Poisson Cru Tahitienne: A Tahitian Fish Ceviche Recipe

One of the most memorable experiences I had while island-hopping through the remote islands of French Polynesia was learning how to make Poisson Cru Tahitienne, a Tahitian fish salad featuring raw tuna, coconut milk and fresh vegetables.  I’d sampled this popular seafood dish at several restaurants including those at the Intercontinental Resort Tahiti Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa and the Relais Mahana Huahine in the Society Islands. So, by the time I reached the Tuamotu archipelago I was ready to learn how to make this delicious salad myself.

Le Taha'a Island Resort and Spa in French Polynesia

Overwater bungalows at Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa in French Polynesia

The Tuamotu archipelago is dubbed Tahiti’s “strand of pearls” and is a string of 77 stunning islands and atolls strewn across the South Pacific. The best known atolls are Rangiroa, Manihi, Tikehau and Fakarava. My cooking lesson took place at Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, located on the tiny coral ring near Tikehau, 350 km northeast of Tahiti.

After landing on Tikehau, a boat whisked me and my  travel writing pal Sue Campbell to the Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, a luxury resort set on its own motu (tiny island) tucked within a wild coconut grove and surrounded by pink sand beaches. Our thatched roof bungalows were just steps to the water.

Beach hammock at Tikehau Resort French Polynesia

My beach hammock at Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort French Polynesia

“The lagoon surrounding this island is one of French Polynesia’s richest in marine life,” said Anne Tran-Thang, the resort’s general manager, as we walked across the wooden pathways suspended above the shallow blue waters. Peering down, I could see brain coral as large as a submerged VW Beetle and a ring of brilliant Bénitier coral as bright as a sapphire necklace. And a lot of unusual marine life!

Titan Trigger Fish in French Polynesia

This titan fish is the strangest fish I’ve ever seen – fortunately it is NOT an ingredient in poisson cru!

Donning a snorkel mask and armed with my Fujifilm FinePix XP80 Waterproof Digital Camera with 2.7-Inch LCD (Yellow), I stepped into the crystalline waters and within minutes was welcomed by schools of sergeant majors, a bright blue parrotfish and a titan fish seemingly intent on lifting its head out of the water. I later learned that titan fish can be quite territorial and aggressive but this one seemed ultra friendly.

View from the boat enroute to motu cooking lesson and picnic Credit Michele Peterson

View from the boat enroute to poisson cru cooking lesson with Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort Credit Michele Peterson

Poisson Cru Tahitiene Cooking Class

The next morning it was time for a private cooking class on an even more remote island. We travelled across the endless expanse of the Pacific to a speck of sand ringed by coral and dotted with spiky Pandanus shrubs. Our local guide Chef Bachou Raufau toted the provisions to a shady spot and built a fire to grill the red snapper. While it grilled, he demonstrated how to handcraft serving trays out of palm.

Get a poisson cru Tahitienne cooking lesson on a remote island at Tikehau Pearl Resort

Get a poisson cru Tahitienne cooking lesson on a remote island at Tikehau Pearl Resort

“Weaving is still very much a tradition among the Mamas of our village,” he explained, as he deftly wove  leaves into sturdy utensils.

Then we learned how to make Tahitian-style Poisson Cru a traditional dish of raw tuna marinated in lime juice and coconut milk that’s similar to Latin ceviche.

Is Poisson Cru Tahitienne a Fish Salad or a Ceviche?

Although I originally thought Poisson Cru was basically a Tahitian-version of ceviche, I quickly discovered that there are important differences. To begin, unlike Latin ceviche, the vegetables are coarsely chopped rather than finely diced. Chunks of fresh seeded cucumber are mixed with chunks of fresh tomato rather than minced veggies you’d see in ceviche.

Poisson Cru is also different from Latin ceviche in the type of fish used. The best fish to use for Poisson Cru Tahitienne is tuna.  A flaky fish will disintegrate and quickly turn mushy. Oily fish such as mackerel won’t provide the same delicate flavour.

“For us, shark, turtle and eel are sacred, so we don’t eat them, “ said Bachou our chef as he chopped a slab of tuna into chunks on his cutting board.


poisson cru Tahitiene

Read to eat! Poisson cru Tahitian style


The fish is also marinated very briefly rather than marinated for a long period of time. The addition of   coconut milk is also an important step in making Poisson Cru Tahitienne

“To get the freshest miti haari or coconut milk, you grate a ripe coconut and then squeeze the milk out through a cloth,” he explained.

