Fiji’s capital, Suva, is the most developed and cosmopolitan of the capitals in the South Pacific. To the Indian eye, used as it is to multitudes, Suva is a small, charming, sparsely populated city of quiet avenues lined with grand colonial buildings, back gardens dotted with papaya and mango trees, and old establishments like Charman’s All-Races Gym and Ahmed’s Spice Shop. Fiji is made up of 300 islands and over 500 islets; many are uninhabited. Suva is the political capital, while Nadi (pronounced Nandi) is the tourist hub. Most tourists fly in to the international airport there and are whisked away in a catamaran or seaplane to their luxury island resorts. There are few tourists in Suva as it is a three-hour drive (on a coastal road fringed by tropical forests) or a 45-minute flight away (often on a small plane where passengers are weighed along with the luggage) from Nadi. A few cruise ships, however, dock here. Their arrival is announced in local papers so that downtown vendors can be ready for day-trippers.
I whimsically decide to christen the wi fruit as the dinosaur fruit. This is because I found out that wi, one of the first flowering trees on earth, existed at the time of dinosaurs. It is a great pleasure to sink my teeth into what might (unscientifically) be called a living fossil and experience its soothing taste of not-too-sweet, not-too-sour. It also makes for a superb chutney, delicious with roasted papad. In Fiji, avocados and papayas are of the same size. Which is to say that the avocados are enormous and papayas tiny, strictly one per person. Fijians have a range of roots—taro, cassava and sweet potato—and they call it, quite simply, ‘starch’. Breadfruit counts as ‘starch’ in a meal too. Ora is a delicate mountain fern with curling tendrils that, doused in coconut milk, makes for a cooling salad. Then there are the delights from the ocean—seaweed cooked with coconut milk and formed into ‘pats’; and sea grapes mixed into a salad of onions, tomatoes and tuna flakes. Suva’s markets overflow with tropical fruits, Indian spices, kava root powder (mix with water for an intoxicating drink) and bird-of-paradise flowers.