Samoa is a group of islands in the South Pacific, home to some of the smiliest people in the world. Samoan people love to joke around, sing, dance and are serious about three things in life: God, family and food.
Every major life event is marked with a feast, and every Sunday we have to'ona'i, which is lunch with a capital L. It's the only meal of the day, with people waking up in the wee hours of the morning to get it cooked in time for church, and to'ona'i is usually so filling that all we do afterwards is sleep.
Samoans don't skimp on regular weekday meals either. Roasted chicken, homemade vegetable soups, smoky bbq and fresh fish salad (ota) were all regulars on my family's menu. My parents weren't exactly rolling in money (ask me later what a fa'alavelave is), but there was always plenty of food on the table.
I used to think that Samoan cooking was simple because the ingredients seemed limited and there appeared to be lots of variations on a theme, like coconut cream covered taro, coconut cream covered yams, coconut cream covered potatoes. I now realise that Samoan cooking is quite versatile, surviving wherever a bunch of Samoans would decide to settle, and the ingredients are actually quite flexible, adaptable to any local produce and meats.
Samoan food today shows some clear historical influences, mostly European and Chinese. Classic dishes like umu (oven-pit-baked food), sapasui (chop suey), and puligi (pudding) have not changed much over the last few decades, whereas some dishes have not stood the test of time, such as suamasi (cracker soup). (Please raise your hand if you eat suamasi, because I personally don't know of any Samoan that does.)
Of course, no cuisine can stay static, and there are some exciting developments being made by Samoans overseas and by foreign chefs based in the islands. For instance, check out Joe Lam's poi and recipes such as Mango-Spiced Chicken from the Samoan section of Sam Choy's Polynesian Kitchen. Never saw these on my childhood dining table, but it really is inspirational stuff.
If you are Samoan or lived a Samoan life, I hope to hear what dishes you grew up eating. If you are just interested in Samoan food, I hope you give some of these recipes a go. I'm sure your tastebuds will be pleasantly surprised.