Traditional Marquesan Oven with Cruisers

Hot Marquesan oven

We are on our second run through The Marquesan islands in French Polynesia. While we could, we had to return to one of our favorite places, Tahuata island, which was at least as good as our first visit! We timed this visit well and were lucky to be invited to a traditional Marquesan oven with cruisers. This was one of our favorite experiences since becoming live-aboards, one we won’t soon forget.

Traditional Marquesan Oven

We sailed back to The Marquesas over Christmas, skipping holiday celebrations for a rough five day upwind sail from the Tuamotus. Don’t worry! We had a huge late celebration at a traditional Marquesan oven with cruisers in Hapatoni. I’m not talking about eating with a group of cruisers. This goes well beyond that. Participating in a Marquesan oven is immersive, something people back home would pay big money to experience. Preparing for the meal, eating the food, listening to music, and enjoying it all with a huge group of cruisers and Marquesans was better than Christmas!

what is a marquesan oven?

The Marquesan oven in Tahuata made one of the best meals we’ve eaten in a while. They’re also called Polynesian ovens, or earth ovens, because they are dug into the ground. Once deep enough, the pit is filled with coals and lit on fire. The fire burns for several hours, and when the temperature is optimal, banana tree branches, palm leaves, and baskets of wrapped food are placed into the underground oven. Layers of palm leaves, then tarp, and then dirt, are piled on top, enclosing the oven, and infusing the food with smokey flavor, for more hours, usually overnight.

Marquesan Oven feast in Tahuata
Food coming out of the Marquesan Oven

There is a lot of work that goes into making this feast and we were lucky enough to help in some of that effort.

Unveiling the Marquesan oven

Prep work

Gathering the food for the traditional Marquesan oven with cruisers began the week before the feast. All of us cruisers anchored in the same bay of Hapatoni, with convenient dinghy shore access. Some energetic cruisers helped the local organizers catch the food, going out in the wee hours of the morning or after dark to hunt goat and wild pig, and to fish for octopus and tuna. Once the protein was in hand, we all gathered the day before the feast to help with prep.

basket weaving The Marquesas
We helped make baskets for the Marquesan oven

Among the tasks was gathering and cutting down the palm leaves, weaving traditional cooking baskets, and prepping food. We needed a lot of assistance in learning these new tasks, and the Marquesans were very good at teaching us. They had a few laughs at our expense; which we deserved for our ineptitude at basket weaving. We got better – ish.

Making baskets in Marquesas, French Polynesia
Brian among the cruisers making baskets for the Marquesan oven

A lot of work went into building the fire pit and the fire, over a day before the feast. Plenty of men and boys, cruisers and locals, dug the pit, added the coals and other materials to make for a good smoker, and filled it back in to get the pit hot.

Marquesan oven smoke
It got smoky!

The Feast

We had the Marquesan feast as lunch on a Saturday, and we were full all weekend! We ate lots of traditional dishes, including poisson cru and breadfruit a variety of ways, banana desserts, and the meat and seafood. The hunters caught wild boar and goat for the feast. The Marquesan feast probably fed a minimum of 40 people, cruisers and locals both.

Marquesan feast
So much food!

The Marquesan oven cooked the meat to tender fall-off-the-bone perfection. It was a great meal, made even better by the learning and community of preparing it together.

The Music

Marquesans like their music. Often, you’ll hear people playing ukelele and guitar as you walk through villages, and drummers greet tourists at the docks. We got to hear some at the feast too. A group playing great traditional music on ukelele, guitar, and drums entertained us while we ate. We loved the music as much as the food!

Music to go with our Marquesan meal
Marquesan musicians, Hapatoni
Music group plays at the feast

Marquesan Oven with Cruisers and Marquesans

We met and worked alongside so many great people, cruisers and locals. Everybody pitched in, with even the little kids helping dig the pit and make the baskets. We learned a lot, ate a lot, and laughed a lot. We would both do it again in a heartbeat.

Group photo, Marquesan feast Tahuata
Cruisers and locals at the Marquesan feast in Tahuata

One of the cruisers did a lot of the work organizing the feast with the Marquesan family. A minimum of 20 people is required. We each paid $30 for the entire experience, which on top of the feast, included all the activities and education, plus a seafood lunch the day before. No one went hungry!

What do you think about our traditional Marquesan oven with cruisers experience? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Author: Mel

Living aboard a sailboat, blogging about the places we visit and the adventures we have. Love hiking, cycling, scuba, animals and adventure.

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