Bougna is the iconic dish of New Caledonia. It is a stew composed of starches, taros, sweet potatoes, poingo bananas, yams, and is accompanied by local meat and cooked in coconut milk. You can enjoy it in a restaurant or at a meal with a tribe.
The traditional Kanak oven
During a stay with a tribe, it is not uncommon that cooks invite you to take part in the preparation of the bougna. Before even starting to cut up the yams and the cassava, you prepare the traditional oven. This consists in preparing red-hot rocks and a hole in the ground. Your bougna will cook for several hours in the hole.
Preparing a Kanak bougna
Cut meat, yams, sweet potatoes, coconut milk and – often – poingo bananas (or plaintains) made for cooking. Bougna was originally just a simple and nourishing dish.
The ingredients are placed pell mell in a bed of banana leaves, and covered with coconut milk. Once closed-up and tied, the bougna bakes under the hot stones. A delicacy!
Kanak cooking – 100% home-made!
Bougna is not the only Kanak culinary specialty. You'll see proof of that at the many festivals on the islands or on Grande Terre, where you'll have plenty of opportunities to try Kanak fare.
On Lifou, vanilla is now used in all kinds of dishes, and its flavor is incomparable. One of the more-surprising ingredients is "pahatr", a young fern that you can eat in a salad or any other side dish.
Where can you try Kanak cooking?
In-tribe holidays or set menus – notably on the islands and the East Coast – are the best opportunities for eating bougna. The long preparation time means that you should specifically tell your host that you particularly want to try this traditional recipe. Neither should you miss the soursop jams, mandarin syrups and...
Kanak cuisine in restaurants
Bougna and Pahatr all originated from tribal culture, and can now be found on the menus of Caledonian chefs. In Nouméa, L’assiette du Cagou offers very local cooking. Dittor for the Le Pandanus snack bar/restaurant, which is renowned for the quality of its fish accompanied by cheese-topped sweet potatoes or cassava.
Further to the north, at the Hôtel de la Nera, the Kanak chef offers you pommes dauphines (also known as "dauphine potatoes", crisp potato puffs) made from sweet potatoes that will knock you over backwards!