So the other day, my mother called me "old school".
She didn't use those exact words but the implication was clear. I've been away too long.
How did this happen?
Well, I was telling her how I was making fa'apapa, the way we used to have it when I was little. Fa'apapa in those days were these heavy, thick, dense coconut slabs that you could break your teeth on. An old Samoan woman could keep this kind of fa'apapa in her bag and nibble a lump off while waiting for the bus, sitting in church, in the doctor's waiting room. And the fa'apapa also doubled as a weapon in case she got mugged. One hit, and the guy would be out like a light.
So I was telling my mother how I had succeeded in recreating the same kind of hard crunchy crust around a dense coconut texture, weighing the requisite one pound, and the woman says "Oh, we don't make them like that anymore".
"What? What do you mean?" I ask her.
"Yeah, these days, we like lighter, fluffier fa'apapa." my mother replies.
"Huh? What are you talking about, 'lighter' 'fluffier'? They're supposed to be bricks of coconut right?"
"No, that's how they used to make them. Some people still make it that way (eg. my old-school daughter). But these days, we add baking powder to give it a bit of lift and don't add so much coconut. It tastes better too."
Well, I'll be darned. Who would have thought that fa'apapa would evolve without me.
So I've been experimenting with the traditional and updated versions of fa'apapa, and my mother is right, the modern stuff is easier on the palate. But I still think the old-fashioned fa'apapa is better for fa'ausi, which in truth, was the whole reason I was trying to make fa'apapa anyway. Feel free to try either version. They both taste good, but only the original fa'apapa can prevent mugging.
Old-school Fa'apapa (makes 2)
⅓ cup (65g) sugar
1⅓ cup (120g) unsweetened coconut
½ can (200ml) coconut milk
everything together in a bowl and mix well with your hands. Divide into two
equal portions. Generously grease some baking paper with butter. Flatten each
portion of dough into a slab no bigger than 1 inch/2.5 thick. Wrap each portion
tightly in the baking paper. Bake at 390°F/200ºC for 35-40 minutes or until
crust is well-browned.
If you get a chance, check out this video of fa'apapa straight from the umu!