Easter Island food
The typical food of Easter Island recovers traditional preparations from its ancestral past such as umu or tunu ahi, while incorporating new ingredients and elaborations that are a reflection of the cultural and gastronomic exchange that occurs in Rapa Nui.
- Rapa Nui traditional food
- Typical dishes of Easter Island
- Typical sweets and desserts of Rapa Nui
- Easter Island fruits
Rapa Nui traditional food
The typical food of Easter Island is based mainly on marine products, such as fish, among which tuna, mahi mahi, the sierra or kana kana stand out, and seafood such as lobster, shrimp and the rape rape, a smaller type of lobster native to the island.
Agricultural products are also a fundamental base of food, such as sweet potatoes, taro, yams, bananas and sugar cane; all of them introduced to Easter Island from the Marquesas Islands a long time ago.
Umu Rapa Nui, the curanto of Easter Island
The most traditional preparation is the Umu Rapa Nui or Easter Island curanto, which is cooked in a hole in the ground with firewood and red-hot stones, in the same way it was done hundreds of years ago.
The hot stones are covered with banana leaves on which meat, chicken and fish are placed and covered again with leaves and stones. A second layer is placed on top with tubers such as sweet potato, taro and cassava and covered again with banana leaves and earth. The heat cooks the food in a slow and long process that turns the curanto into a communal meal that invites to share.
Families continue to prepare the umu on special occasions and the community curanto that takes place during the Tapati festival is famous, in which everyone, islanders and visitors can enjoy it. For those who visit Easter Island in another time, the easiest way to taste curanto is to have dinner at Te Ra’ai restaurant on the days of its show (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Te Ra’ai is the only restaurant where you can try this traditional preparation.
Tunu Ahi literally means “cooking with fire or heat” in the Rapanui language and is the other traditional way of cooking food on Easter Island. It consists of lighting a fire with volcanic stones that are heated to red hot. Once the stones have reached sufficient temperature, food is placed on them, usually freshly caught fish and their entrails, called kokoma. In this way, the meat receives indirect heat and cooks slowly until the stones cool.
Although this ancient technique is still used, it is increasingly common to use a grill instead of stones, so the term tunu ahi, by extension, is also synonymous for roasting, barbecue or grilling. Preparing a tunu ahi is usually the perfect excuse to share informally with friends and family. Especially during the weekends, when the locals go “to the countryside”, that is to say, to the outskirts of Hanga Roa to fish on the seashore or rest and have a good time outdoors.
Typical dishes of Easter Island
Easter Island tuna, called kahi in rapanui, is undoubtedly the king of local cuisine. Captured and consumed since historical times, tuna is still the main ingredient in several recipes that, although not so old, are already considered classic.
Other exquisite local fish such as matahuira, kana kana, mahi mahi or sierra also appear in different preparations, as are lobster, its native relative rape rape and shrimp.
Meat, although to a lesser extent, also occupies an important place on the menu, especially beef tenderloin and chicken, a staple in the Rapanui diet for centuries. Below we show some of the most frequent dishes that can be found on the menus of Easter Island restaurants.
Rapa Nui tuna ceviche
Rapanui ceviche is probably the most representative typical dish of the current gastronomy of Easter Island. It stands out above all the fresh tuna ceviche that is presented raw and cut into small pieces. The dressing can be very varied, and lemon and ají (chili) can be used in the classic Peruvian style, soy sauce for an oriental touch or coconut milk to get a more Polynesian dish. They are all delicious and are usually accompanied by rice and sweet potatoes (camote).
Tuna carpaccio is another dish that is found relatively frequently in various restaurants. The key to this healthy and light dish lies, once again, in the excellent raw material. The most common recipe is to cut the fish into thin sheets and season it with salt, lemon, olive oil, grated Parmesan cheese and capers.
Tuna patties (empanadas)
Tuna empanadas from Easter Island have become a milestone in local cuisine. The classic version of this simple dish consists of a large fried empanada stuffed with sautéed fresh island tuna. But there are many options depending on the ingredients chosen for the filling. Possibly the most common is tuna with cheese, followed by tuna, cheese and tomato or shrimp. Sometimes instead of fried they are baked, in the continental Chilean style.
