Fijian kokoda – fish and coconut in a bowl of holidayness

Kokoda is Fijian ceviche/cured fish and is served in a bowl of creamy coconut with a few bits of vegetable. That doesn’t sound exciting enough. It’s cured fish in cold coconut soup. That sounds even worse. It’s fish with lemon, coconut, chilli, tomato, coriander and onion. If you don’t like fish, I’ve probably already lost you (cooked prawn instead? peas? avocado? melon?) The soupy coconut sauce is far more delicious than “just” some coconut water, but I’m probably losing the battle to convince a coconut-hater it’s the way forward – it is delicious though and not a splinter of desiccated coconut in sight.

Google kokoda recipes and there are consistent key ingredients but some pimp the basics to excess, to my taste at least, with peppers and sweetcorn (food crime) added. The recipe I will share is the one that works best for me, with adaptations in brackets to better suit UK ingredient availability. The original recipe came from Fijitime, Fiji Airways’ in-flight magazine. Kokoda is a dish I’m fairly sure was on the menu of every restaurant I visited in Fiji.

I have made it three times at home and each time I’ve enjoyed it, likewise three friends who have been taste testers.

If you happen to have visited a “coconut country”, perhaps you loved eating food from coconut shell bowls so brought back some souvenir bowls which you now have stacked away at the back of a cupboard, never used but not discarded due to the happy holiday memories they evoke. Well, dust them off and place them centre stage, this dish is your chance to justify their corner in the cupboard. In my attempt to not just use a normal bowl, some barely-used wooden salad bowls have been returned to circulation, though not quite cutting the coconut shell mustard for holiday feel.

This recipe cures the fish in lemon juice. Vinegar or vinegar and mixed citrus juice seems to be a common alternative, though usually rinsed after curing so only a subtle residue lemon or vinegar taste.

(All my photos of kokoda in Fiji are dreadful and I keep forgetting to photograph my own recreations but the Fiji versions are far more generous with the amount of fish and garnish. I have eaten it with potato chips and cassava chips, crunchy cassava chips being a discovery almost as exciting as kokoda. The main photo includes a raw papaya salad and a very nicely packaged bottle of Fijian beer)

Kokoda recipe (Fijian ceviche)

(serves 4 as a side or appetiser)

(NB Ideally 4 hours needed to marinate, everything else can be done within 10 minutes)

500g walu, skinless and boneless (I have used salmon, cod and sea bass, all fresh and did the job beautifully)

200 ml lemon juice (a lemon per serving seems enough to cover all the fish)

salt to taste

1 red onion finely diced (if you don’t like raw onion, try soaking the diced onion in cold water for c15 minutes before using, or, of course, omit it, but the crunch effect works well)

4 medium tomatoes, seeds removed, diced evenly (the wet bits of the tomato spoil the consistency and taste.  Once scooped out, I squish the seedless tomato flesh on kitchen towel)

1 bongo chilli finely diced (I use a “supermarket green chilli”)

coriander, finely chopped

cream of 3 coconuts (sometimes I can find a young coconut in local London shops which I can cut open with a kitchen knife for the water.  The water mixed with creamed coconut is my favourite mix but one large or two small coconut cream sachets mixed with a can of coconut milk to a fairly thick consistency seems a decent, if slightly depressing, substitute to the real thing fresh off a palm tree)

spring onion, chopped


Cut the fish into roughly 1/2 cm cubes and place in a non-metal bowl.

Add lemon juice to fish so all fish is just covered. Add a couple of pinches of salt, mix gently and leave for at least 4 hours at room temperature.

Once the fish is cured, strain and rinse in cold water.

Mix the remaining ingredients with the fish, season if required and serve.