I also thought I would get over my general dislike of seafood since I am living on a island, but I don’t think that will happen. I can eat fish, but I forgot that seafood included so much more than fish until my family put oysters in front of me. Just looking at them made my stomach turn. And another time they put a whole crab on my plate (there were lots of important guests over, so it wasn’t just for me) and another time, there were some black, caterpillar-looking wormy things that my host mom said comes from a shell. Those didn’t get eaten either. However, I was very proud of myself when I ate a chicken that I had watched being killed.
We had a culture day as part of our training when we got to cook a traditional Samoan feast ourselves (with the help of host families and all our language trainers, so we really didn’t do much of the cooking). Some people brought chickens, there were two pigs, and a bunch of fish. I got a fish from my family, so I didn’t have to worry about killing anything. I did receive quite a shock though when I picked up a bag and it moved, so I immediately dropped it realizing there was a chicken in a plastic bag. Lots of nervous laughter after that. The people who did bring chickens had to kill them by holding their throats and choking them to death. The pigs were also choked to death, but by stepping on a board put over their throat.
In case you ever wondered what the inside of a papya looks like - now you know
Cracking open the coconuts
Helping make palusami
The rest of the culture day wasn’t so traumatizing. We got to collect coconuts, break them open with a machete (I had a rock and I managed it in three hits!), scrape them, then wring out the shavings to make coconut cream. I absolutely love coconut cream, but I don’t know that I will be making it on my own at all – it takes a ton of effort. Palusami is another one of my favorites, which is coconut cream wrapped in taro leaves. It is generally eaten with taro, but I don’t really like taro, so I preferred to eat it with breadfruit. Breadfruit is a starchy thing – not a fruit – and it vaguely reminds me of mashed potatoes. I also love all the fresh fruit here. Papaya is getting a little old, but mangos are just coming into season, bananas are always great, and the pineapple is amazing!
Another one of my Samoan favorites is the flying saucer. A flying saucer is the general name for a grilled, sealed sandwich. I would say almost every family has this nifty little sandwich grill that toasts the bread while sealing the sides, so you have a nice sealed, toasted sandwich. I actually quite enjoyed the spaghetti flying saucers (they would put canned spaghetti inside the sandwich and toast it). Other varieties include eggs, tuna, and pineapple and cheese (I never had a pineapple and cheese one). I think there is a difference between a flying saucer and a toasted sandwich because almost every restaurant I’ve seen lists a toasted sandwich on their menu and the edges aren’t sealed – more in the traditional grilled cheese manner.
One thing that always made me a little anxious about meals is that guests are generally treated very respectfully. So as a guest of honor in my host family, I was served first, my tray was always heaped with food, and I ate with my host father separate from the entire family. Half the time there was someone else sitting in front of me fanning my food to keep the flies off. For about a week near the end, there were a lot of guests around our fale, so I ate with them too. One of my uncles had flown in from New Zealand because his mom had died, so he was there for the funeral, and there were lots of other important people there too. My host family was used to my eating habits by this time, but the new people didn’t really understand how I ate, so they would point at my plate and say “taro” or “fish” or “mayonnaise” and expect me to eat everything. I just kind of nodded and smiled, and continued to eat in my preferred style of taking a few bites of this, a few bites of that until I felt I had eaten enough to be respectful. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that.