In the past few weeks I have been in Missouri, which is my second home. Getting in touch with family and culture with my father’s side of the family. Including the food, theres something I’ve noticed about this. Getting to know a cultures cusine and getting to know a culture through it’s cusince are one and the same. You learn alot about a culture through it’s food. The food you see most often tells you about geographical features. The way food cooks explain’s the type of tools that a culture has at the time to work with. You honestly can learn about a culture through its food.
Like Samoan food, cooked in the fa’asamoa, or “samoan style or culture”. I’ve found that in my discussions with my older relatives like uncles and aunts, it’s taking traditional cusine and making it yours. To give you an idea of what Samoan food consists of, think of its geographical location. There are two Samoas, American and Western, donsidering that its an island chain in the pacific the food is much akin to food you would find in Hawai’i. Mangos, coconuts, bananas, among other tropical fruits along with things, you may have never heard of or used like taro root, or “kalo” as its pronounced in Samoan.
There are some things that you may not expect to hear of in Samoan food, corned beef can be considered a staple, as well as some less then conventional things like canned sardines as well as spam. But they all have uses in Samoan food. Like last night I had for dinner “sapasui” or as most english speakers know it as, chop suey. It may appeal to some and disgust others, but all I have to say is. After eating my uncles, no other chop suey will ever compare. The way to make chop suey is simple.
Prepare the protein of your choice, in my experiences with sapa suey traditionally its pork. The way my uncle prepares it, the pork is boiled while the “lea lea” or what I’ve come to know by my samoan relatives as ‘bean thread’ or glass noodles is soaked in cold water, while the meat is prepared. The meat is cut up into small bite size pieces, then its usually boiled then cooked in a bit of oil, enough to coat and moisten the meat. Then vegtables are prepared, this is also very dependent on whos making it. In Samoan circles, grandmas make it different then their daughters do, aunts make it different depending on which aunt is making it. But usually you’ll see celery, carrot, onion, and corn, much like the mirepoix, of french cooking. As the meat is cooked you prepare the vegtables, celery is diced as are onions and carrots are skinned and chopped as well to add to the meat. When its cooked together you add the lea lea and let the flavors of the food marry together. The base seaoning of a sapa suey is very basic. Its a base of soy, along with salt and peper, my uncle favors ginger in his, as well as maybe some garlic. The other components of the dish do the rest of the work, the onion pervades the rest of the bean thread soak up the slight sweetness of the cooked onion, the ginger adds a hint of mild tang that fills the pork with flavor, as the soy is soaked into the bean thread to add a slight saltiness to it, as well as flavoring the pork.
When all is said and done if you’ve done it right traditional sapasui, can be a comfort food that every Samoan regardless of where they’re from can tell you fond memories of. This is just one of the Samoan foods that I can attest to from my childhood, there are quite a few others, like “pani kekes” which are much like pancakes are, the batter is essentially the same, but they are small doughnut hole like pastries served with jelly, or even injected with them after frying in oil.
Things like food really help to explain a culture if your keen enough to see the clues that show you a tapestry of culture just as rich, flavorful, and diverse as the food is. It just takes a bit of observation and with the help of the internet here and there you can gain an understanding of a culture through its food. The biggest reasons you don’t see “Samoan” themed restaurants? Because its a family and cultural thing, the best Samoan food you’ll ever eat won’t be in some big restaurant or chain of food places. It’ll be in the kitchens of the samoan friends you know, food is a way of welcoming you into the home. You come because of the invitation, you keep coming for the warmth of the family and the great food.