(SAMOA) — There are many places one can feast on any given Sunday, but only one traditional Samoan toanai recommended by celebrity Chef Robert Oliver, author of Meaai Samoa: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Polynesia.
That place is Lupe's Sunday Toanai at Lupe's Beach Fale & Restaurant in Siumu, hosted by husband and wife business teams: Posala and Lema Luamanuvae, who own Lupe's, and Mikaele and Isabel Maiava.
"Dining at Lupe's supports our local farmers and fishermen and we source our food directly from them," said Mikaele, who is Samoan and Tokelauan. "We are always about giving our guests the best dining experience for Sunday lunch. We are proud of the yumminess and the local food we offer."
Roasted over an open firepit to crispy perfection on the outside and moist deliciousness on the inside, the size 2 puaa (pig) is the Sunday toanai centerpiece.
"The food was great!," said Roland Pritchett, an educator from the United States, currently in Samoa with the School International Training (SIT) program at the University of the South Pacific, Alafua.
Pritchett and two SIT colleagues from USP, led the group to Lupe's Sunday, Feb. 4.
It was the first Sunday in Samoa for this newest cohort of SIT which provides American college students a taste of Samoan culture and food, socio-economics and politics.
"I am not a chef but I have always enjoyed cooking and experimenting with my food. The outcomes have always been successful," said Isabel who runs the kitchen with Lema.
The umu of taro, ulu (breadfruit), palusami (coconut cream and taro leaflets), faiai elegi (tinned mackeral in coconut cream), loi fee (octopus in coconut cream) and fresh fish, are prepared by Lupe's employees.
Lupe's not only offers a tasty and satisfying all-you-can-eat buffet of indigenous and imported cuisine — tossed green salad with avocados, fresh Red Snapper, pisupo (corned beef) and kapisi sosolo (vine cabbage), shrimp gumbo, fried chicken, steak chow mein — and lots more.
Toanai opens with a prayer and each patron has the choice to sit at a table for western style eating or a floorseat for the real Samoan experience, in a cool, breezy fale o'o for toanai with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Expect an invitation to try the local hot sauce.
Isabel says her inspiration for cooking and food experimentation is fueled by the foodies who fall in love with her food.
Her husband Mikaele calls her "my chef."
"What really inspires me to cook is seeing the people's faces as they enjoy the meal I have prepared. I love food so much and I am so specific with taste and what goes into my cooking."
Oliver recommended Lupe's four years ago — and in a January 2018 interview with the New Zealand Herald, he listed it among his seven favourite "foodie destinations in Samoa — for a guaranteed original taste of the islands."
If you're wondering, Samoa is Oliver's all-time favourite place to visit.
When in Samoa, the award-winning cookbook author urges: "Go to Lupe's on Sunday at noon for toanai (umu and more) and then flop into the water with a niu (green coconut)."
Isabel encourages family and friends to experiment with food in her Facebook posts.
She told tautalatala: "experimenting with food is always good, you will be surprised by the outcome."
The outcome Sunday, Feb. 4 was more than 70 heads at Lupe's. Unfortunately, latecomers had to be turned away. Toanai was canceled Sunday, Feb. 11 due to Cyclone Gita but resumes Feb. 18.
Mealtime is at 12:30 p.m. 'Samoan Time.' Adults pay $40 and children age 12 and under pay half price. Reservations are highly recommended. Call Mikaele Maiava at (685) 777-3981.