I noticed a new vendor at the Pearlridge Farmlovers market recently: Luau Bombs by @ChefWhyWeezy. People were telling me about this new booth and how his laulaus were selling out fast. But upon closer inspection, I realized that they were technically not laulaus, and his customers, if they didn’t know what it was before, were discovering the deliciousness of palusami.
Palusami is the Samoan version of laulau, simply luau leaves filled with coconut milk, onions, salt and pepper. The coconut makes it creamy and rich — the original version was probably a great source of calories and nourishment as the Polynesian ancestors paddled across the Pacific Ocean in search of new lands.
I know about it because my brother worked for years at Kalihi Valley Housing, where there is/was a large Samoan population, and people he worked with shared their culture and food with him. Our family didn’t just like it, we craved it! We even steamed slices of breadfruit to eat with it. (It ended up being my father’s last meal.)
So fast forward to the luau bombs. I noticed Yamauchi-Yamate had filled his with coconut milk as well as other items: corned beef and onions (a popular filling in modern palusami), crab and Portuguese sausage, butterfish and lup cheong, and a vegan kabocha with sweet potato. He said he changes up the fillings each week, depending on what’s available or seasonal. He also has a crab palusami dip, which is less traditional but no less delicious.
But a name like Yamauchi-Yamate? Is he part Samoan? “No,” he replied, “This is just food from my upbringing.” I can relate. Except in his case, his hanai family is the Onosai Tanuvasas, so he’s got a very authentic background.
Palusami by itself is good enough for me, but these luau bombs take it to the next level. I was delighted at how well the sweetness of the kabocha and sweet potato worked with the earthiness of the luau leaves and the rich coconut milk. I expected the luau leaves to overpower the flavors, but they didn’t.
The big surprise was the Portuguese sausage and crab — I thought the sausage would be more dominant, but its flavor was more subtle. (It lent some nice texture and heft to the bomb, though.) The crab was what took this luau bomb over the top! It added richness, texture, and another layer of flavor that easily made it my flavor. After the first bite, I had to put my fork down to cry a little because I was so sorry that my parents aren’t around to try this.
I can’t promise that Yamauchi-Yamate will have all the same fillings this week at the Pearlridge Farmlovers market, but no matter what he has available, just try it. I hope more people “discover” palusami and it becomes more mainstream!
Pearlridge Farmlovers takes place every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon on the parking deck by Macy’s, facing Moanalua Road.
*Disclosure: Farmlovers and Pearlridge is a client, but Yamanaka is not, and no one paid me to write this post.