paleofriendly and vegetarian options.
SUPPORTING FIJIAN PRIMARY PRODUCERS Anyone who says Fiji doesn’t have a good and consistent enough supply of local produce to create an entire menu is not keeping up with our local farmers and entrepreneurs. From pristine fish, crustaceans and shellfish, red and white meats, to exotic organic herbs, fruits and vegetables, the Fijian farmer is hard at work to prove naysayers wrong. Malamala flies organically-farmed edible flowers, raw pineapple vinegar and Asian herbs from as far away as Taveuni; several types of snapper and squid from Pacific Harbour; sustainable sego (heart of palm) from Sigatoka; homemade pure ghee from Momi Bay; and young goat from the interior highlands of Kabisi. And when it comes to a real meaty beef burger, the way burgers used to taste, a designer recipe of Yagara beef was designed to go inside a coconut bun sauced with a Fiji spiced rum, espresso coffee and bacon jam. Salivating yet? Wait till you try the spiced goat curry pie! Malamala has also developed in conjunction with Pure Fiji, a world first chilled “white dilo chocolate” that you don’t eat, but rub on your skin to rejuvenate and repair after time in the hot sun. INFLUENCE FROM THE SUBCONTINENT One of the unique culinary differences in Fiji compared to other South Pacific islands is the influence of our Indian descendants. Like a lot of visitors, I love the local curries and bean cart snacks but I didn’t want to serve the same Indo-Fijian fare you can get elsewhere. Former chairman of South Sea Cruises, Roger Dold, told me that something he looks forward when he returns to Fiji is goat curry. It’s a dish rarely enjoyed by visitors but when you gently cook this recipe of boneless young goat, complex spices and less chilli heat, a good goat curry surpasses any meat curry. But like everything at Malamala, how was I going to serve a goat curry that didn’t look like the common thali platter with rice, roti, dhal and chutney? Enter the crusty-top pie. In Sydney, I grew up enjoying a very late-night Tiger Pie topped with mashed potato, mushy green peas and gravy from Harry’s Café de Wheels in Wooloomooloo. This was the inspiration for the Malamala spiced goat curry pie. Gone are the potato, peas and gravy, replaced with a sweet spiced recipe inside a crispy case, stacked with mashed local pumpkin, ghee-infused crushed lentils and an awesome sauce made from roasted goat bones and tamarind. CURATED DESIGNER COCKTAILS There’s nothing quite like kicking back in an infinity pool watching the world go by with a cocktail or three close to hand, and Malamala makes the day even more special with its panoramic views, craft beers, imported ciders, New and Old World wines and designer cocktails. But these are no any ordinary cocktails. This beach club is right into the latest industry jargon, so you’ll be offered “curated” cocktails made with artisanal spirits and fresh made syrups. There’s not a blue curacao or grenadine drink in sight. The temptation to say, “Just give me a beer or an espresso martini” may be strong but you’ll be doing your soul a favour when you sample a curated cocktail. The term means that someone knowledgeable has selected the best ingredients of spirits, aperitifs and sundry complementary enhancements like infused tinctures, syrups, smoked fruit and perfumes of exotic herbs and spices. San Francisco mixologist, Tommy Quimby, was flown out to create a flight of seven cocktails that include organic herbs, local rums, chilli and even our prized noni juice that will defy and impress even the most critical of cocktail connoisseur. The potent Fijian fruit, known locally as kura, can be best described as tasting like blue cheese but is unexpectantly balanced in an intriguing cocktail called the Elixir of Life. Whilst you can certainly ask for your favourite cocktail, the curated list of spiced tinctures (sugar syrups), Fiji rums, coconut rums and exotic fruit like soursop are designed to tempt your palate beyond the norm. With quirky names like the Momi Cannon, Naked Lady, Drunken Coconut, The Inquisition, Smoking Barrel and Beach Club Tea, it’ll be hard not to succumb to temptation and try them all. A grown-up Vaviola is today a healer who hails from the Naobeka clan at Namamotomoto Village, Nadi. As she greets guests to the island she has just one promise - her childhood experiences of a magical day of healing island food and drink is now available for everyone to share.
No processed or imported chips, just our root crops
Head butler Bobby Isimele offers the exclusive Pure Fiji dilo chocolate for the skin
Seared Fish Kokoda is inspired by the Polynesian technique of curing