Return to Paradise: Marketplace Memories

A trip to the market took me on a meandering journey to my childhood. Food especially does tend to have that effect on me…

Crisp, tangy green vi fruit. We would smash these on the cement driveway to get through the hard skin to the crunchy white insides. In vi season when the tree across the road was heavy with fruit, Peka, our other mother – would make valu vi fruit salad. A divinely sweet and rich mixture of grated vi soaked in fresh coconut cream sweetened with lots of brown sugar and then chilled. (Im now craving valu vi but too lazy to peel all these fruits myself…)


Havent seen these in yeeears! Red lopa seeds, roasted over an open fire and sold in convenient little ziplock bags. Before chips, before those awful packets of instant noodles i see kids here eating dry – there were lopa seeds. You cracked them in half between your teeth and ate the tiny tasty morsel of seed inside. (and then, much to our mother’s annoyance- we spat the empty shells everywhere and made a yucky mess.). They took forever to eat and you could never get full on them because they were so tiny…but we loved them anyway.


Kolo!! Sugarcane!! In the days before lollies were cheap and readily available (this makes me sound so old, doesnt it?!) – we chewed sugarcane for that loaded rush of juicy sweetness. Peka would chop up a stick into enough pieces for us kids to share and then send us outside to eat it because it made such a mess. You cant actually EAT sugarcane, its way too rough, like tearing at a chunk of wood with your bare teeth. But you can chew on it and get all the juice out of it – then spit the chewed up hard stuff out into the bushes.


Salu brooms. Every new school year, we had to take a mat (woven from sun dried pandanus) and a salu (broom) to school as our contribution to the class supplies. Sometimes my mum got us new salu from the market and sometimes Peka would get Sio to cut down broad coconut leaves from the trees in the yard so they could make the brooms for us. And we would eagerly “help”…(looking back, I now realize what an utter nuisance our help probably was…) To make the kuaniu strands that get braided together for the salu broom, you have to strip the green leaf off the ribbed stem. Kuaniu can be a hazard to the eyes because theyre sharp and whip-like, especially when youre eight years old and “making” a salu with great enthusiasm. Come to think of it, our family didnt have a very good safety track record with coconut trees. When he was a toddler, a coconut fell on my brother’s head and just about killed him, fracturing his skull and doctors warning he was probably brain damaged. He’s all grown up now and has a doctorate degree in some incredibly complicated subject so it all (miraculously) worked out. Needless to say, Im paranoid about coconuts falling on my children now and I probably wont ever teach them how to make a salu in case they poke their eyes out with stray kuagiu. #overprotectiveMotherAlert


A basket of tauaga. You know those cans of coconut cream you buy from the store and you think they add so much richness and goodness to your cooking? Yeah, well that stuff isn’t REAL coconut cream or pe’e pe’e. Thats because it wasnt made using one of these- a tauaga. My mum is the best cook on the planet but she doesnt like Samoan foods like fa’alifu kalo (taro in coconut cream). So she had Peka make all those kinds of foods for us. To make REAL coconut cream, you first grate a fresh mature coconut. Then you wrap handfuls of the grated white stuff into a tauaga and squeeze like heck with your bare hands. The rich creamy juice that gets extracted is what coconut cream is supposed to look like. And taste like. You add salt to it and pour it over boiled taro then let it simmer a little – and VOILA – youve got fa’alifu kalo. We always wanted a turn making the pe’e pe’e so we would pester Peka to let us do the squeezing with the tauaga. She would patiently let us have a go- and then expertly wring out all the cream that was left when our pitiful attempts were done. The next fun bit after that? Fighting over who got to feed the grated coconut residue to the chickens…

Funny how much love, laughter and richness of memory such ‘simple’ things can evoke. What things do that for you?

6 thoughts on “Return to Paradise: Marketplace Memories”

  1. When I was in Western Samoa, my Uncle Henry used to have sugarcane outside of the house. It was a treat for my brother and I when he would go outside and cut some down and peel it for us. Definitely better that Lollipops!

  2. Everything you’ve said, is truth about our humble island, I miss it, looking at your pictures. I love all the fruits, etc. The Makeki in Apia is the best, I think the one in Pago has improved with many varieties of other cooked food other than just raw fruits and veggies. I miss Samoa with its rich foods. thanks for sharing 🙂

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