Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Taro-Peeling Day

A couple months back I met an Australian ex-pat who’s volunteering with the Palms organization. He and his wife and two children moved to Samoa in late January, and they’re living on the Western side of the island. We got to talking about stipends, and it turns out his is dreadfully low—especially given the fact he’s got 2 kids to support. The organization’s theory is the guy should be subsidizing his income by working his own plantation. As it turns out, he doesn’t have a taro plantation, so he, like the rest of us, must buy his taro in bulk from the open market.

Most fruits are sold individually; you can buy one papaya or one pumpkin or one mango. But taro is sold in bulk: $20 buys approximately 15 or 16 pieces of taro. I admit I dislike shopping at the open market. The vendors are either overly eager or overly snotty, each creating an air of distrust. My host family from the village occasionally shows up in Apia to hock taro, but mostly I’m forced to buy from strangers. I ran out of taro just before I left for Hawai’i, so yesterday morning after Blakey’s Rotaract event, I headed to the open market, made a snap decision, and bought $20 worth of taro.

When you buy taro, the vendor puts it in a plastic grocery bag. The taro has come straight out of the ground, and each piece is still covered in a thick layer of mud. There are still lots of living organisms within this mud, and the taro will surely go rotten if you leave it in the grocery bag for any extended amount of time.

With 16 pieces of muddy taro that will be rotten by tomorrow, what is one to do?

I find it best to freeze it. I wash each piece and peel it and stick it in a Ziploc bag and freeze it. This process looks good on paper, but takes forever in practice. I spent about 3 hours last night washing and peeling taro.

First the washing. The layer of mud is thick. It gets trapped in the small sub-roots (root hairs?), and those need to be peeled off as well. Even with a thorough wash, the taro is never “clean” the only effective way to get the mud off is by peeling.

Peeling raw taro is a difficult task that calls for strong tools. Among Samoans, the popular method involves slicing a tin can with a machete and using the sharp edge of the cross section to scrape off the taro’s skin. I, myself, prefer a vegetable peeler.

Even then, the skin is thick and difficult. I find it best to loosen the skin by boiling each piece of taro for a couple minutes.

So the process goes like this:
  1. Wash taro thoroughly.
  2. Boil taro for ~5 minutes.
  3. Peel taro.
  4. Bag taro and place in freezer.
Repeat 16 times.

The whole thing ends up being a lot of work. But when you’re finished, you have a freezer full of taro, and you won’t need to go through any of the process again until the next time you buy taro in bulk.


I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

The taro vendors at the open market.

Muddy taro in a plastic bag.

Peeled taro waiting for the freezer.

Dustin is here!


Anonymous said...

hi matt, wouldn't it be more cost effective to just buy rice by the a 20lb bag of rice to last you a long time...seems that also gives you less work.....we buy taro up here in the states that has been cleaned and washed and then dried so it is in the supermarket without dirt on it...just a thought..maybe rice would go much farther for ya

Amanda said...

Yay Dustin!! It's so fun to see him in Samoa. You're such a little worker bee Matthew L.

jane reinking said...

Great post Matt. And don't worry about missing a few days with your blog. Though I missed it, you deserved a break.

Fa'alifu Talo said...

If you gotta have 'fresh' taro (not the supermarket variety available off island usually imported from Fiji), the BEST tool used to scrape the skin off is with a tin scraper. This is most pratical being easy to replace when blunt or rusted. The tin is also very hardy and strong to power though the mud/dirt still attached to the taro skin. (things you dont want to put your awesome potato peeler through)

As for your bulk taro situation, try bargaining with the growers by offering them half the money for half of the quantity. Go down the line until you find one willing to deal, and get yourself a 'singles' special.

Anonymous said...

"Taro-Peeling Day"

Thanks for posting a pic of my brother...great to see him smiling!


Anonymous said...

If you don't scrape off all the skin, you may end up with itchy mouth.
In the old days we used coconut shells, the edges are scrape smooth and thin to a point where it is sharp. It looks like the ones they used for Ava Ceremonies, all the fibers are clean off, but the edges are different. Don't want to drink ava out of a sharp coconut shell.

Anonymous said...

thank you!
i couldn't find anything good on how to simply cook taro. thanks!

Unknown said...

Can you advise if you wrapped the taro with plastic wrap first before putting it in the ziplock bag to freeze? When you defrosted the taro was it the same texture? I have a big taro that is 1.5kg and I don't think that I can use it all at once. Please advise. Thanks.