The Poisson Cru Tahitienne we made that day was velvety, with the tender cubes of tuna tasting as fresh as the sea. The coconut milk added a touch of sweetness while the crunch of cucumber and red tomato made it an especially memorable dish. It was followed by grilled red snapper, a hearty main course with a smoky flavour and crispy skin, infused by the charcoal of the open fire.

A private dining experience on a remote motu is an experience offered by Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort

We enjoyed it all at a table set in the shallow water’s edge where sleek lemon and black tip sharks glided past, hoping for a handout. The ever-fearless Sue Campbell took the video below of the dozens of sharks circling around our table.

I watched my table scraps get snapped up by a flurry of snapping jaws and decide to lift my toes out of the water; for while Polynesian tastes and traditions might preclude eating shark, the feeling might not be reciprocal.

 Recipe for Poisson Cru Tahitienne or Fish Ceviche Salad Tahitian-style

5 from 1 vote
poisson cru Tahitiene
Poisson Cru Tahitienne

A marinated raw fish and coconut dish from Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort in French Polynesia. You’ll find versions of this easy dish throughout the South Pacific including Tonga where it is known as 'Ota 'Ika. 

Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Tahitian
Servings: 4
Author: Michele Peterson
  • 1 tomato
  • 2 medium cucumbers
  • 2 limes
  • 1 small white onion
  • 1 pound raw ahi tuna
  • 3/4 cup fresh coconut milk grate ripe fresh coconut and squeeze the milk out of the pulp through cheesecloth or use light canned coconut milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Cut the tuna into bite-sized chunks and marinate in lime juice for five minutes.   

  2. Peel, remove seeds and dice cucumbers into large pieces and place in a large glass bowl. 

  3.  Add diced tomatoes and onion. Mix in marinated tuna and lime juice
  4.  Let sit for a few minutes,  add coconut milk, season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. 

Travel Guide for Tahiti and French Polynesia 

Official Tahiti Tourism: Get travel advice, maps and information on travel between the islands.

Relais Mahana Huahine: Beach bungalows on what’s known as the Garden of Eden island.

Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa These are the overwater bungalows of your dreams complete with glass-bottomed floor and private decks with steps into clear waters.

Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort  Although it might be tempting to opt for one of the overwater bungalows, your best bet is one of the beach bungalows if you’re looking for a luxurious stay. They come with AC, an indoor/outdoor washroom and a private deck with a dreamy hammock.

Air Tahiti Nui: Air Tahiti Nui flies direct from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Faa’a International Airport in Papeete, Tahiti. www.airtahitinui.com

Hilton LAX: A great option for travellers who want to unwind during their LAX layover, is a day pass to the upscale Hilton Los Angeles Airport Hotel, near the airport. www.losangelesairport.hilton.com

Map of Tikehau French Polynesia

Map of Tikehau French Polynesia


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Pin and Save for Later! 

Take a poisson cru cooking class at Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort

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Michele Peterson
Michele Peterson
Dividing her time between Toronto, Mexico and Guatemala (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is an award-winning writer, blogger, editor and publisher who specializes in travel, cuisine and luxury lifestyles.
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Showing 4 comments
  • Suzanne Fluhr

    Wow. Those islands are the definition of sea level—until sea level rises. I’m not a fan of raw fish, but I did enjoy some of the ceviche on our recent trip to Ecuador and Colombia and I’m a fan of the vegetables, so maybe I’d give this version a try. As for eating surrounded by agitated sharks—-nah, but the location sure looks beautiful, especially after a freezing day here in Philly.

  • Doreen Pendgracs

    Michele, I am SO with you on this journey. Your photos are delightful, and I can just taste the ceviche. I’ve not yet been to Tahiti, but French Polynesia is definitely on my list!

  • Paulina Gaitan

    Hi Peterson, I wish we could have visited and now, having read your article, I am especially disappointed. Next time! Also visit my web. http://www.107steakandbar.com/

  • alison abbott

    I love taking a cooking class when I travel. Such a great way to learn about the culture. This recipe looks delish, and one i will try once the weather warms up. Something about eating ceviche with snow outside that really doesn’t work for me. What a gorgeous location-I think anything would taste pretty wonderful in French Polynesia.

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