By Sera Tikotikovatu-Sefeti
The last time we visited Vasaqa, they had a cool spot at the corner of Namaka Market, and their food was the highlight of my family’s stay in Nadi that weekend.
Now I’m back, and a little birdie told me that Vasaqa has a new home in Wailoaloa, so I decided after a work conference to check it out.
I arrived at Wailoaloa—a little hot and bothered after a debate with my (unmetered) taxi driver, but also curious about their new location. The restaurant is strategically positioned in the tourism hub in Wailoaloa, just before the Wasawasa turn off. It boasts large indoor and outdoor dining spaces and is an ideal spot for sunset drinks and great food.
The inside space exudes modern warmth, with its dark wood and brown tones that break up the white of the room. Their signature mural on one wall, and their logo in the middle of the restaurant are great touches that retain the chill street vibe.
I was sitting there, taking in the atmosphere, when a waitress said, “Bula ma’am, would you like any drinks?” I quickly chose my old favourite, kumquat juice, but the waitress gave me a sweet smile and suggested softly, “You should try our guava juice; it’s one of the house favourites.”
I smiled at up at her, but there was a battle going on inside my head: should I stick to my favourite drink or try something new? I decided to follow her recommendation.
People, I’m not joking; it was so tasty, and I drank almost half of the tall glass in one go. That’s when Benjamin (Ben) Hussein rocked up and cheerfully asked, “You want to come outside and check the spit-roast?”
The pork is cooked over an open fire at the back of the restaurant. “Here in this new location, we can give our customers a first-hand view of what we do with our smokehouse, and you can come, have a seat, chat with us, and watch the pork go on the spit,” Hussain explained.
The team has rebranded and is now called “Vasaqa Fiji.” So why a new name and a new home? Ben explains, “As much as we love working out of the market, we were sort of constricted by the market rule, so it limited what we were doing.
“Not only that, but we had a lot of catering gigs, and the kitchen was getting too small,” he added, “Fortunately, we found this beautiful spot.”
Those who read the previous article will recall that our favourite Muslim-Rotuman chef is an all-rounder, so the heavenly guava juice I drank was his own concoction. As we walked back inside, he said, “The restaurant is like the same concept of what we used to do in the market—not just one person’s ideas were taken into consideration but everyone’s, and we see what works for us.”
It reminded me of some key principles of a good manager and a great leader that I’m learning about at university, such as ensuring that your workers’ opinions are heard and their contributions are valued. I think that is why you sense a genuine happy feeling when you are served by the staff.
Ben says the staff are like family; so when someone messes up, they scold them like they are their sister or brother, and then move on.
While he was explaining everything, I kept thinking, “Okay Ben, I’m hungry.” Maybe I wasn’t so subtle, because he said, “Come on, you want to eat.”
By the time my meal of pork belly burnt end arrived, I was salivating. Cubes of burnt pork belly lie on a bed of mashed potatoes, surrounded by a shiny sauce that tempts you to dive in right away. The dish is garnished with spring onions and thinly sliced chillies, and the salad on the side is not your usual offering. It includes baigani (eggplant), corn, and sesame seeds, and I don’t know what sauce they used for that, but it made me rethink my love- hate relationship with baigani!
Locally, we are so used to our meat being cooked a certain way, so this pork was unexpected, and I didn’t know whether I liked it, or loved it. It was sweet and flavourful and so tasty that I didn’t even realise that the family sitting across from me had left. Vasaqa’s food is in a class of its own and I think they have spoilt things a bit for me, because now I’m going to be comparing many other meals to theirs.
Which reminded me of a question I posed to Ben last time I came: “When are you coming to set up in Suva?” He says there are some plans in the pipeline, and they are watching the Suva market.
“We have seen a lot of other places open up in Suva, so for us right now, it’s more about perfecting our craft on our home turf, so that when we do finally come down to Suva, it’s with fire and brimstone,” he added.
Vasaqa Fiji serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They have a range of dishes you can select from, from salads, wraps, pork, and pizza to their popular signature dinners of three different kinds of steak. Ben said, “We’ve also started experimenting a bit more because we now have more space, and we can experiment with our smokers.”
So, Vasaqa Fiji team, I’m excited to hopefully see you in Suva soon. You know you have eaten a good, hearty meal, when your eyes start drooping. I have to say my “tataus” (goodbyes) before I sleep here, and I’m off to find a metre taxi.