Discover the Cook Islands' famous Ika Mata dish

You’ll find this fish dish across this South Pacific archipelago, where the ingredients are so fresh you can taste the ocean in the bowl.

Ika Mata is the most traditional dish of the Cook Islands
  • Rachel Gray
  • June 2019

If ever there was a dish that defined the Cook Islands, it’s the seafood and coconut cream concoction Ika Mata. What is it, you ask? Deliciously fresh raw fish marinated in lemon or lime and then soaked in coconut cream with chopped tomatoes, onions and capsicum and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Here, we find out more about the history of this South Pacific favourite.

Where is it from?

This seafood dish belongs to the 17,500 or so people who call the Cook Islands home but it is most often eaten on Rarotonga – the largest of the archipelago’s 15 Pacific islands.

What does it mean?

Ika mata simply means “raw fish” in local Cook Islands Maori.

Haven’t I seen this before?

Similar marinated raw fish dishes can also be found in Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji and Samoa and are known as poke, poisson cru, kokoda and ota ika.

The dish is often served in a coconut for authenticity
The dish is often served in a coconut for authenticity.

What fish should you use?

Traditionally, maroro (flying fish) is used. Fishermen head out at night, flick on their torches and catch the fish with their nets as they leap out of the water towards the bright lights. These days, the dish is commonly made with tuna or other firm white fish such as snapper or cod.

How is it made?

Locals fillet, dice and marinate the maroro ceviche-style with lemon juice before tossing in homemade coconut cream and fresh island vegetables, including tomatoes, capsicum and onions. You can find coconut cream in most supermarkets but to make it the islander way, crack open a coconut, pour the liquid into a bowl, grate the coconut meat, mix it all together and strain through a cloth. You can even spice up the dish with tabasco sauce, carrots, cucumber, herbs and mango for a flavourful modern twist.

What does it go with?

Starchy Cook Island vegetables such as earthy taro, tunu meika (cooked green bananas) or maniota (cassava), paired with a coconut water mocktail and the evening sun dipping beyond the sparkling Pacific Ocean.