餐廳Vale ni kana(restaurant)

張貼者:2013年1月15日 下午6:38未知的使用者   [ 已更新 2013年1月15日 下午6:39 ]

餐廳Vale ni kana(restaurant)

Tara Morgan (Sunday, April 10, 2011)

Within a split second of stepping out of the taxi my nose tells me I'm not at any Suva restaurant; rather, I've just arrived at mealtime at a Fijian village by the sea. Yet my nose confuses my sense of reason as I know I am on the fringe of the city in the sleepy, quiet area of Toorak high on a hill. Next I see the sign: Takayawa's Vale Ni Kana, fully convinced that I was where I had intended to be.

I was taken to this restaurant several years ago and wanted to return to find out if it was still as popular a venue for lunch as it was then. Although when I turned up this time, it was a little too early in the day for lunch. I would have not thought to find any diners. I was certainly wrong about that one. Several tables were occupied where eating was well under way. I developed an instant appetite for Fijian delicacies and wanted to sit down at anyone of these tables and share in the pleasure of the dishes.

I knew I couldn't do that. I was on a mission. I wanted to find out the full story of this interesting establishment and I was not going to achieve anything by succumbing to my hunger pangs.

I headed to the kitchen; there was no mistaking where that was. I noticed a man who had made several trips there already with dalo and leafy vegetables. I thought he'd just paid a visit to the Suva market but no, as I found out later. All the produce had come straight from the farm in Tailevu. Now that's what I call eating fresh.

As I popped my head in, I caught two women by surprise as they had been so focused on their duties. One was preparing the vegetables; the other stirring one large steaming pot with something boiling in it and checking on another at the same time. They were working in a full spirited way. As I stood at the door I could feel the passion for cooking emanating from it. This room was where all those delicious food were prepared. And these women were using everything they learnt from their mothers. They prepare and cook tradition Fijian dishes that have endured both time and place.

The restaurant had been a dream of the late Mr Tevita Takayawa who was nothing less than a legend in the country. He rose to fame as much for his talents and dedication to the sport of judo as for his security company. It had humble beginnings from a premises just down the road from the restaurant in High Street and from the same location judo is taught today. Takayawa Senior built an empire which manifested in a multi-level office building in the shadow of which is situated the Takayawa restaurant. Today the restaurant is run by Mr Takayawa's wife, Alisi and one of their famous judo son's, Nemani. He describes himself as the quiet but not so serious brother; comparing himself with Nacanieli. When asked did he, as a boy, learn any good tips on cooking from his mother, he promptly responded with '"She learnt everything from me!"

There was no question about which dish he loved his mother to cook most of all; they immediately looked at each other, than to me, and at the same time replied with boiled fish. It is this dish that wins the hearts of all those who dine there. I commented that surely it is referred to by a more attractive name but no, simply by what it is: 'boiled fish'.

Alisi and Nemani don't feel any need to dress up their dishes as what is offered has an established reputation for taste and authenticity. They maintain nothing more than this is required to attract customers who not just come from town but far beyond to enjoy a meal at the restaurant.

Time for kana, I decided. The range of dishes was extensive. Here's what was offered that day: there was exotic seafood: mana (crab), kaikoso (clams), kai (fresh water mussel) and vasua (spikey sea urchin). What was referred to simply as 'sui' was another popular and flavoursome dish made from slow boiling of beef bones. There was a plate of popular fish head; and the boiled fish that day was kawakawa.

To add to the variety, curry chicken was also offered and the only non-authentic dish on the menu. To accompany these 'mains' were side dishes of nama and miti and of course the essential 'can't live without' dalo and cassava. Nemani prefers the yellow 'champion' variety of dalo as he considers it the most tasty of all.

It was lovely to hear mother and son talk with such passion about the joy they gain from preparing and serving Fijian cuisine. Their closeness and their love somehow made its way into the food I saw being relished that day.

Takayawa's Vale Ni Kana is located at the corner of High and Augustus Streets, Toorak and is open for lunch Monday to Saturday and on the occasional Sunday when a lovo is prepared.

*Tara Morgan is a freelance writer who is passionate about Fijian delicacies