In case you didn’t know, Samoa is a little island north of New Zealand, East of Papua New Guinea situated way down under in the South Pacific. It’s an ancient culture dating back more than three thousand years and although the diet has changed somewhat over time, islanders overall have maintained their taste for traditional Samoan foods to this day.
Like Hawaiians and Fijians, Samoans celebrate by cooking their meat in the ground using hot lava rocks. In Hawaii they are called luaus; in Fiji, lovos. In Samoa it is called an umu. Usually reserved for Sunday dinner and special occasions, these festive meals are part of what make traditional Samoan foods so interesting.
Unlike Fijians, Samoans don’t use a lot of hot spices in their foods. However, they share in the use of coconut milk, breadfruit, seafood, and taro in many of their traditional dishes. You can get a weird buzz on kava but you’ll also find chicken and pork in Samoan cuisine which you typically don’t find in Fiji.
And believe it or not, you can find a McDonald’s in Samoa, but why would you want to? You can have Micky Ds any day! This is a place for foodies to experience something new, and in that spirit, I’ve put together this list of 17 Samoan Traditional Foods that you must try – let’s dig in!
Traditional Samoan Breads
A third of this list is made up of breads. That’s because the traditional Samoan cuisine includes lots and lots of bread, but each one is different. Some are sweeter, more like breakfast pastries while others complement the main meal or are hearty enough to serve as a main dish all on their own! Here are six traditional Samoan breads you should try:
1. Fa’apapa (Sweet Coconut Bread)
Fa’apapa is to Samoa what toast and jam is to America. It’s the bread that most Samoans and South Pacific islanders in general eat in the morning with their breakfast. Its texture is very different from a piece of toast or a breakfast biscuit though.
They’re puffy like biscuits and flaky but sweeter than a biscuit. That’s the only similarity because it is served totally different from there. They are then covered in a sweet, thick, syrupy coconut milk concoction and then rolled in coconut flakes.
Looks delicious doesn’t it? Give it a shot in your kitchen – they only take a total of 40 minutes to prep and cook! Here’s a recipe from Food.com: https://www.food.com/recipe/faapapa-american-samoa-coconut-bread-501315
2. Fa’ausi (Bread Drizzled with Caramel Coconut Sauce)
Fa’ausi is very, very similar to Fa’apapa yet there are still some important differences. For one thing, with Fa’ausi, caramel is added to the coconut milk sauce, giving it an even richer texture. Then, instead of being served in syrup, it is cooled and served dry after being coated in coconut flakes.
Although it is often eaten any day of the week as a snack or for dessert, it is also one of those treats people bring to special occasions like holidays and funerals. If you like sweet, buttery caramel on a pastry, you’re probably going to love this!
Here’s a recipe for Fa’ausi from One Green Planet: https://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-recipe/faausi-samoan-caramel-over-coconut-bread/
3. Panikeke (Banana Pancakes)
When you think of islands, you think of palm trees and coconuts – and bananas. A super popular traditional Samoan sweet treat is the panikeke, which is basically a banana pancake but deep fried like a fritter. It’s like a carnival food here in America but sold by street vendors everywhere, every day in Samoa.
If you like bananas, you’re going to dig these. They cook up really fast in flat round pancakes made in a hot wok. Don’t let these babies cool; you’re supposed to eat them while they’re hot. Slap some jam or Cool Whip on top and voila – you have yourself a panikeke!
Here’s a recipe from AllRecipes: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/212389/samoan-panikeke/
4. Pani Popo (Coconut Buns)
Pani Popo is perhaps the most Samoan of dishes and is known by all Samoans as a traditional food dish. In fact, it is the island nation’s national dish. The great part about Pani Popo is that it can be served sweetened as a dessert or morning pastry, floating over coconut milk sauce or it can be served with an entree.
We have listed two different pani popos on this list – buns and rolls. The difference is slight here but it is a difference which you’ll certainly realize when you try this famous Samoan treat! You can either serve it with hot chocolate or as the bread to go along with some Kale Moa.
