Based on Chinese chop suey, a “traditional” Samoan style chop suey – or sapasui – is as varied as the Samoans who make them.
Okay, not really. Our only real sapasui variations are whether to add aromatics (onions, garlic, ginger) or not and whether to add vegetables (cabbage, carrots, celery, etc.) or not.
My family’s preferred sapasui style is: YES to all the aromatics, and NO to any (other) vegetables, thank you.
Otherwise, Samoan sapasui tends to always be a dark, silky glass noodle dish, pungeant with the flavour of the protein used – beef is popular, so is chicken, but we also use pork or lamb, too – and lots of full bodied (that means, the darker the better) soy sauce umami.
How do YOU like your Samoan sapasui?
Samoan Style Chop Suey – the Hamo Geek Girl Way
Lemme show you how we like to make it in my family.
First, grab some meat, preferably from a butcher who already knows what you need it for.
I live in South Auckland, home to the biggest, concentrated population of Pacific Islanders maybe in the world. I love that our local butchers know what we cook and help us out by preparing meat the way we need it. It’s the little blessings, right? 🙂
We like to marinate the meat – for half an hour or more – in dark soy sauce, salt and pepper (cracked pepper is nice for a little extra spice).
By the way: I made a HUGE batch of sapasui this weekend – that’s where all these photos are from. Please don’t be intimidated by the amount of food you’re seeing here. Once you get used to making sapasui, it’s easy to adjust the measurement of ingredients for your needs.
Anyway, in my family’s style of sapasui, we like a lot of flavour – a le manogi, e le manaia, we say. If it doesn’t smell fragrant, or savoury, it’s not good. SO, we make sure we chop up a lot of garlic and ginger and onions – the trifecta! – for this dish.
Oh, if you’re working with beef, it will probably be the tougher cuts of meat, like chuck steak or brisket. You just need to make sure that you’ve cooked the beef long enough so it’s tender.
So when your beef is nice and marinated, heat up a pot and chuck some oil in there (peanut oil is the best cause it makes the noodles the slippery-est and adds another level of flavour) and then throw you meat in the pot all together with the marinade.
Let the beef brown for a few minutes then add some water – just enough to cover the beef – put the lid on the pot and bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling merrily along, turn the heat down and let simmer for a while, stirring often. Make sure the meat never dries out (add water if necessary to keep it a little bit soupy).
After 10 minutes, chuck in the aromatics (the onion, garlic and ginger) in and stir it up. Cover the pot again and simmer for another 10 minutes – or until the meat is nice and tender.
Please note: If you’re using chicken or another kind of protein, you won’t have to cook the meat as long.
Okay. While that pot is simmering away, let’s get our noodles read.
Put the dry vermicelli spools into a large bowl or container and add hot TAP water (not boiling water) until the noodles are just submerged. It only takes maybe 2 minutes for the vermicelli to get soft enough to work with. We want to cut them up a little bit before we chuck them into the pot.
I like my noodles kinda long, so I’ll only make like two cuts (with scissors) in the noodles, but if you like them short and sweet, just make a few more snips.
We’re nearly there, guys. Only a couple more steps!
Alright… once you’ve cut up your noodles (and you’ve made sure the beef is nice and tender) go on and put the noodles in the pot – but not the water from the noodles! Keep that noodle soaking water in the bowl. We might need a bit of it soon.
So stir JUST the noodles into the beef. . .but if you see the mixture getting a little dry, add some of the noodle water.
As you can probably guess, the reason I’m so concerned about making sure your sapasui is not dry is – of course – I’ve messed up my sapasui like that before. It was very embarrassing and such a waste because otherwise, the chop suey woulda tasted great! (I’m sure).
Just passing on a life lesson. 🙂
The last few things you want to do is make sure the noodles turn soy sauce black. As you mix them into the beef mixture, the noodles will get darker, but our family likes it really dark.
So we add maybe a cup and a bit more of dark soy sauce into pot, mix it all up … take a whif of that aroma. Run a little taste test.
Then you’re done.
All these photos are screen grabs from videos of the last time I made chop suey. The problem is, we were so excited to eat the sapasui (with our faalifu kalo mmmm) that we forgot to get images of the final product.
You’re going to have to wait till I make it again (hopefully this weekend) for me to get a proper completed sapasui photo, but until then… just imagine the chop suey a little bit darker than in these photos and a little bit shinier. That’s what it looked like in the end.
Sapasui - Samoan Chop Suey
- 1 kg brisket or chuck beef, diced (or chicken, pork or lamb)
- 1/2 cup onions diced
- 1 tbsp ginger minced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tbsp peanut oil
- 250 grams green bean vermicelli (1 packet)
- 2 cups dark soy sauce
- salt & pepper to taste
- water as needed
- Marinate the diced beef in 1 cup soy sauce, plus salt and pepper. Let sit for at least half an hour. You can chop up the aromatics while you're waiting.
- Heat up a large soup pot and add the peanut oil. When the oil begins to smoke, add the beef with its marinade. Let brown for a few minutes, then add enough water just to cover the beef.
- Put the lid on the pot and bring the beef to the boil, then turn the heat down and let simmer. After about 10 minutes, mix the onions, ginger and garlic into the beef, then cover the pot again and let simmer for another 10 minutes (until the beef is tender).
- Do a quick rinse of the vermicelly spools then place them in a wide bowl and cover with hot water from the tap (not boiling water). As soon as the noodles have softened, grab a scissors and make two cuts into the handfulls of noodles. (I like my noodles fairly long, but if you like them shorter, by all means cut some more).
- The meat should be tender by now (try it out, and check if it needs more salt, while you're at it). Pull the vermicelli out of the hot water and add it to the beef (but don't throw out the soaking water just yet. We might need it.) Mix the vermicelli into the beef... mmmmmm... I can already smell it from here.
- If you're stirring the beef and see that it's beginning to get dry at the bottom, add some of the noodle's soaking water. Sapasui should be nice and slippery, never dry.
- Stir in the other cup of dark soy sauce...and if you think your chop suey needs more colour (let's just say it does) maybe add even more soy sauce. With some experience, you'll know how you like it.
- Once all the noodles are the same colour and everything is heated through, you're done. Grab a bowl of rice or a piece of coconut cream taro and get ready to spend a few minutes in Samoa food heaven.
How do YOU like it?
SO that’s how we make Samoan sapasui in my family. How do you like it?
I really like sapasui with chicken. Some people like to use chicken or beef stock instead of plain water in this recipe – that’s really good, too.
I personally don’t like vegetables in Samoan sapasui, which is weird, because I think vegetables are great in Chinese chop suey. Maybe I just want Samoan sapasui to be different from its Asian namesake.
How do you like to eat sapasui?
My hands down favourite is to eat sapasui with a hot bowl of rice. . .but I really love it with kalo now, too. And potato salad is pretty good, too.
For me, though, every time I eat Samoan sapasui, I feel like I need a bowl of oka (Samoan style raw fish), too. I guess I’m so used to having both sapasui and oka at the same meal for to’ona’i.
What a privileged Samoan life I must have.
Would love to hear your thoughts about our favourite Samoan noodle dish. Please share in the comments below :).