A Crash Course in Samoan Cuisine

Samoan cuisine is not world-renowned, nor is it something particularly wowing. It’s charming quality is in its simplicity. Dishes are commonly made from a few hand picked ingredients, which are either boiled or cooked on the “umu.” Every dish can easily be prepared with a minimal amount of kitchenware, or none at all.

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The majority of my meals include items found right on the compound in which I live. We pick taro, laupele (local leafy vegetable), bananas, and breadfruit daily. The other ingredients listed below we would need to purchase. Many Samoan families purchase meat at the store or raise their own. Fish and other sea creatures make their way into the diet of the families who live closer to shore.

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Picking breadfruit 
Common fruit and vegetables:

  • Taro
  • Breadfruit
  • Banana
  • Cucumber
  • Bok choy
  • Garlic
  • Samoan chili pepper
  • Pumpkin
  • Onion
  • Laupele
  • Taro leaves
  • Moli (Samoan lime)
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    The open air produce market

Meat:

  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Tuna
  • Octopus
  • Eel
  • Reef fish
  • Beef
  • Mutton

In many cases you will find things boiled or fried. Even the bananas are commonly boiled as a side dish. (This took me awhile to grow accustomed to) My favorite dishes are when they are boiled in the coconut cream called fa’alifu. This could be breadfruit, taro, yam, or bananas. Before the breadfruit or taro can be cooked the outside skin must be scraped off. This is done using a tin can converted into a scraper. Making the coconut cream is also a rigorous process. First you have to go climbing up trees to get them. After the climb down you have to shuck’em, scrape the meat out, and then squeeze the juice out of the meat. Talk about breaking a sweat.

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Starting the umu
Now, not everything is boiled and fried. Samoans have also developed a n
atural oven called an “umu.” Behind most fale’s (houses) you will find an outdoor kitchen. Within this kitchen a fire will be created using coconut husks with lava rock set atop the fire.
As the flames die out the rocks stay incredibly hot. The food, such as pork or taro, is set on the rocks. Once set, large banana leaves will be draped over the food to help keep the heat and moisture in, hence baking what ever is inside.

So we have a list of ingredients and how they are prepared, but what are some common Samoan dishes?

  1. Oka: A unique dish as it is not boiled, fried, or baked on the umu. It is a ceviche served cold made using delicious fresh tuna and coconut cream. The tuna is placed in coconut cream and Samoan limejuice along with diced cucumber, onion, and tomato. On occasion chili is added for a kick.
  2. Supo povi: Hunks of beef still on the bone are boiled to create a broth. Pumpkin, laupele (local leafy vegetable), onion, and potato will be added to complete the soup. Veggies can differ.
  3. Palusami: Young taro leaves containing coconut cream will be wrapped into a banana leave and then placed on the oven to bake. The end result looks like a blob of green and white. The taste is hard to describe, but imagine coconut and spinach mixed together.
  4. Baked goodies: Taro, breadfruit, and banana baked right on the rocks!
  5. Fe’e (octopus): Octopus cooked in coconut cream and its own ink.
  6. Poi: Banana porridge mixed with moli leaves (for flavor) and coconut cream. It is best served cold.
  7. Koko Araisa (Koko rice): This dish is typically served for breakfast. Samoan koko is mixed with creamy rice.

 

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Fale kuka – outdor kitchen
Now, you have sat down and are ready to eat a delicious Samoan meal. What do you do? First, look down. Did you notice you don’t have any utensils? Yep, you just guessed right you are using your good ole fingers for tonight’s meal. After personally struggling I began to observe my host family when we ate. I found the key is to use a piece of taro or breadfruit to scoop up any semi-solid foods such as the palusami. If we have chicken or fish you are good to just dig right in. (Prior to service I disliked eating chicken off the bone. Now, I look forward to it.) Dinner tends to be a messy deal, but don’t worry. When you have had your fill someone will plop a bowl of water in front of you to wash your hands.

 

There are many more dishes. If you are curious to learn more I encourage you to visit: http://www.samoafood.com/p/recipes.html

 

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