The Tahiti Traveler

Ma’a Tahiti

Time to feast

In French Polynesia, the New Year’s celebration is a perfect moment to enjoy a good “Ma’a Tahiti”. The “ma’a Tahiti”, the traditional Polynesian consists of a large meal with a gathering of Polynesian families.  It is an important moment of sharing of friends and family.

The ma’a Tahiti is prepared in the traditional way using the “Ahi ma’a”, the traditional Tahitian oven. This oven is in fact, a simple pit dug in the ground layered with wood. Porous volcanic stones are placed over the wood layer. Once the wood has been consumed by the fire, the stones are transformed into an efficient heat source. Once the adequate temperature has been reached, the stones are covered with banana leaves. The raw food is pre-wrapped with banana leaves and woven “Purau” leaves (Hibiscus taliaceus) before being placed in the oven. The pit oven in then covered with a thick canvas covering then buried with soil or sand to prevent the heat from escaping. The “Ahi ma’a” allows cooking the food in steam from residual heat. The main difficulty here is to control the oven heat. The size of the traditional oven may vary; some “Ahi ma’a” is used to cook food for over 100 people.

The ma’a Tahiti is actually composed of several dishes that are steamed in this traditional pit. Therefore, it requires a lot of preparation time. This is the Tahitian festive meal par excellence.

The “ma’a Tahiti” consists of steamed root crops like “taro”, “uru” (breadfruit), yams or sweet potatoes. It is also composed of fish and meat like pork or mutton. The first course, served is the famous raw fish salad or the “Fafaru” (marinated fish). There are various main courses. The Pua’a chou”, pork meat with cabbage; “Poulet Fafa”, chicken prepared with coconut milk and young Taro leaves likened to spinach; “Pahua curry” composed of clam meat cooked in curry and coconut milk. The “ma’a Tahiti” also proposes desserts like “Fei banana” (a cooked banana) and “Poe” (a typical Polynesian starchy sweet paste prepared with banana, papaya or pumpkin).

With these typically Tahitian dishes, Polynesians celebrate Mother Nature and her gifts with dishes typical of local fare.  The “Ma’a Tahiti” is a cultural experience and a meal that should not be missed on your next visit to our islands. As we say in Tahiti, “Tama’a Maita’i!”. (Enjoy your meal !)