We have a funeral in the family this week. My mom’s beautiful Aunt lived a long, full life and was called a few days ago to rest in Paradise.
Typical of many Samoan funerals, Auntie won’t be buried until early next week. In the meantime, the family is spending a lot of time together – cleaning, cooking, planning, reminiscing, discussing protocol, and sharing lots of meals.
Enthusiastic cooks might think ‘bring-a-plate’ gatherings like these would be the perfect time to show off their culinary skills – they’d be wrong.
We’ve got a big family connected to several church groups, and all Samoans are programmed to not arrive empty handed… so your stellar dish would be lost in the mountains of food available throughout the week.
But late in the evenings of a Samoan funeral, when most of the day’s visitors have gone and only the close, blood relatives linger – to buoy each other’s spirits with light banter and shared memories… this is the time to bring out the best of our refreshments. This is Cup Tea time.
Of the dozen or so dishes typically served as part of a Samoan Cup Tea, probably the most iconic for us (or maybe second only to our panipopo) is the steamed pudding. We call it puligi.
It’s obviously a dish we inherited from the Great British side of the world, most likely acquired during New Zealand’s occupation of Samoa early last century, but our version has a subtle Polynesian essence. We usually replace the pudding’s dairy component with coconut cream.
I’ve seen a lot of kitchen equipment designed especially for steaming. Don’t think you have to invest in any of that, though, to make puligi. I learned from my mom how to improvise. A large pot, a shallow cooling rack, the inside tin of an old rice cooker – we’re ready to roll.
Samoans love their pudding served with pouring custard.
Every single family I’ve had puligi with gets their custard from a box, which is great. As long as you follow the instructions and adjust things to taste, powdered custard can turn out very nice.
A couple years ago, though, I wanted to find out how they made pouring custard before it came in a box. It’s definitely different. The first time I served my made-from-scratch custard, my mom, uncles and aunts protested quite vocally. It was not what they were used to.
But then I tweaked my recipe a little to humour their taste buds and now they’ve accepted the advantages of ‘real’ custard. It’s lighter and creamier and just tastes… fresh.
These days, whenever possible (and with the blessing of my elders) I always make our custard from scratch.
You know, though, this puligi – adapted from a recipe my mom’s friend gave her years ago – doesn’t really need the embellishment of custard. It is flavourful and moist enough to be served on its own as a kind of cake. But it’s not so sweet that you can’t slather it with butter and have it for breakfast, the way one of my other aunts likes it.
However way you serve it, puligi is a Samoan favourite and a great addition to your cooking repertoire, especially if you’re Samoan, or your geography puts you at risk of ever having any of us over for Cup Tea.
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