It would be no exaggeration to say that we ate our way through American Samoa, as a quick read through the Logbook Entry #129 will reveal. From American style hot dogs with mustard and sauerkraut from the stand at Cost-U-Less, to the Mel & Gretchen’s all-day oriental Buffet, to Evalani’s Sunday Mexican night, to fish and chips at Mom’s, to the homemade veggie burgers at Sadies, to -- last but certainly not least -- the Samoan style umu feast at Teesa’s Barefoot bar, not to mention all the American junk we could cart home from Cost-U-Less (including our favorite indulgence -- Tyson’s Buffalo wings) and KS Market (where provisioning is a dream come true), we ate well and happily for a month. Ironically we remember little special about eating in Western Samoa (Logbook Entry #130) except for the traditional lunch in the chief’s house we enjoyed in a small village we stopped in on our tour of Upolu. Oh, yes, and ice cream from New Zealand!
The Samoan Island Group stands at a point where cruising sailors are likely to need to reprovision. Behind westbound cruisers is expensive French Polynesia and ahead of them is the relatively Spartan shopping opportunities of Tonga. Cruisers heading north to the Marshalls for cyclone season have six months of eating to plan for. If provisioning is an important issue for any cruiser in this part of the world, American Samoa should not be missed, no matter what you’ve heard about it. Between Cost-U-Less and KS Market we found everything we’d been missing, including Mexican and Oriental products, and if your timing is lucky with the shipping, you can even get decent gringo produce (seems like that comes only about every 2-4 weeks!)
Once past American Samoa, the source of most food products is New Zealand and Australia, and American cruisers will find that the tastes of products -- canned foods and condiments, for example -- will change subtly. If you are in for the long haul, you will have to adjust eventually, but I for one see no reason to give up proper ketchup (for example) before you have to. We actually met a boat that passed up Pago Pago for Apia based on their reputations, yet they were so disappointed in the provisioning they found in Apia that they flew back to American Samoa just to shop. How many times can I say it? Pago Pago’s reputation paints a very unfair picture. It is quite a nice place to stop, shop, eat, hang out and get your US Mail! Again if you have any doubts, read the American Samoa Logbook Update (#129)
What the two Samoas do have in common was our first (and second) introduction to pulusami, a traditional dish in this part of the world. At Teesa’s sumptuous feast, two Lus were produced from the umu, the pulusami with minced taro leaf and onion and one with mixed seafood. Both of these made a scrumptious dip for roasted breadfruit slices, and a young couple we met there who’d been working in American Samoa for a year told us they came regularly to Teesa’s weekly umus specifically for it. At our traditional lunch at the chief’s house, we again had pulusami this time as a dip for baked taro slices. Our experience of these two memorable meals is already chronicled in the relevant Log Entries so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that the first was an extravagant feast, the second a humble everyday meal, yet this yummy dish appeared in both!
The good news is you don’t have to build an umu in your back yard to make it. A cheater version can be made either on your stove top or in your oven. While the oven is on for the pulasami, throw in a piece of taro root (peeled and cut in half lengthwise) or a whole breadfruit (peel and core it after baking). Both of these starches can be used pretty much any way you would a potato (and potato can substitute), but to serve with pulasami, cut them after after cooking into rounds or half rounds convenient for dipping by hand.
Umu-less Pulasami or Lu
Traditionally, instead of the taro leaves being minced and mixed into the Lu, the coconut cream mixture is spooned by individual servings into a whole taro leaf which is folded around it, after which the whole packet is wrapped in a banana leaf which is secured shut with a banana leaf rib. These packets are then baked in the traditional umu along with meats or seafood and starcy vegetables like plantain, breadfruit and taro root. The taro leaf wrapper is eaten, but not the banana leaf, and one dips one’s slices of breadfruit and taro into it. This version, which we enjoyed at Teesa’s Barefoot Bar in Alega Beach, American Samoa, is suitable for “home” use!
8-12 young taro leaves *(or
Variations: In the Samoas and Tonga, Lu is often combined with canned meats or fish, eg. Corned beef, mackerel, chicken or lamb. Of course, the same can be done with “real” meat and fish (as was done at Teesa’s), a tasty use for leftovers!
*Remember: The taro leaf cannot, under any circumstances, be eaten raw.