The empanadas are very juicy and are a simple and tasty dish that most tourists like. The original recipe was created in the Restaurant Pea, according to our sources, but it became famous with Tía Berta, known as the Ariki o te pana (the queen of the empanada) in her place located on the main street Atamu Tekena.
Tuna empanadas are now found in many other places on the island that offer their own version. We recommend those of Tía Sonia in Hanga Vare Vare, those that offer in the “carritos”, small informal restaurants in front of Pea beach, and those of the Ha’ari restaurant-kiosk on Anakena beach.
French fries with shrimp sauce
This simple and tasty recipe appears on several menus from Hanga Roa restaurants, and is often called “papas + the name of the place”. It is made up of fried potatoes drizzled with a sauce with cream or cheese and shrimp. This unusual combination gives rise to a succulent and hearty dish that is ideal as a starter to share, or as an accompaniment to cold beers.
Typical sweets and desserts of Rapa Nui
The ancient inhabitants of Rapa Nui did not include any type of dessert or sweet in their primitive diet, except for fruits. The introduction of new ingredients that did not exist on the island, and the influence of other cultures incorporated new options into the local offer.
Rapa Nui Po’e
Po’e is the most typical sweet of Easter Island. It is a kind of pudding or sponge cake made from banana, pumpkin or cassava, flour, milk and sugar. The po’e is very sweet and quite juicy and fluffy. Traditionally it was cooked directly on banana leaves next to the umu. Now it is usually prepared in molds but it is still served together with curanto as an accompaniment, although it is also taken as a dessert or snack. In some stores and supermarkets they sell it in individual portions next to the cash register, a perfect format to take as a snack for an excursion.
Another of the most common preparations in the houses of Rapa Nui is the taro with milk. A cold dessert prepared from minced taro boiled in milk and sweetened with honey or sugar, which is usually served in small deep plates as a compote or refrigerated in bottles.
Handmade ice creams
In recent years, artisanal ice creams have begun to be made with Rapa Nui products, such as pineapple, sweet potatoes, mango, guava or even the iconic tipanie flower. You should be encouraged to try these local flavors at the Mikafé ice cream parlor in the Hanga Roa Otai cove, the Pea ice cream parlor next to the restaurant of the same name and in the Mahute ice cream parlor located on the main street Atamu Tekena.
Rapa Nui Honey
According to recent studies, due to extreme geographic isolation, Easter Island bees are free from the main diseases suffered by these insects and therefore it is not necessary to chemically treat them. This means that the island’s honey is considered one of the healthiest honeys in the world. In addition, due to the subtropical climate of Easter Island, in which temperatures remain stable, constant production is achieved throughout the year.
Rapanui honey has already become a highly desired gourmet food, and is that in addition to being healthier, it contains numerous aromatic nuances from the tropical fruits that grow on the island, such as bananas, pineapples, guava or mango, which are not present in continental Chile.
Easter Island fruits
The temperate and humid climate of Easter Island favors the growth of tropical fruits of an intense color and flavor. In Rapa Nui, there are hardly any extensive crops of fruit trees, but they are usually found in isolation in family gardens and private plots.
Banana or maika in the local language has occupied an important place in the Rapanui diet since historical times. It was already mentioned in the chronicles of the first European navigators who landed on Easter Island and currently a dozen varieties are known, from sweet and small to larger ones that are eaten fried or cooked.
Guava or tuava is a fruit that grows abundantly on the island, even in the wild, and is mainly used to make natural juices and jams.
Other tropical fruits that occur in Easter Island are also papaya, custard apple, avocado, mango and coconut. There are also some orange and lemon trees that together with tubers such as taro, yam, cassava and sweet potatoes complete most of the local agricultural production.
Easter Island pineapples
The Easter Island pineapples deserve special attention since they are highly valued for their intense flavor, although their scarcity and their high price, which is around 5,000 pesos per unit, have made them a delicatessen. The local variety is much smaller, sweeter, and more yellow than regular pineapple.
They can be found at the agricultural fair or at nearby street vendors on Atamu Tekena Avenue, and during the high season also on Anakena Beach. Sellers peel the peel but retain the leaves so that tourists can hold and eat it like an ice cream. Work is currently underway to improve and expand local pineapple production, so we hope that it will soon be easier and cheaper to enjoy this Rapanui delicacy.