Mea’ai Samoa Book Launch
We love visiting Samoa and what better excuse than to accompany our BFF Robert Oliver on the launch of his new book Mea’ai Samoa: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Polynesia. And thanks to the NZ High Commission and Samoa Tourism Authority we were given the opportunity as part of the celebrations to screen the Samoa episode of Real Pasifik to all the people who were involved both on screen and behind the scenes.
The book launch was held at Apollo Cinema in downtown Apia and was host to keynote speaker, the Samoan Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi. And wow, the Prime Minister certainly executed the role of the keynote speaker. If the Prime Minister’s goal was to be charismatic and entertaining, then goal achieved! Quite the character, the Prime Minister provided an extraordinary and hilarious speech in both English and Samoan. Acknowledgement of how important Robert’s book was for health and local Samoan produce was made by the Prime Minister, who scolded and teased his mostly Samoan crowd. Speaking in Samoan, the Prime Minister addressed the local operators and questioned them as to why local cuisine is often omitted from their menus. The Prime Minister even enacted a comedic exchange he had when visiting one of the local restaurants:
“I want some bananas – ‘no bananas, but we have some taro’…I want some palusami ‘sorry no palusami’, I want grilled fish- ‘we don’t have grilled fish’.”
The Prime Minister spoke of his concern that local restaurants were placing too much focus on foreign dishes as opposed to showcasing their own local food. This was a change that chefs needed to address; “When I ask you to fry me a local pancake – fry me a local pancake”. The PM said that through Robert’s book, he envisions this change occurring and that more Samoan food will become a staple feature on local menus. And then the PM had the entire audience falling about with laughter as he turned to Robert and said “I love you!”
Taking the podium, Robert spoke of how the book came together through his collaboration with acclaimed organics organisation Women in Business Development WIBDI and Samoa Tourism Authority. He acknowledged the critical role the Prime Minister plays as head of the Pacific Organics Taskforce. And not to miss an opportunity told the PM “I love you too!”
This love fest shows in the phenomenal richness of Mea’ai Samoa: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Polynesia. It’s there in the photos, the curation of the recipes, the intimate knowledge of a cuisine Robert has grown up with. The book is a collaborative effort between Robert, New Zealand academic Dr Tracy Berno and photographer Shiri Ram and serves as a gateway to discovering local Samoan cuisine. Imagine buying a copy of the book, travelling to Samoa and knowing that throughout your stay you are going to eat like a king whether it be in markets, beach fales, cafes or haute cuisine. The book tells you where to eat, what you can eat and if you want to cook we’d recommend extending your stay so you can feast on the wealth of recipes to choose from.Think Fa’ausi, an umu baked paw paw bread recipe with coconut caramel sauce. Or even the classic Sapasui (Chop suey).
The book serves as an ode to this foodie culture and you can get to know some of the great chefs and home cooks through the pages of Mea’ai.
For us, returning back to Samoa and being able to showcase the Real Pasifik show was a truly gratifying experience. It’s so different sitting in a full cinema and seeing the show in front of a big audience. There was a lot of laughter and as the show came to a close there were a lot of tears as people saw the chefs transforming their incredible organic produce into stunning cuisine.
These wonderful chefs are playing a significant leadership role in their country. Joined by the Mea’ai chefs they are the game changers; it is through their talents and skills that real South Pacific cuisine will become a common feature on local menus. We salute you guys as you continue on your extraordinary mission.
Fa’afetai lava for having us and we’re glad you loved the show. By the way Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi you are now our personal hero. We’re coming back to Samoa for Real Pasifik series two because we want to continue to support your country’s brilliant work.
Blog by Mele Foliaki and Anna Marbrook
Photos by Heather Lee and Anna Marbook