Talking Taro

With Henga and Asora Amosa

How do you choose a good taro?

There are a lot of varieties, and some varieties are bitter, so the first thing we look for is what kind of taro it is. The shop might describe it as “white taro from Samoa” and Samoans know what that tastes like, because they are accustomed to it.

The first thing you look for is how old the taro is. If you scratch the surface, you may see dry or even rotten bits under the skin. You don’t want it if it’s brown or been knocked around, because the moment you get it home, you'll have to chop half of it away.

The other thing to go by is the price. It’s more expensive per kilo for the fresher, more popular species.

The water content makes it fresher, but also heavier, and therefore more expensive. So, if you don’t want to part with your dollars, you will find a middle ground – not too heavy, but still fresh enough to taste.

It also depends who it’s for. If it’s for guests or a feast, you don't want to buy the brown stuff, so you fork out extra. As adults, we know the tastiest part of the taro, but for a normal feed, kids can’t tell the difference.

All these factors come into the picture. That's why we take time to choose the right ones, particularly those of us who come from the islands

Can you grow them in Auckland?

Yes, and we do, but the root is too watery. We have to grate them, mix them with flour, and bake them to make it good. Maybe up North, people can eat them directly, but not here in Auckland.

Do most Samoans realise their health benefits?

For our generation, we just associated taro as part of our every day diet. It wasn't until Samoans started coming to New Zealand and getting sick from what they were eating that we recognise the importance to go back to our healthy diet of basic taro, coconut and leaves.

Do you have a favourite taro dish?

We eat it boiled or baked with coconut cream - that's the only dish we know. It’s always eaten separately on its own. The only advancement on that is taro chips. We haven't advanced the taro like the Asians have into multiple dishes.

We do have another traditional dish called fa'ausi. It is made from grated taro and a sweet coconut caramel sauce.

In Samoa, who does the cooking?

The woman generally but men prepare the umu.

How often would you have one?

When we were growing up, says Asora, every Sunday morning we would have an umu and usually the whole village was black from the smoke from 4am to 6am.

On Saturday night, we'd go to the sea to get the fish. It was one of my favourite pastimes when I was 15 or 16, to do for the service for our family.

We would catch fish by swimming and spearing them. We built a little floating frame with a kerosene lamp in it for visibility that I would drive while my uncle would dive. If we couldn't find fish, we would look for fish that were sleeping in the coral and get crab and lobsters. It was a lot of fun.

But society has really changed now even back in Samoa. Nowadays, people go to the market to get their fish and cook in ovens.

But those were neat times!