For Tongans, there’s no such thing as little. They are big people with big hearts.
Even bigger things are happening this Saturday when Canberra’s first authentic Tongan cafe opens from 11 am to 3 pm in the Altitude Building on Emu Bank Drive at Belconnen.
The cafe is called Kingdom 5 and has a special meaning for owners Thervaini Ilolahia and her husband Rutikha.
Born and raised in Canberra, Thervaini has a background in business and worked in the public sector before raising her four young children. She said she gave herself time to mourn their fifth child and simply decided to pursue her dream of sharing Tongan cuisine with the wider Pacific Island community and that of Canberra.
Thervaini found inspiration from her 80-year-old grandmother and mother Sisikula, who were immediately appointed “best cooks ever”.
“I thought, what can I do to be an example to those who have lost something precious, and the Tongan cafe came up,” Thervaini said. “So, with my mum’s expertise in food and my own skills in business, why not bring it together for the first Tongan or Polynesian cafe in Canberra?
“I also think we are the first Tongan restaurant in Australia to dedicate ourselves to purely Tongan cuisine.”
With their big, friendly smiles, the Ilolahia family opened a market stall, selling well-known Tongan foods such as Lu Sipi or Lu Pulumasima (taro leaves used to wrap different types of meat, tomatoes, onion and lots of coconut milk, then steamed until perfect), and Otai mango and meleni (a chunky mango or watermelon punch topped with whipped cream infused with vanilla beans from Tonga with the scent of the Tongan flower, Heilala).
Of course, there are the Keke Isite, better known as Tongan doughnuts.
Proof that word of mouth travels further than the belly is that prior to tomorrow’s opening day (Saturday), the cafe is now booked for the next three months.
“We are very blessed and so grateful to the community I come from. It’s been lots of hard work and we are purely a husband and wife team with the support of those around us.
“We want to set up a place that is also a community meeting place for my Tongan and Pacific Island friends, but also for all the beautiful people in Canberra.”
On Saturday, no bookings are required. Just walk in with an empty stomach and walk out with a whole lot of love inside.
“We want to use our little cafe to make everyone feel loved through the preparation of our food all the way through to the service. Everyone deserves to feel loved, so Kingdom 5 carries that as a reminder to my husband and I of the driving forces of our little family,” Thervaini says.
Everything is made fresh and Thervaini says the food is not made to last. “If you hang around Islanders long enough, you’ll know that there are never any leftovers,” Thervaini says with a laugh.
It won’t be hard to find the cafe. Just follow your nose and your ears to the beats of Islander music, with a side serving of song and dance.
Failing which, you could find out more on the event link on Facebook.