Here’s a recipe for Pani Popo Buns from King Arthur Flour: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/pani-popo-samoan-coconut-buns-recipe
5. Pani Popo (Coconut Rolls)
When we’re talking coconut rolls which are also called pani popo, they are closer to the roll you would eat here in the U.S., just maybe a little stickier. Think of sweet rolls in those cardboard rolls that you buy in the freezer aisle, except these are made homemade and swimming in sweetened coconut milk sauce.
While pani popo rolls are sweet, they are often served as complements to both dinner and breakfast or as a standalone dessert! This version of pani popo will work really well alongside an entrée too.
Here’s a recipe for Pani Popo Rolls from Fav Family Recipes: https://www.favfamilyrecipes.com/pani-popo/
Traditional Samoan Entrees
Like most island nations engulfed by ocean, Samoan entrees lean heavy on the seafood. Still you can find a variety of meats that you don’t typically find on Islands in the South Pacific. Here are six traditional Samoan entrees that you should try:
6. Palusami (Corned Beef in Coconut Milk)
Typically in the South Pacific islands, you won’t find much land meat which is why Samoan traditional foods are made of all types of local seafood. Samoa is different though. It’s a larger island and wars, colonization – lots of things have brought a variety of land meats which have become part of the culture.
One dish is palusami. It is basically corned beef that is wrapped with taro leaves filled with coconut milk. You bake it in a casserole dish and then add some onions. Very simple because it dates back thousands of years and remains an island favorite!
Learn more all about this ancient food and try this recipe from Polynesia.com: https://www.polynesia.com/blog/easypalusami
7. Oka i'a (Raw Fish in Coconut Cream with Lemon)
Oka i'a is how Samoans do salad. It’s not made like anything Americans would recognize but it is awesome! You take some raw tuna (or fish of your choice) and add a zesty coconut cream sauce and onions and top it all off with some peppers, lemons, and parsley – Mmmm good!
Plus, you won’t be putting on many calories at all with this dish but you will be getting a nice healthy dose of vitamins that you need. Anyone can make this dish and will benefit from adding it to your regular menu.
Here’s a recipe for Oka i'a you can try from International Cuisine: https://www.internationalcuisine.com/samoan-fish-salad/
8. Faiai Eleni (Raw Fish in Coconut Cream with Vegetables)
The star of the show when you are making Faiai Eleni is mackerel – served raw. But it is not the overwhelming flavor because you are going to mix together some onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and some coconut sauce and serve it out of a coconut shell, as is tradition!
Check out this cool video recipe from Veni Vlogs, a native Samoan. This Samoan food is so traditional that finding recipes is difficult and it’s even harder to make. So we found the top restaurant on Trip Advisor to find some really good Faiai Eleni.
The Shack Saipan | Address: Oleai Beach Road, 96950 Mariana Islands | Phone: +1 670-286-7422 |
9. Sapasui (Samoan-Style Chop Suey)
Early Chinese seafarers found their way all across the South Pacific. That’s why you’ll find some version of chop suey on practically every island down there. In Samoa, their version of chop suey is called sapasui. The noodles are slimier than the American or even the Chinese version.
While it is made using vermicelli like all chop suey, this version is very hearty, often including mung beans and beef or chicken and sometimes pork. Some top it off with raw carrots or broccoli but always you should serve it with some rice or taro.
Here’s a tasty recipe for sapasui from Cooking Hawaiian Style: https://www.cookinghawaiianstyle.com/component/recipe/recipes/detail/2082/sapasui-samoan-chop-suey
10. Samoan Chicken with Coconut Rice
Samoans make a traditional one pot chicken and rice dish that Natives love. It is very simple and ooh wee good! If you want something spicy, this isn’t it but it does have a nice tang to it with the apple cider vinegar and soy sauce.
