Tonga’s dining scene in infused with traditional and exotic international dishes.
A number of small downtown Nuku'alofa eateries serve international fares, influenced by Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Taiwanese cooking traditions and flavours. The majority of Nuku'alofa’s restaurants are located on Vuna Road on the picturesque oceanfront. Seafood is particularly a hot-ticket food item in Nuku'alofa, with clams, fish (specifically tuna) and lobster in abundance. Local Italian and Chinese eateries make great use of the area’s fresh seafood supply.
Traditional Tongan dishes also heavily feature seafood, particularly crayfish and octopus. Some of the country’s most well-known seafood dishes include devilled clams and feke – made up of squid or grilled octopus in coconut sauce. Tongans also love a feast. Served in a pola – a long tray made of coconut fronds plaited together – up to 30 types food, including chicken, seafood, suckling pig, vegetables and tropical fruits, can be served in one feast. Traditional Tongan feasts are generally spiced with coconut or root vegetables, and are cooked in the umu – a Polynesian underground oven. Most Tonga restaurants are closed on Sunday.
Bars in Nuku'alofa are popular and can get boisterous on Fridays nights. Bars close at midnight on Saturday. Tongan resorts feature live entertainment – traditional music, singing and dancing – and kava ceremonies on Thursday nights.
A growing tourism industry has seen Nuku‘alofa (and Tonga in general) foster an expanding retail scene. Shopping malls have swiftly been built; local handicraft outlets flourish; while markets offer a modern shopping experience infused with traditional flair.
Authentic and handmade Tonga’s handicrafts make for great souvenirs. Visit Nuku‘alofa’s main produce and craft markets, or explore the Langafonua Gallery and Handicraft and The Women's Handicraft centres in downtown Nuku’alofa for a great array of Tongan handicraft specialities. The Tongan National Centre in Vaiola also showcases excellent examples of traditional craft.
Known locally as ngatu, tapa is one of the country’s most renowned handicrafts. The beautiful and elaborately-patterned cloth is a traditional indicator of Tongan wealth. Other much-sought after Tongan handicrafts include: finely-detailed bone and wood carvings, pandanus mats and baskets, woven floor coverings, silver inlaid knives, tortoiseshell jewellery, polished coconut shell goblets, and models of outrigger canoes.
Retail stores also sell a number of handicrafts, alongside original local art and prints, casual beach-wear, black pearls, silk screen prints, tie-dyed and hand-painted clothes, and silver and gold Tongan jewellery designs.
Downtown the Talamahu Market sells everything from fruits and vegetables to beautiful handicrafts.