Riding around the single loop road of Rarotonga can make an unvegan man hungry. Fortunately, when the hunger arose we were in the town of Avana and saw a sign for a cafe called The Mooring. Situated on the sea about two seconds down a dirt road, The Mooring is little more than a shack, but a shack with great outdoor seating and a view of Avana Harbor. A man sitting at one of the tables who seemed to belong to the place told us that all of their fish had been swimming in the sea mere hours before, so it sounded like we had stumbled upon the right place.
The menu was written on two chalk boards, which gave the impression that the menu was only as consistent as what was pulled out of the ocean. I knew fish was the right way to go here and when I saw a fish offered with taro, I immediately jumped on it. I had heard taro was pretty big on the island, but it was my first sighting and I was willing to eat whatever came with it. What did come with it was something called Ika Mata. Ika Mata is a raw fish dish huge in the Cook Islands that seems to typically be tuna-based. I have no proof of this, except for the fact that I have never seen it otherwise, but don’t know enough about Cook Islands foods to make any sweeping claims.
Sweeping claims aside, shortly thereafter, my ika mata was brought out to me and looked nothing short of beautiful.
Served in a coconut bowl, the ika mata was almost too pretty to eat. But eat it I did and fell in love. This had to be the freshest fish I’d ever tasted and it was so good that it had no fishy taste or smell whatsoever. Instead, the flavor of coconut milk and some sort of a tart citrusy flavor. Combined, these flavors made a dish so unforgettable that even the tomatoes couldn’t spoil.
What’s more, there was still the delicious taro. The taro was cooked and chilled, but unflavored, which left it with its own unique and amazing flavor. It also kept company with another starchy root, which was decent, but could not compare to the taro.
And by the way, the FOB (fresh off the boat) crumbed mahi mahi with lime mayo sandwich that my girlfriend got was equally amazing. It was served on fresh Turkish bread that was better than any I can recall eating in Turkey. It just went to show that the ika mata I ended up eating was not some randomly good dish or the only dish that The Mooring did well. Nay, it seemed as though they could do nothing wrong.
In a world full of restaurant research, one of my favorite meals on the island or Rarotonga took no more research than a sign on the side of the road. The Mooring is a hidden gem and a prime example of what travel food should be like. A trip to Rarotonga without a stop at The Mooring would be a damn shame.