There are many restaurants and eateries in Port-Vila, ranging from up-market places catering to tourists and expats, to more low-key establishments. The approximate cost of lunch would be around the 1000-1500 VT range, depending on where and what you eat. Some examples of prices:
- sandwiches, around 450-600 VT
- bacon and eggs, 750 VT
- burger with fries or salad, around 1000 VT
- main meal, e.g. steak or seafood, 1200-2000 VT
- large, fresh-squeezed fruit juice, around 500VT
The traditional dish which you will most likely be offered once during your stay is a root vegetable cake called lap lap. Essentially this is either manioc (cassava), sweet potato, taro or yam shaved into the middle of a banana leaf with island cabbage and sometimes a chicken wing on top. This is all wrapped up into a flat package and then cooked in hot stones underground till it all melts together into a cake. The best place to pick up some of this is at the food market in the town centre and should cost you about 100 VT.
Tuluk is a variation of lap lap with the cake rolled into a cylinder with meat in the middle. It tastes a lot like a sausage roll. You can find these again in the market (usually from mele village people) but they will be served from foam boxes to keep them warm.
Vanuatu’s meat is renowned in the Melanesian region. At the airports, you will see signs reminding you to pack the 25 kg of meat permitted to other nearby island nations. The reason the meat tastes so good is that the livestock are naturally reared, with no feedlots or other mass production methods used in some Western countries. This results in a steak that is very good indeed.
As you may expect from an island nation, seafood is a common option and the quality is generally excellent. Reef fish are commonly found in restaurants, along with many varieties of prawns, lobster and the delectable coconut crab.
The coconut crab is only found in parts of the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, and has been declining in numbers so rapidly that it is now a protected species in most areas. There is a minimum legal size requirement in Vanuatu of four centimetres, but the creature can grow to over 8 cm in length with a leg span of up to 90 cm. The crab gets its name as it climbs palms to cut down and eat coconuts; nothing to do with the flavour.
Kava is a local drink, made from the roots of the plant Piper methysticum, a type of pepper. Kava is intoxicating, but not like alcohol. Its effects are sedative. Some travellers have experienced a hangover from its consumption.
Kava is consumed in private homes and in local venues called Nakamal. Some of the resorts also offer kava on occasion for visitors to try.
Kava is served in a “shell” or small bowl. Drink the whole shell-ful down steadily, then spit. It’s handy to have a soft drink on hand to rinse with afterwards, as the taste of kava is strong and not very pleasant.
It is worth noting that the kava available in Vanuatu is generally a much stronger variety than the kava found in other Pacific islands such as Fiji, where it is comparatively mild. Four or five large shells in a typical kava bar will leave the inexperienced drinker reeling (or worse) after a couple of hours, and it can take a day to recover.
Good advice to experience kava as pleasantly as possible is to go with an experienced drinker and follow their lead, take the small shells, and stop after an hour and a half. It’s quite easy to find a local kava drinking buddy, just ask around your hotel and you’ll find volunteers, maybe at the cost of a shell or two.
Kava bars (or Nakamals) are normally dark places with very dim or no lighting at all. This is because bright lights and kava intoxication do not go together well: so be careful with flash photography, which may not be received very well in such venues.
Alcoholic beverages are also widely available. Resorts, bars and restaurants serving tourists serve a wide range of drinks. The local beers are called Tusker and Vanuatu Bitter.