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Kava in Vanuatu – The Ultimate Guide

Kava in Vanuatu is very much a thing! And when you visit Port Vila it is an essential part of the Vanuatu experience. But what else should you do in Port Vila? Here’s our guide.

Vanuatu is not a least visited country, tons of tourists come here, both by boat and plane. The reason? It’s awesome.

Now whilst there are a lot of reasons to like Port Vila, and Vanuatu, one of the best things about the place is kava.

To read about Pacific Socialism click here.

What is Kava?

If you’re unfamiliar with kava it is a kind of root that grows through the Pacific, that gets turned into a juice, well a liquid, that when injested makes you drunk/high. Well actually more high than drunk, but without any of that pesky paranoia.

It has been drunk for centuries in the Pacific, and has a lot of ritualistic mystique to it. One example of this in Vanuatu  is that “the best” way to serve it to chiefs is for it to be chewed by a pre-pubescent virginal boy before you drink it. I wonder if that’s how Prince Andrew had it served when he was here? Too jazzy? Perhaps a little. As usual I digress a little.

Kava Bars = nackamals

Kava bars, or as they are called nackamals are everywhere in Port Vila, often simply placed in shacks, with people going every night to get their fix. When you get to one you order by the unit of currency, so a 50, or a 100, with you comparing how much you’ve had at the end of the night by saying the monetary value you’ve consumed. A cup is known as a shell, as they would previously be served in a coconut shell.

It really is quite fun at the end of the night to see how wasted you are and then compare with friends on how much y’all have drunk.

Kava in Vanuatu - Helicopter View of our resort in Port Vila

How does Kava taste?

How does kava taste? It’s horrendous, it’s like muddy water, and it’s hard not to vomit afterwards. But the bars know this, so water is served freely, as well as Pirt Vila street food, or as they call it in the kava bars washemout. Washemout literally means to wash away the taste of kava, and can be noodles, chips, cookies, chicken, or all manner of snacks designed to clean your palate!

That’s right Kava literally tastes that bad that a whole street food/culinary scene has to exist just to get rid of the taste. In the Kava Bars they exist like independent stalls, or contractors.

And no it is not like an “alcohol bar” that serves food. The foods here are specifically designed to wash out your palate/get rid of the awful taste.

Does Kava make you high?

And does it make you high? It does, although it’s hard to quantify the buzz. it’s a bit like hash in that it mellows you, but without any kind of sleepy element to it. ITS WEIRD, but indeed far from unpleasant.

Street Food Port Vila

This is the funny thing, there is a not really a street food scene in Vanuatu, at least not in the same way as there is in say Honiara.

To read about street food in Honiara click here.

Therefore it is the amazing snacks that you receive at the nackamals that make up the street food scene of Vanuatu. OK it is not earth shattering, but there really is no better way to understand the culture significance of Kava to the Vanuatan people that by drinking kava and eating washemout with the locals!

The world of street food truly is a diverse one!

Written by Gareth

Gareth Johnson is the founder of Young Pioneer Tours, a published writer, and all round entrepreneur. He enjoys street food, and encourage others to get paid to travel the world.

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