When you’re passing through somewhere as a tourist, it’s easy to eat wherever is closest and most accessible. After all, if it’s on the main road and looks somewhat touristy, then it’s probably a safe bet. That’s certainly true in Port Vila, with most of the resorts offering decent meals at a reasonable(ish) price. However, you will find some of the best eats where you least expect them. Here are our Top 7 hidden eats in Port Vila.
1. Downtown Fruit and Vege Market
Okay, so this isn’t exactly hidden, it’s right in the centre of town and is open 24 hours a day, Monday to Saturday. Fruit and vegetables are brought in from all over Efate, as well as some of the outer islands.
The tropical fruit here is delicious and usually pretty inexpensive, depending on availability. I recommend the pineapple (which you can buy in pieces if you want to eat it straight away), the raspberries (you’ll need to hunt hard for these) and the pomplamus (which is kind of like a huge, sweet grapefruit). Everything is priced by the piece, and while you can barter if you are buying large quantities, it’s generally accepted that you just pay what is asked.
You have the most choice early in the week, so make it an outing for Monday or Tuesday.
2. Downtown Food Stall
Hidden behind the fruit and vegetable market are some local food stalls selling popular local dishes. At first glance (and second glance) the environment looks less than sanitary, but I’ve risked it several times and I’m yet to get sick. Most of the dishes are sold for 500 vatu (which is about NZD$7.00) and it’s a massive serving. My favourite is ‘Bullock and Rice’ and I’m not fussy about which stall I go to – it’s all good.
3. Shefa Bakery
Bakeries are a relatively new thing in Port Vila, but with a big French heritage and more recently some influence from the Chinese, it makes sense that bakeries would start popping up. There are a couple of Shefa Bakeries around the outskirts of Port Vila and they offer a unique blend of French treats and local favourites super-cheap.
What’s on offer varies from day-to-day, but you can always find plain doughnut twists for the princely sum of 70 vatu (NZD$1.00). I also recommend the square squiggly biscuity looking things that are set out beside them. I have no idea what they are actually called – I just know they’re good.
If you plan on visiting the bakery, go early in the day. Just ask your bus driver to take you to Shefa Bakery, on the way to Bellevue. They’ll drop you right at the door.
4. Au Bon Marche (Trust me and read on…)
Au Bon Marche is the local supermarket and they are dotted all over Port Vila. If you’re staying close to town or in the marina, your two best options are ABM Downtown (beside the fruit and vegetable market) or ABM Nambatu (past the marina and up the hill). ABM Nambatu is the biggest and therefore offers the best selection, plus it has a butchery and a takeaway counter.
If you’re living on your boat (like us) or staying somewhere with a kitchen, then Au Bon Marche has got some great hidden eats. You’ll want to try the La Ferme De Tagabe Chocolate Mousse (in the yoghurt fridge). Just make sure you grab the Mousse and not the Flan. If you’re a muesli eater, try the French brand in the white box with blue writing – Croustillant aux fruits secs. It’s delicious and it doesn’t hurt that it’s also the cheapest. The local Switi ice-cream is also pretty good, especially the Pineapple and Lemon flavours. If you’re a coconut lover, the coconut flavour is worth a try.
ABM Nambatu also has a great sale shelf where you can pick up weird and wonderful things from all over the world. They’re obviously things that they brought in and nobody wanted, but we’ve found some real winners for a couple hundred vatu. Live dangerously!
A Nem is kind of like a Spring Roll, but smaller, more meaty and really filling. You can buy them from dodgy looking takeaway bars in the main street and road-side stalls in the suburbs. You can also get them from the takeaway counter at ABM Nambatu. Nem cost about 70 vatu (NZD$1.00) depending on where you are buying them from, and two Nem make a whole meal. Just make sure the meat is properly cooked on the inside – not all Nem are created equal.
If you’re craving a taste of home, Crave is an Australian style bakery with all the stuff you would expect to see in a bakery at home. Pies, doughnuts, caramel slice, wraps, design your own sandwich, milkshakes, the works. Situated on the main road, past ABM Nambatu and heading towards the boatyard, we often stop at Crave for a loaf of sliced bread. The bakery items are a bit expensive (by Vanuatu standards), but if you’re feeling really homesick, this is where you’ll want to go.
7. All Those Touristy Cafes and Restaurants
Okay, so these are definitely not hidden and there are a bunch of them up and down the main street. The trick is knowing which one to go to.
We don’t eat out much, but over the last 4 years we’ve probably eaten at most of them for one reason or another. I can’t think of any that have been disappointing, but if I had to pick my favourites they would be Jill’s Café (for burgers), Waterfront Bar and Grill OR Au Fare Pizza Hot (for pizza), Jungle Café (for a quick reasonably priced lunch) and Nambawan Café (for their Steak and Mushroom Sandwich). Most of the touristy cafes on the main street have free wifi, which can often make buying lunch the cheapest and most reliable way to access emails.