Breathe. Yes, you will be able to find gluten free / dairy free / vegetarian / paleo meals and snacks in some Port Vila restaurants, cafes, markets and supermarkets.
You might need to explain what this way of eating means.
There may not be helpful GF, DF, V or P symbols on your menu or container.
However, there are abundant fresh food combinations to enjoy and restaurants to try in Port Vila, Vanuatu.
This article will help you find them.
At the Markets
Visiting the Port Vila main market is one of the highlights of my week.
Think coconuts: fresh coconut water for drinking, DIY milk / cream for meals, and older meat for snacking.
Then there’s the fruit: pawpaw, mango, bananas, passionfruit, lemons, wild raspberries, cherry tomatoes – while seasonal, there are usually at least a few of these available.
And not forgetting the vegetables: if you’re travelling with a knife, check out the carrots, cabbage, ginger, lettuce and herbs. If you have access to a kitchen, wonderful leafy greens and sweet potatoes await you. If you’ve neither a knife nor kitchen, the sweet potato chips are a little oily but worth a try.
There are also stalls preparing local food at the main market, such as a plate of root vegetable with beef or fish – quite possibly gluten free, dairy free and paleo, but you may have trouble checking unless your Bislama is fluent. Laplap, the national dish, is manioc or sweet potato and coconut cream, sometimes also onion or tomato, wrapped in taro or island spinach leaves, then a banana leaf to cook. Laplap often also contains meat, such as beef or fish, so check if you are vegetarian.
At the Supermarkets
The largest supermarket is Au Bon Marche at Nambatu. It, and some of the smaller centres, usually stock nut, soy and lactose-free milks, and gluten-free pasta and biscuits. However, stocks do fluctuate with shipping container arrivals.
They also stock top-quality beef, locally sourced fish and cage-free eggs.
Note: I’ve not yet discovered a cafe serving a non-soy, dairy free coffee in Port Vila, however I have been told at various locations I’m welcome to provide my own milk. Tetra pack almond milk is usually available at Au Bon Marche Nambatu.
Cafes and Restaurants
Coconut Palms Resort
Just a few minutes from the centre of town by bus, Coconut Palms Resort is especially good for gluten free dining – to ensure this, wheat flour is locked in the alcohol cabinet and used only for clients who insist on it. While it’s not obvious by glancing at the menu, or by tasting the food, everything prepared within the resort is gluten free, including pizza, pasta and muffins. The perfect spot to take travelling companions not sympathetic to your need for gluten free. A sample copy of the menu can be found here. On Saturday night they have a fire show next to the pool, definitely worth combining with a meal.
Great central, air conditioned and reasonably priced lunch location, with a view over the harbour. Also open for dinner, with gluten free and vegetarian suggestions.
Spice Indian Restaurant
Five minutes from the centre of town by bus, Spice is good for gluten free, vegetarian, dairy free and paleo – lots of vegetarian options on the menu; for gluten free and dairy free just ask. Paleo might be challenging if you are avoiding grains and legumes, due to use of rice and besan (chickpea) flour, so consider bringing something to complement the spicy main dishes, or ask for steamed / stir fried vegetables.
The Beach Bar
30 minutes from town, right on the beach, the island salad is the highlight of the menu for me – gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian and paleo – and only 600vt (about $7.50AUD). Mixed roasted vegetables with local nut and basil pesto – just yum! A few other options for each dietary preference on the menu too. The GF pizzas are fairy pricey for the size but hey, the location and the theme nights can’t be beat. Check out the menu on their site.
In the main street of Port Vila, Jungle Café offers soy milk coffee, gluten free pizza until sold out, and meal options with local flair. Air conditioned room at rear of café. Closes early evening.
Aquana Beach Resort
Beautiful location about 30 minutes from Port Vila, with a huge menu, so you’ll be able to find something that satisfies your requirements, even though not noted as such. As a family, we’ve loved everything we’ve tried. Sample menus here.
Warwick Le Lagon Resort
Gluten free alternatives are offered for both guests and day visitors. Wild Ginger Restaurant has meals with a wonderful Asian influence, including a teppanyaki grill. Request a table overlooking the lagoon.
Overlooking the harbour, next to the Handicrafts Market on Wharf Road, Stone Grill is paleo paradise. Your quality beef, fish or chicken cooks on the lava stone at your table, accompanied by your choice of sides.
Bringing Food with You
Most packaged food is acceptable to bring into Vanuatu, although will need to be declared and quite possibly inspected on arrival, so know which bag you have it in. Honey is an exception and will be confiscated. This site will help you decide what is acceptable to bring. Imported food is more expensive than likely to be at home, so bring some if you can, particularly for the first few days until you find your way around.
What have I missed? Where do you love to dine and source food in Port Vila, Vanuatu? Your insights are welcome, just comment below.
PS The image at the top of this post is at Uduna Beach Bungalows on Nguna Island, about 45 minutes from town by bus and 30 minutes ferry. Emma sources local food and will do her very best to accommodate you. Please bear in mind very limited supplies.