When visiting Fiji you must try kava, the country’s national drink. It may not look or taste appealing, but the ritual of drinking it is deep-rooted in Fijian culture.
So what is Kava? The sacred drink is made by mixing the powdered root of the pepper plant (piper methysticum) with water.
The muddy-looking concoction is revered throughout the Pacific Islands where it has been drunk for thousands of years. It was enjoyed far before written history and long before Captain Cook discovered the area in the late 1700s.
Before you take a sip of this curious drink, you may be interested to learn that it is neither an alcoholic beverage nor a psychedelic drug. It does however, have sedative and anesthetic properties, meaning your muscles will start feeling relaxed.
Don’t freak out if your mouth, tongue and throat go numb – that’s totally normal. Kava is always accompanied by a ceremony where people gather around a bowl and drink from coconut shells. The ceremony can be held at a formal ceremonial event right through to a casual social gathering with friends.
When travelling in Fiji you will usually be invited to take part in a kava ceremony – an offer you cannot refuse. Here’s what to expect: you’ll sit in a circle on the floor while a large bowl is placed in front of the leader.
The plant is pounded, then the pulp placed in a cloth sack and mixed with water until it turns a mud colour. The leader strains the liquid and fills a small coconut shell to be presented and drunk in one shot by the chief guest, who must clap once before and after swigging the kava.
Guests are also expected to clap before drinking then say “Bula Vinaka” meaning, have a great life.
The taste is often referred to as being like sediment with a slight bitterness. Once the kava bowl is in your hand it is an insult to refuse it, so down the hatch.
Remember, people don’t drink it for the taste, they drink it for what effect it has on them. So to truly get into the Fijian spirit, make sure you get involved in a kava ceremony.