Of course, that’s not a coincidence. Breadfruit and taro are the Samoan equivalent of wheat and potatoes. It’s rare to sit down to any meal in this country without seeing one of the two on your plate. ’Ulu, as its referred to here, goes with just about any meal—much like bread of the non-fruit variety.
Breadfruit is indeed a fruit. It grows on trees and has a “pit” in the middle, although the pit is a lot bigger than that of a peach or nectarine, and it doesn’t have the same rigid woody consistency. To eat it, you rip off a chunk—after roasting, it separates quite easily—and then tear that chunk into smaller bite-sized pieces, much like you might do with cotton candy. And the taste and texture is actually pretty similar to bread.
Like taro, breadfruit needs to be cooked before it’s edible. Were you to find breadfruit at your local supermarket, I think you could probably boil it. I’m not sure because I think just about every time I’ve eaten it here, it’s been roasted an umu, the traditional “samoan oven” in which lava rocks are heated in a fire and then placed around the food to be cooked. And incidentally, breadfruit leaves are often used (in conjunction with banana leaves and other leafy vegetation) to cover the umu, trapping the heat in and imparting the flavors of the leaves to whatever’s being cooked.
At a traditional meal, you would dip your bite-sized breadfruit pieces in miti, or salted coconut cream. Miti is the base of oka, a popular seafood dish, and so breadfruit is often served with oka, similar to how oyster crackers are served with clam chowder. Breadfruit is occasionally served in the staffroom during Interval at my school, and each staff member will receive a mugful of miti.
During training we visited the Ministry of Health, where they are trying to get Samoans to eat more breadfruit and taro. Over the last couple decades, bread and rice have become the carbohydrates of choice because of their convenience. Yet both lack the natural vitamins and minerals that are plentiful in breadfruit and taro.
So eat your breadfruit, kids.
Tomorrow’s Cultural Exploration: K and T.
I hope you’re well. Happy Mary O’Lague day! Pictures below.
Breadfruit and pork. Mmmm Mmmm.
Breadfruit served whole next to palusami, which is coconut cream wrapped in a taro leaf.
My year 13 student from last year, Sinaumea, peeling a breadfruit to go in the umu. It's important to not peel the entire breadfruit, as it will lose all of its moisture if you do. Instead, the idea is to peel most of the skin, but leave some behind. It's kind of the equivalent of, instead of using the tip of the crayon to color, you want to turn the crayon on its side and give it a lighter shading. Make sense?