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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Samoa

Historic Diet

Samoa is better suited for life compared to many of its neighbors since the islands of Samoa are primarily volcanic in origin. This makes the lands quite fertile, attracting both plants and animals the people have eaten. Although the soils are fertile, few plants or animals are native to the islands of Samoa and most of what is eaten today was later introduced by the first inhabitants or later people.

The most important plant used for food historically in Samoa is the coconut, which made its way to the islands by water. The coconut is the staple food for the people in the past and this continues to a degree today as this food is used for its milk and flesh. The coconut is one of the only plants that made its way to Samoa prior to the islands' first settlers, although these settlers later brought with them numerous plants and animals that make up much of today's diet.

When these first settlers did arrive, they found plenty of animals in the surrounding seas that were, and still are, used for the people's diet, including crabs, octopus, turtles, fish of all kinds such as tuna, and sea birds such as noddies and terns.

Culinary Influences

When the first people arrived to Samoa they brought with them foods in the form of plants and animals. Later waves of people also brought additional plants and animals, many of which form the base of the diet today. These plants and animals included pigs, rats, dogs, taro, rice, yams, breadfruit, bananas, lemons, and sugarcane among others. Although it's not known when or with whom many of these foods arrived, it is clear they arrived with the early waves of settlers and all were present by 1200 at the latest.

Outside influences on the diet likely began in the 900s when the Tongans took control over the islands. They strongly influenced the people in terms of language, religion, and culture, so it's likely they also influenced the food, but it is unknown in what way. The typical Polynesian diet today was probably influenced by the Tongans at this time, while also making the diet throughout Polynesia much more uniform as communication and transportation during this time linked all the Polynesian people.

Another link between all the Polynesian people today is a cooking method that begins with rocks that are heated then placed in the ground as they are topped with food wrapped in banana leaves and covered in dirt. This essentially acts as a pressure cooker and can be found throughout Polynesia. Although when it began is unknown, it is common in New Zealand among the Maori so this cooking method likely existed prior to about 1300, which is about when the Maori settled that country from Polynesia.

The Dutch landed on the islands in the 1700s, but foreigners didn't make any settlement efforts until the 1800s. These settlers, primarily British, Americans, and Germans, brought their own foods to Samoa as they introduced cattle, chickens, wheat, potatoes, pineapples, papayas, and mangoes among many others. These foods added to the local diet and gave these foreign settlers a familiar diet, but most locals still relied heavily to their historic diet.

Through the 1900s few large culinary influences changed the diet in Samoa, although better communication, transportation, and technology gave the people access to imported foods and non-perishable goods, which extended the shelf life of many foods. Today these foods make an impact on the diet as western foods and restaurants are popular, particularly those catering to the tourists. However, the locals tend to maintain their historic diets.

When & Where to Eat

Most people in Samoa start the day with a small breakfast. This may be fruit, bread, coffee, tea, the previous day's leftovers, or soups, like the above mentioned supoesi. No matter the food it tends to be small and eaten at home.

Lunch was always the largest and longest meal of the day in Samoa as people would return home to eat a large meal and perhaps take a nap afterwards, partially to avoid the hottest part of the day outside. This is still common in many villages, especially among farmers, fishers, and others who spend their time outside. In most places lunch has become a shorter meal as most people eat at work or school.

For these workers that eat lunch at work, dinner is the largest meal of the day and it tends to be a large feast with the family. Often times there is enough food made at this time for following day's breakfast and lunch. Meals in Samoa today can consist of any number of traditional and more recently introduced foods, including fish, chicken, vegetables, soups, rice, and more. For those people who have a large lunch, dinner tends to be a bit smaller and usually consists of the leftovers from lunch.

This meal schedule slightly varies on Sundays when large families (or even whole villages) get together for a large meal called umu (or uma). This meal generally consists of a pig, taro, rice, coconut, and other traditional foods. As these gatherings require a large amount of foods they generally only take place in villages or when there is a large family or community gathering.

Staple Foods

Breadfruit (ulu): this fruit is very common
Coconut: coconuts are used for their milk and flesh
Rice: a common base or side for many meals
Taro: taro root is prepared in numerous ways, including as poi; it is one of the main staples throughout Polynesia
Yams: yams, a member of the potato family, are found in many meals

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Oka: raw fish or seafood served with coconut cream
Palusami: taro leaves baked in coconut cream
Supasui: beef marinated in soy sauce and stir fried with ginger, garlic, and onions
Supoesi: hot soup made with coconut cream and pawpaw; usually served for breakfast

Dining Etiquette

Dining in Samoa varies a bit depending on the setting and your company. Generally, the dining in Samoa is less formal than it is in many countries and rules are more relaxed. Despite this, there are some formal restaurants in the country and if dining in a business setting rules are more important.

The formalities and most important aspects of dining in Samoa are related to behavior more than actual eating. For example, bringing food to a dinner, even a small side dish or dessert can be a great offense to the host by indicating they will not prepare enough food for everyone. Also let your host seat you as guests are also often asked to sit in the middle of the table so they may converse with everyone more easily.

Once seated, and you must be sitting to eat, you may notice silverware (cutlery) or it may be absent. Many of the Samoans eat with their hands and if this is the case do the same, although they may offer a fork or spoon. Prior to taking your food be aware that taking a second serving is rude so take everything you plan to eat before eating (even if this plate is full of food as many of the locals will do) and be sure to try every dish offered as this is a sign of appreciation and respect.

Don't begin eating until indicated to do so; your host may expect you to start eating first as the guest, but don't assume this. Also try to eat at the same pace as everyone else so everyone begins and finishes eating at about the same time. Most of the people will leave some food behind then will take their excess food home for a latter meal. You are welcome to do the same, but as a guest your host may insist you finish all of your food.

If dining in a restaurant many of the above rules also apply, but there will most definitely be eating utensils and the setting will be more formal (although it will still be less formal than most of Europe, Australia, or North America). The host of a meal is expected to pay for everyone present; if this is you tip at your discretion. Tipping is not expected in Samoa, but is becoming more common in hotels and restaurants catered to foreigners.

Celebrations & Events

At nearly every important celebratory event, holiday, or community celebration in Samoa there is an 'ava Ceremony, which is centered on the drinking of 'ava (or kava), which is the most traditional beverage in Samoa. This ceremony is rather formal and the drinking is intertwined with speeches and other formalities.

Another feature of most important events or celebrations in Samoa is the umu (or uma) which is an underground cooking process. Rocks are heated in a hole in the ground then foods are wrapped in banana leaves and placed on the stones and under the ground, creating a pressure cooker of sorts. Meats of all kinds can be cooked in this method as can fruits and vegetables, but it is usually only done with large gatherings as it takes time to prepare and cook food in this method.


Samoa boasts nearly every popular beverage in the world, including various juices, soft drinks, tea, and coffee. However for a more authentic taste of the South Pacific try kava or 'ava. This drink, which goes by both names in Samoa, is made from the kava plant's roots, which are ground to release liquid, then water is added and the juice is drank. This drink gives a very relaxing effect, yet is not considered a drug in the countries of the South Pacific.

On the alcoholic side of the equation beer rules in Samoa and there's even a local beer called "Vailima" that is popular here and in other South Pacific nations. Hard liquors and wine are not as popular, but both are easily accessible in many hotels and nice restaurants. These hotels and restaurants are also the only place to purchase alcohol on Sundays as there is an alcohol ban this day.

Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Samoa, but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to.

This page was last updated: April, 2013