Without any doubt, faausi is my favorite Samoan food. I remember the first time I had it in the training village, back in October of 2009, and as I ate it, just kept wondering what it was made from. Since then I’ve found out that it can be made by using either papayas or taro—I prefer papaya. So the full name would be faausi esi (esi means papaya).
While embracing my second year of Peace Corps service, I’ve been trying to learn more about the people and their traditions. Since food is such a huge part of this culture, I knew that asking my neighbors to teach me how to make faausi would be a great weekend activity—and it would please my stomach!
Having asked my neighbors what I needed to get while in town at the market, I picked up 10 papaya and six pounds of flour. Bringing back 10 papayas in a big basket on the bus sure did get conversations started. By Sunday afternoon when we actually began preparing the faausi, I think most of my village knew what I was going to do.
With paper and pen for note taking, and camera in hand, I headed over to my neighbor Naomi and Taunaola’s around 1p.m. and they had already started preparing. A relative of theirs was working on shaving the inside of 20 coconuts, which would later be squeezed for the cream. Someone had also gone out and gathered the firewood which had already been split and would be used to build the oven. My walking over with 10 papayas from the market and my bag of flour suddenly seemed like the easy part of the prep work.
First we cut the papayas and scooped out all the seeds (I’m already a pro at this). My hands always have some allergic reaction to the papaya and I asked Naomi if hers did too. She laughed and said no, and that her hands were strong. After we had the papaya prepared, she put it in water and boiled it over a hot flame for about 30 minutes. While we were waiting, I went over and tried lending a hand with the coconuts, but I was rather slow, and soon handed the operations back over to the pros. If I had continued, we would still be waiting on me! Nevertheless, seeing the manual labor that goes into what are daily chores for these people, helped remind me of how much patience is required.
As we were all in the Samoan kitchen, the smoke from the fires kept driving me outside to get fresh air, as my eyes were very sensitive and kept watering. Once again, if I had been left alone on my own to do this, I wouldn’t be writing this blog about my making faausi, because we wouldn’t have gotten past building the fire.
Once the papaya was done cooking, Naomi and her sister worked at separating it from the juice. This would then cool for a bit and then be added to the flour to make a doughy mixture.
While the papaya was cooling, Taunaola and another man from the village who was there helping us, started working on the sauce. After having built a big fire, they took some of the scolding rocks and placed them on two sticks over the pan with the coconut cream. Then they would pour the sugar onto the rocks and the sugar would caramelize into the coconut cream below, but not before causing flames to shoot up on the rock due to the sugar. I kept thinking how this felt like a science experiment my high school chemistry teacher, Frank McCauley, would have done for us. It was really neat to watch, and I kept wondering how everything would come together.
Once the papaya had cooled, we added it to the flour and mixed it with our hands. We actually could have used more flour, but I’ll know next time. After the mixing was complete, Namoi walked over with portions of banana leaves which she said were Samoan foil. How resourceful. She coated each leaf with a light layer of coconut cream and then we filled each leaf with a handful of the dough. She wrapped each one and then they were put over the hot rocks and covered with several banana leaves and even a woven mat to help bake them in the traditional Samoan oven (called an umu). At this point it was just wait and watch for about 45 minutes until they were done baking.
Finally, they came out of the oven, and we placed them onto more banana leaves and opened them up to cool. Flies are always a constant bother in Samoa, so I knew without being asked, to fan our food with a towel. After about ten minutes Taunaola washed the outside of a coconut which he then preceded to use as a cutting board. Cutting each baked papaya loaf with a dull knife, he placed the pieces in a bowl and I looked on with excitement. We had almost completed the very labor intensive meal.
Soon the bowl was mostly full and it was time to add the rich sauce we had made earlier. My nose instantly remembered the wonderful smells, as they mixed the two together. Bowls were brought out and as is Samoan custom, they served me first, and with a bowl that was heaping full of faausi. I waited for others to be served before eating, but I was urged to begin, so I didn’t hesitate any longer.
With that first bite I knew that my plan had come to fruition. I was enjoying wonderful, traditional, Samoan food, with people I love and now call family. I had taken the time to ask for their help, and I could tell they appreciated it. It was nice to see all the people gathered around eating, who had helped throughout the day. A bunch of the kids who had been there too, were enjoying the sweet treat and I was happy for them, since they don’t always get food like that on a regular basis.
Now word has spread throughout the village of my love for this Samoan food, and I’ve been invited to make it with another family on Easter. So in the end, this has become much more than a preparation of food, but rather, a way in which to learn more about the people I’m living with.
Naomi and I preparing the papayas to be cooked.
Suese, shaving the 20 coconuts we would need to make the sauce for the faausi.
20 coconuts later, this is what he had!
I tried my best, but I was just slowing up the process.
Squeezing the coconuts for the coconut cream (called pe'e pe'e).
Ten papayas worth ready to be cooked, and seeds on the right to throw out into the rubbish.
The banana leaves which would be used as a "foil."
The guys were preparing the oven here.
Mixing the papayas and flour together!
Placing the dough in the banana leaves before taking them to the oven.
A nice hot oven (umu) to bake the faausi.
Here they are covered under the banana leaves and woven mat, starting to bake!
After they had baked, the faausi was uncovered.
This is when the sugar was placed onto the scolding rocks and mixed in with the coconut cream in the pan below the sticks! Pretty neat science demonstration!
The faausi cooling on banana leaves.
Who would have known coconuts make great cutting boards!
Mixing in the sauce.