Ika Mata: Rarotongan Raw Fish Salad with Coconut, Papaya and Chilli


In Rarotonga, one of the Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean north of New Zealand, they have a dish called ika mata. This is basically raw fish marinated in coconut and citrus juice. However, here I team it with papaya and chilli, to give it a sweetish spicy note. This is a fantastic summer main-course meal, served with a crunchy green salad on the side. Use a firm white flaky fish, such as snapper, cod or sea bass. Funnily enough, even though Captain Cook is the reason for the Cook Islands’ name, he never actually visited, sailing way past them.


  • 800 g fish fillets (see above), all bones, scales and skin removed
  • 120 ml lime juice or 150 ml lemon juice
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced and briefly rinsed in cold water
  • sea salt (use this rather than rock salt)
  • 1 medium ripe papaya (paw paw), around 400–500 g, peeled, halved and seeds removed
  • 1 red chilli, thinly sliced into rings (more or less to taste)
  • 200 ml coconut milk (make sure it’s unsweetened)
  • 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • large handful of picked coriander leaves


Cut the fish into chunks about 1 cm thick and place in a non-reactive bowl. Add half the citrus juice, the red onion and ¼ teaspoon of salt, and gently mix it all together. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for 20 minutes.

After this time, drain off the excess liquid and discard. Cut the papaya flesh into chunks the same size as the fish. Add to the fish together with the remaining citrus juice, some more salt to taste, the chilli and coconut milk, and leave to marinate in the fridge for another 15 minutes.

After this time, mix in the spring onions and coriander, taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary, and serve slightly chilled.