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I grew up in Hawaii, and like a lot of us raised outside of Samoa, my siblings and I were exposed to a wide variety of culinary delights (which sadly included big macs and pop tarts) and we never fully developed a taste for Samoan food.

I say ‘never fully‘ because I am familiar with a lot of our dishes and I have a few (stereo)typically Samoan eating habits. For example, I’ll eat just about anything from the ocean, yumm… ulu is my most favourite staple, I enjoy our Asian imports – curry, stir-fries & chop suey (as long as they’re made ‘properly’) – and everybody loves pagipopo.

For the most part, though, our home meals were based on what we called ‘Palagi food’, i.e. anything foreign to what people in (the ku_a villages of) Samoa normally eat. We’re talking spaghetti bolognaise, roast meat with potatoes, lots of chicken and rice, tacos, brownies, noodles, etc. The usual suspects in a Westernized diet.

And for the most part nobody complained – we were hardly starving. But every now and then my parents would sigh and lament the absence of things like mea a’ago… all like, ‘E le kau ai se magava i gei mea’ai’, which loosely translated means ‘this food doesn’t truly satisfy’… referring of course to the magical connection between ‘real’ Samoan food and ‘real’ Samoan stomachs.

I’ve since heard the sentiment repeated often, especially amongst the older folks in my currently New Zealand-based Samoan community. I appreciate how they must feel though. Food is a powerful trigger of emotion, and I can understand how certain aromas and flavours will transport our elders back to the beloved motherland, to an almost mythical time of vibrant youth amongst family and friends.

What I don’t always appreciate, though – let’s blame television and the American food industry – is the appeal of SOME of the dishes my parents hold so dear to their hearts. Don’t get me wrong… I’m a pretty adventurous (and prolific) eater, I’ll try anything at least once. That’s how I know for sure I’m not a fan of SOME of these so-called Samoan delicacies.

I have decided, however, that this year, for the sake of research and for love of my culture, I’m going to give these questionable dishes another real go.

I’ve coerced my mother into playing head chef in my new endeavour. I’m going to learn from her how to make these dishes, and then I’m going to figure out how to really enjoy them (even if I have to bastardize the recipes with my own little tweaks – please don’t shoot me).

Wish me luck!

Okay, let’s start with *drumroll pleaaaase*… Povi Masima! (the crowd goes wild).

What is it?

povi
beef
masima
salt

It’s simply fatty beef briskets preserved in brine (really really salty water). You can find them everywhere in South Auckland, especially at the butchers and dairies that cater to Islanders. Just look for the white paelo stacked in the corner somewhere.

In my town, these buckets are always labeled ‘Povi Masima’, and I find it amusing how many non-Samoans I know will casually refer to the stuff by its Samoan name. *thumbsup*

If you’re not in South Auckland? Hhmmm… Remind me to work on a list of places in the WORLD where you can buy Samoan food.

Why it’s not my favourite

Possibly because it’s really really salty, and often very ga’oa, but also because my mom cooks it with lots of cabbage.

So… salty, fatty beef boiled to a tender pulp with cabbage. You feel me?

How you make it

Okay this was the fun part – and SO easy.

Just chuck the briskets into a pot of water, boil for a long time (like, an hour or so) till it’s tender, then throw in some big chunks of head cabbage…

…and continue to boil till the meat begins to fall off the bone and the cabbage is soft and opaque.

“And you don’t have to add any other kind of seasoning,” my mom enthuses, practically drooling as she stirs the pot. “All that beauuuuutiful flavour is already in the meat!”

Mm-hmm.

How my mom eats it

Like this:

A simple and apparently divine plate of povi masima with cabbage, accompanied by the almighty taro.

How NOT to eat Povi Masima

So I struggle to eat taro (yes, you can shoot me now) and I’m really fiapoko (i.e. I think I’m brainy), so while my mom wasn’t looking, I swapped my kalo for a heap of rice and figured I’d ladle some of the soup from the pot over the rice as like, you know, to add flavour.

Wrong.

Soggy, super salty rice to go with salty beef? Let’s just say I did not enjoy that experience.

The RIGHT way

The good news is, the meat itself – like, completely by itself, and maybe rinsed just a little bit – was really not bad at all. It was so tender and, yes, the fat in it added another dimension of subtle flavour that made it.. what’s the word… succulent.

I should have eaten the kalo with it! I believe now what my mom says, that povi masima really needs a strong, solid kind of starch for balance.

My good friend says she also loves it with lots of tomato sauce, and I can see how the sweet acidity of ketchup could nicely counter that brine.

The Verdict

The next time I make povi masima I’m going wait a little while longer before I throw the cabbage in – I want it to be a little firmer, to preserve a little more of its own delicate, vege flavour.

I’m going to eat it with a small piece of kalo, some fresh tomatoes on the side and drizzled with tomato sauce.

Wowsers… my mouth just watered at the thought.

On the matter of povi masima? I think it’s safe to call me a convert.

How do YOU like it?

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