New Caledonia: Le petite food paradise

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It’s mid morning and the line for flaky, fresh croissants already twists through the market. Women bearing woven baskets heavy with baguettes, punnets of olives, and butchers paper-wrapped fish, add hot beignets to their bags.

You’d be forgiven for thinking we were in the bustling market of a little town in the French countryside but step outside the covered stalls and just metres away the sun glints off the Pacific Ocean at Port Moselle Marina, in the Quartier Latin, Nouméa. It’s home to a sprawling marketplace overflowing with the fruits, literally, of this bountiful land and sea. Along with stalls selling New Caledonia’s many different types of yam (more than 100), there’s an entire section of the markets dedicated to seafood.

It comes off the fishing boats that are tied up alongside pleasure yachts at the marina – the Pacific yielding a diverse, colourful catch each day. There are tubs filled with mussels, heaped piles of prawns, and fish in every shape, colour and size. Line caught tuna is a big local favourite. The women behind the counter at Poissonnerie Mekasiki, one of the biggest stalls in the market, are excellent at bartering, with big boisterous voices that ring out across the seafood hall. You’ll be walking away with fresh steaks of mahi-mahi tuna for the family lunch, and a few rolls of freshly made sushi to snack on before you know it.

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To go with lunch, gather a few giant yams, avocados almost as big as your head, and every possible type of fruit for a fruit salad dessert – stalls are literally overflowing with bananas, pineapples, rock melon and gigantic papaya.

Now if you were staying in some of the South Pacific’s other popular holiday spots, perhaps Fiji or Vanuatu, you’d be wondering what on earth you’d do with fresh Mahi Mahi tuna steaks. They certainly couldn’t be crammed into a mini bar. New Caledonia’s Grand Terre island is home to most of the holiday accommodation, much of it clustered around the southern beaches of Anse Vata. Holiday apartments are by far the most popular form of accommodation, catering to multi generational families and long stay visitors – the French love to holiday in this little home away from home.

At the Chateau de Royal Beach Resort and Spa, an all suite property, even entry level one bedroom suites come with full size kitchens, large fridges, stove tops and microwaves. You’ll need that full size fridge because after checking in, make a beeline for one of the local supermarche.

Aside from bountiful fresh produce, New Caledonia imports a significant amount of food and wine, from France. For this reason, Nouméa is notoriously expensive when it comes to bistro and even café food. Luckily, the locals have a fondness for pâté and chevre that make a trip to the local supermarket an extremely pleasurable experience.

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Géant in Sainte Marie is roughly 2km east of Nouméa’s centre and is a supersized supermarket that sells everything from cured meat to children’s clothing. Accessible by bus from the city and Anse Vata, the supermarket is worth visiting at the start of your stay to stock up on staples like cereal and milk if you’re catering for families, but also on French cheese, wine, snacks and chocolate for those afternoon nibbles or picnic lunches at the beach. Bottles of Bordeaux red wine are around $10-15 Australian dollars, with plenty of boutique wineries given a presence the Australian bottle shops just don’t have space for. Champagne has an entire section to itself, with magnums of Moet & Chandon and Bollinger in stock, but the French bubbles retail for around the same price as in Australia. Aside from aisles of wine, spirits and champagne, the real treasures are to be found in the delicatessen section.

Rows of refrigerated glass cabinets are stocked with everything from giant wheels of aged cheddar and stacked pyramids of ash-covered goat’s cheese to dozens of types of fois gras. Your favourite French brands like President Camembert, Val de Saone brie and of course, La vache qui rit, the Laughing Cow, are available in snack packs to supersized family-sized portions. The cured meat selection is just as extensive, with enough prosciutto, salumi and sausage to create a charcuterie of note. Super U Michel-Ange is a smaller supermarket just 2km from Anse Vata beach which has a smaller cheese and wine offering, but you’ll still find plenty for your afternoon antipasto.

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If exploring the local supermarkets isn’t on your agenda, hotels and resorts in New Caledonia have very well stocked larders. The Sheraton Deva’s dinners are a veritable smorgasbord of speciality French dishes – foie gras ballontines, shallots tatin tarts, snails ravioli, delicate pumpkin veloutes, pretty Religieuse pastries and soufflés are just a few of the highlights. Executive Chef Sebastien Philizot uses local vegetables wherever possible, and praises the region’s producers. Philizot’s menus are filled with local crab, oyster, shrimp, deer, beef and lagoon fish. The shrimp are a real highlight for him, and are served in a variety of ways – crisped in a mango sauce, fresh with a lemon butter, or even in a New Caledonia Pot, a laden seafood stew. Philizot finds guests are keen to try the local produce but are still expecting to see French influences on the menu – the cheese selection is a real highlight at the resort’s Reef Restaurant. St Nectaire, Reblochon and Roquefort are three of the most popular cheeses devoured from the buffet.

Located in the island’s Bourail district, in the central west, the resort is the first five-star property to be built in New Caledonia in 15 years and is certainly raising the bar. Bungalows are beach chic, with delicate gauze-draped four poster beds, deep bathtubs and daybeds. Suites overlooking the 18-course Dye Design golf course are great for families, with interconnecting rooms, kitchenettes and large living areas. Balconies overlooking the rolling greens are the perfect setting for wine and cheese as the sun goes down.

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The Resort itself sits inside Domain Deva, a mountainous nature reserve renowned for mountain biking and hiking trails, and also home to horse riding ranches and deer hunting terrain. There are plenty of opportunities to work up an appetite – a few days snorkelling, bike riding and hiking out in the Deva Domain will have you ready to head back into town to try a few more delicacies.

Nouméa’s patisseries and chocolatiers are legendary among locals and return visitors. Creating artisan chocolates for more than a decade, Chocolats Morand’s founder Patrick Morand has developed more than 200 different chocolate recipes. Expect to find local ingredients like mint fresh from the market, fused with imported French chocolate. His store in the Quartier Latin is not to be entered hungry – glass cabinets filled with truffles, pastries and all types of sweet treats await.

Then there’s the creperies like Le Freshcone producing traditional buckwheat crepes, and the boulangeries baking baguettes fresh each day… New Caledonia really is a little sweet spot in the South Pacific. •

Photography by Tourism New Caledonia and Lisa Perkovic.

TRAVEL FACTS

Getting there
Air Calin flies direct to Nouméa from Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland: aircalin.com

Where to stay
• Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Resort & Spa: sheratonnewcaledoniadeva.com
• Chateau de Royal Beach Resort and Spa: complexechateauroyal.nc

Further information
Tourism New Caledonia: new-caledonia.com.au

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