Manava Suite Resort may have dangerous electrical wiring and some truly alarming breakfast sausages, but one of the good things about it — besides its near-constant UB40 soundtrack — is its location. On the western side of Tahiti, considered preferable to the storm-battered east, Manava (or “welcome” in Tahitian) is a short 3-5-minute walk away from a smattering if open-air streetside eateries that open up after the sun goes down (6:30pm, give or take a few minutes).
The menu is what you might expect when the food comes out of a truck or a roadside grill: sometimes pizza, sometimes Chinese, even Thai. But the preponderance of the menus feature lovely grilled things, almost always plopped unceremoniously atop a crisp bed of perfect, McDonald’s-like fries. There’s chicken of course, because where would we be without chicken, and juicy, meaty fresh-off-the-grill steak. Sometimes pork ribs, and chewy, toothsome chunks of veal heart on a skewer, nudging a vast wedge of macaroni-and-cheese, because God is good in Tahiti. I love this food in its simplicity and its emphasis on pure comfort and hospitality.
Believe it or not, this was not my first time in Tahiti. I’ve been before. Reading back on what I thought of it then, I can barely recognize myself. It’s especially bewildering since this was the first trip I took with the first four books of George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire”, discovering for the first time Cersei and Ned and Jon and Dany against a backdrop of impossibly blue sea and a shooting star-filled sky. The only reason I can come up with for all the past doom and gloom was that I might have been annoyed with a traveling companion or two. This time, armed with a far inferior set of books, I found I didn’t really need them. The food and company were great, although I can’t really speak for my nephew Remy:
There’s a whole bunch of roadside places once you turn right out of the resort, but the best one may be one of the closest: Temaiti West Side (+87-720-620), instantly recognizable for the hulking grill set up next to a brightly lit cart and the collection of almost-always-full tables behind it in an ill-lit parking lot. My son was truly afraid to sit down for dinner, but got over it after our meal arrived, which was chicken and fries and more fries, with I think a salad that I’ve forgotten all about because the chicken.
And this time, I found I didn’t have a problem with the simplicity of poisson cru. OK, these islands were colonized by the French, but they didn’t take on their anal-retentive cooking techniques and persnickety dining habits. It’s damn hot! Ain’t nobody got time for that! (Except for Thai people, because we are nuts and obsessed with what other people think about us).
Or maybe the South Pacific is an ideal destination for a different me, one who is too hot and ain’t got no time for extraneous stuff. If there is a New Year’s resolution to be found somewhere in there, teased out of the roadside Papeete underbrush after a filling meal of steak and fries and someone else’s pizza, that may be it.