Some cultures eat frog legs and snails. Others eat crickets and roaches. Samoans eat worms from the ocean.
And they’re yum!
When I was very young in Hawaii, the stories about palolo were like fairy-tales to me:
- They only come out once a year, under a waning moon
- The villagers wade out into the night ocean to catch them
- They shimmer on the surface of the water
- They’re so delicious, they’re like ambrosia for the Samoan gods
Something like that.
I also remember, one day my family was visiting a friend’s beach house (on the North Shore of Oahu, everybody’s shack is a beach house). The mother of the family had just arrived from a holiday in Samoa and was so excited about a small container of palolo she’d brought back.
I’m sure I tasted it then and loved it, but palolo is so hard to find, it would be a lot of years – decades – before I’d have the chance to try it again and be sure.
Until then, palolo was just a mythical creature whose stories were woven into the image in my mind of Samoan culture.
Then along came Google and Wikipedia to dispel the mystery of it all.
Turns out, palolo is just the reproductive end of a long sea worm called the Palola viridis, of the Polycheata class. (Aaauuuuu.)
One or two nights during mating season (that’s spring in Samoa, October-November), these worms just divide themselves in half and let their business ends float to the top of the water, where they mingle with and fertilize other business ends and, you know, make babies.
That’s if they don’t get scooped up first by those silly Samoans having a party on the water with their nets and their ula moso’oi and their singing and excitement over this rare and magical seafood.
Okay I’m jealous. Palolo-catching ranks very high on this geek’s Bucket List. Someday… hopefully soon.
Luckily, though, I don’t have to wait anymore to try palolo again. My aunt in Samoa – bless her heart – decided, just out of the blue, to send some palolo to us here in New Zealand.
It got to us frozen, so of course we didn’t enjoy the wonderful experience of pulling the wriggly worms straight out of the ocean and popping them into our mouths, but it was still sooooo yum.
I fried the palolo with onions, scrambled in some eggs and ate it with crackers.
(More photos at Manaui:Savour Oceania)
As you can probably tell, my most favourite kind of food in the world comes from the ocean, so it really makes no sense to me how anyone could not like seafood… but palolo tastes and smells so much like the sea that, I guess if you don’t like fish, you probably won’t like palolo.
It actually tastes a lot like fish eggs (which I love, too!). So think, caviar or roe… Or the thick egg-sacks you sometimes find in the belly of a snapper if you’re lucky.
And ehhh.. now I’m hungry.
And I have to wait a whole 11 months before the next palolo season.