You just mix some chopped up chunks of chicken with the onions, garlic, seasonings, and sauce, then serve over rice – delicious! This is usually made with a whole chicken chopped into little squares. Of course, it is simmered in coconut milk and served with rice for a knockout entrée.
Here’s a scrumptious looking recipe for Samoan chicken and rice from Lydia’s Flexitarian Kitchen: https://lydiasflexitariankitchen.com/samoan-style-chicken-and-coconut-rice/
11. Chicken Kale Moa
Before you run off to the store looking for some green leafy kale – we are not talking about the same thing. The “E” in kale is not silent – it is pronounced like the capital letter A. It is spicier than a traditional Samoan dish, blending curry spices with coconut milk, ginger, onions, and a ton of veggies.
This aromatic and flavorful dish is a favorite among all Samoans. If you want to really impress party guests or the Samoan in your life, try mastering this recipe!
Here is a traditional kale moa recipe from Samoa Food: http://www.samoafood.com/2010/12/kale-moa-samoan-chicken-curry.html
Traditional Samoan Desserts
After you’ve filled up on bread and dinner, you’ll want a nice sweet dessert to finish it all off. Using the ingredients found on the island, almost all of these desserts are made with some version of coconut milk or coconut juice! Here are five traditional Samoan desserts you should try:
12. Koko Araisa
Koko araisa may not look appetizing but unlike oatmeal in the mornings, kids actually love koko araisa for breakfast. In essence, it is chocolate sauce boiled with rice and coconut milk and sugar. It looks like soggy Cocoa Pebbles but it only has the same flavor.
The consistency is very hearty and a great way to start the day. You can either eat it warm like you would a hot cereal or serve it cold after chilling overnight. Either way, this is considered a big treat in Samoa!
Here is another traditional Samoan food recipe for koko araisa from Samoa Food: http://www.samoafood.com/2010/11/koko-araisa-cocoa-rice.html
13. Masi Samoa
What Samoans call Masi Samoa, Americans call shortbread cookies. However, these heavenly cookies taste much more buttery and have a hint of coconut due to the coconut milk in it. It’s a sweet treat that is served like you would any cookie – with hot chocolate.
Some like to eat it with jellies and jams. Either way, this easy to make homemade Samoan dessert is sure to be a hit with anyone who loves buttery pastries!
Samoa Food has a good recipe for Masi Samoa too: http://www.samoafood.com/2010/09/masi-samoa-samoan-coconut-cookies.html
Up next is a truly uniquely Samoan dessert. Pisua is a cold dessert similar to chilled pudding, which makes sense because it is made of tapioca. The tapioca is mixed into a coconut cream sauce that has been blended with caramel syrup.
It is very rich and a colorful dish as well. You are supposed to serve it in a glass dish so that it is part of a decorative presentation as well!
Try this yummy looking recipe for Pisua from Samoa Food: http://www.samoafood.com/2012/04/pisua-tapioca-in-coconut-caramel.html
15. Koko Samoa
Some people who are just now getting familiar with Samoan foods confuse koko araisa for koko Samoa but they are not the same thing! As they say, ‘Close, but no cigar!’ Both are made with rice and chocolate but instead of it thickening up like a hot cereal, koko Samoa is supposed to be thin enough to drink.
It’s like Samoa’s version of a hot chocolate – super rich and sweet chocolate made from native cocoa beans!
Here’s the recipe for real Koko Samoa from Samoa Food: http://www.samoafood.com/2010/10/koko-samoa-samoan-cocoa-recipe.html
16. Samoan Poi
Finally on our list is Samoa’s version of poi which anyone who has ever visited Hawaii is familiar with. It is made in a similar fashion – sort of like a banana pudding. You take damn near rotted bananas when they are at their mushiest.
Then you mash them, and in Samoa mix them with lemon, vanilla, and coconut flavoring. You can eat it as a snack but traditionally, Samoan poi is a very well known dessert.
Try this creamy recipe for Samoan Poi from Cook’s Hideout: https://www.cookshideout.com/western-samoa-poi-banana-puddling-recipe