Samoa, a Polynesian island country located halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand has a rich food history dating back more than three thousand years. The traditional culture of Samoa is a communal way of life that values family and is based around their unique socio-political culture, called Fa’a Samoa. As such, food is an important part of life for Samoans since it brings families together.
This island nation’s location by the Pacific Ocean is why the cuisine is seafood abundant, and because of the tropical climate, you’ll find plenty of coconut, bananas, taro, and breadfruit in Samoan dishes. Coconut milk is particularly dominant in their food.
*There are many dishes that make up Samoan cuisine. In this post we’re offering an introduction to some highlights.
The umu, which translates to “earth oven” is an integral part of Samoan culture as it is a mechanism to cook Sunday afternoon meals and for special occasions. Lava rocks are employed to cook meat in the ground, and an umu meal can consist of whole pig, crayfish, baked taro, and rice. Barbecued meat is also enjoyed during many of these Sunday feasts.
Panipopo is the national dish of Samoa, and is commonly served as a morning pastry or dessert. It can take the form of a bun or roll and is baked in sweet coconut milk. They’re typically served in shallow bowls, spooned over with more sweet coconut milk, and accompanied by a hot beverage, like a Samoan cocoa.
You may be familiar with Chop Suey, an overseas Chinese dish believed to be invented in the U.S. by Chinese Americans. In Chinese, “tsap seui” translates to “miscellaneous leftovers” and Sapasui is the Samoan interpretation of this dish. “Samoan Chop Suey,” as it is sometimes called, is made with sauteed vermicelli noodles, vegetables, and proteins like chicken or pork.
Kale Moa is a light chicken curry stew made with chicken pieces, coconut milk, vegetables, and spices such as masala. Pictured above it is served with turkey leg and palusami, a traditional Samoan dish of bundled taro leaves filled with chicken, fish, or corned beef.
Samoans carefully cultivate kava plants to brew a beverage known to have a pleasant calming effect on those who imbibe it. In Samoan culture, kava is used during important ceremonies and sometimes as an herbal remedy. The solemn ritual of the ‘ava ceremony often includes a speech and a formal drinking of the kava. It’s made from the dried roots of the plant and mixed with water before it is strained before drinking. “Kava, a bitter additive known for its relaxing calming effect, is here complemented with coffee, teas, or other ingredients to make absolutely unique drinks. Drinks that will leave your mouth slightly numb and leave you feeling a bit more relaxed and chill. “ – Yelp Elite, Jonathan B
Poke, ceviche, crudo. These are all variations on a dish with cut up pieces of fresh raw fish, mixed with alliums and aromatics. In Samoa, their version is called Oka and involves marinated cubed fish mixed with coconut cream. Sometimes it’s served by itself or with a taro chip, and many different varieties of fish can be used in Samoan Oka.
Panikekes (pronounced pah-nee-kaykay or pawn-kay-kay) are traditional Samoan pancakes and come in two shapes– flat or round. They’re typically made plain or with banana, and newer Samoan bakeries have toyed around with flavors like pineapple and raisins for fun variations on this traditional breakfast dish. The batter is a simple sweet dough fried in oil and can be eaten hot or cold.
Samoa is home to people from many countries, and its long history of different settlers is reflected in the food that has been adopted into the cuisine. Pagi Siamu, also known as German rolls, came out of the German occupation of Samoa in the early 1900s. The Germans brought a doughnut called fastnacht to the island and the islanders iterated on the recipe to make it their own. The classic Samoan German roll is deep fried and filled with grape jelly. It is often served warm as a breakfast item or afternoon snack.