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Welcome to the birthplace of Polynesia and more coconut-flavoured cuisine. One Lonely Planet blurb has this to say about Samoa, ‘it is a humble place, devoid of mega-resorts and flashy attractions, but with welcomes as warm as the islands sun’. For those who have visited, this short description will ring true.
What makes Samoa special from many other cultures around the world is Fa’a Samoa – the Samoan Way. This unique social structure focuses on a communal way of life where faith, family and respect for your elders are well entrenched in daily life. Travelling on the colourful local buses is a sure way to observe the warmth and honesty on hand. Karla still talks about one of her experiences back in 2012 when she visited with American friends, Melody and Phil. Her experience aboard a crowded bus included sharing a seat with the driver, holding onto passenger handbags and belongings (including someone's baby) and even collecting the bus fares from passengers to assist the driver. There are not many places in the world where that would happen.
When it comes to food, Samoan cuisine keeps to the Pacific island theme of fresh ingredients and traditional cooking methods. Root vegetables like taro and breadfruit, coupled with coconut cream and pork, chicken and fish dishes, are widespread. Meals such as oka, raw fish marinated in coconut cream, lemon juice, chilli and onions, or palusami, baked coconut in taro leaves cooked in the umu (earth oven), are all popular local staples. These foods, like most Samoan cuisine, are characterised by not being heavily spiced.
Our take on Samoa turned out to be a real winner. The main meal revolved around Keke pua'a, or Samoan style bao buns. As many people are aware, bao are Chinese steamed buns with a wide variety of fillings, both savoury and sweet. In Samoa, bao are always filled with meat, usually pork, which is why they are called keke (cake) pua’a (pork). We used a basic mixture of pork, onions, garlic and soy sauce seasoning as the filling. The key was to overseason the filling to compensate for the bland dough taste. Our keke pua'a were even better then what we expected and will most definitely be made again soon The leftovers provided a great lunch the following day at work. You can find the recipe here. To compliment the buns we pulled together a simple red cabbage slaw flavoured with fresh passionfruit and coconut oil. The fresh passionfruit came courtesy of Aaron's parents orchard in Hawkes Bay.
Our dessert featured Suafa'l, a soup like dish that can be eaten hot or cold. To say that it looks unappetising would be an understatement. However that aside, it was surprisingly tasty. Suafa'l is essentially ripened bananas, coconut milk and tapioca pearls. The texture is probably unlike anything you've ever tasted. We found the recipe on a neat website dedicated to Samoan food. It's a good place to start for cuisine from this country. Our experience was rounded out with Koko Samoa or Samoan hot cocoa. Thanks to our NZ made Whittaker's Single Origin Samoan Cacao, we were able to grate some authentic extra dark chocolate and try create this unique drink. We read that Samoans enjoy the pegu (cacao grinds) that come with every mouthful of hot cocoa. The pegu can be chewed on at the end, apparently a delicacy but also a good bet of getting stuck in between one's teeth. Karla introduced a twist in the recipe by using homemade coconut milk instead of water. This was easily done by straining blended hot water and shredded coconut.
INGREDIENTS LIST (AS PER ORIGINAL RECIPE):
Keke pua’a dough (makes 16)
2 Tablespoons dry yeast
¼ cup (60ml) warm water
1 Tablespoon sugar
½ cup (120ml) warm milk
¼ cup melted butter
¼ cup (50g) sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
3½ cups (437.5g) all purpose flour
Red Cabbage Slaw with Guava & Virgin Coconut Oil Dressing
Guava Syrup (fresh passionfruit juice is a good substitute + a little brown sugar)
Virgin Coconut Oil
Suafa’i (serves 6)
8 medium overripe bananas
4 cups (1 litre) water
½ cup (100g) small tapioca pearls
1 cup (240ml) coconut milk
¼ - ½ cup (50-100g) sugar (optional)
Koko Samoa (makes 2 cups)
2 cups (500ml) water
4 tablespoons (24g) Koko Samoa, grated
4 tablespoons (60g) sugar
Some necessary kitchen gadgets and tools:
Steamer or oven
Here are some of the fun facts that were brought to the dinner table:
Canned tuna is their primary export
Samoans skipped 30th December 2011. The International Dateline was moved to bring Samoa inline with its trading partners, meaning they skipped 30th December 2011 completely
In 2009, Samoa changed the side on which its residents drive. The change came about to bring the country in line with other Polynesian countries and to allow the cheaper import of right hand drive cars from New Zealand and Australia, rather than having to expensively import left hand drive cars from America.
Here's a couple of activities that Karla recommends and Aaron's written down on his to-do list:
Sleep in a Fale on the beach
Spend a Sunday morning in church. The beautiful churches across the country attract throngs of locals dressed in white. This is the real Samoa
Swim in Samoa’s most instagrammed swimming hole, the Sua Ocean Trench. Set in the serenity of the rainforest, the 30m deep trench is a volcanic pool filled by ocean tides
Play touch rugby with local children
Next week we're onto Samoa's little neighbour, the fourth smallest country in the world, Tuvalu. Join our subscribers list and you'll get an email informing you when our next update is up!