Guide to plant-based food in Samoa

January 12, 2024
October 31, 2023

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Table of Contents

Being a South Pacific island nation, Samoans love their seafood. They also have a love of pork and been hugely influenced by American fast food. You will even find a chain of Samoan fast food restaurants offering fried chicken, hamburgers, fries, milkshakes, and other US-style food items.

But is there such a thing as plant-based food in Samoa? With an abundance of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, Samoa can offer delicious and healthy plant-based food options.

We aren't going to lie, it's more challenging to stick to a plant-based diet than you may think, but it's definitely possible.

We'll give you some examples of traditional vegetarian and vegan food in Samoa. We'll also take you on a tour of some modern options including the best places to enjoy Samoan cuisine.

Note it was generally easier to find vegetarian food in Samoa. It was more difficult to find a variety of vegan food for our diet, so you may have to rely on canned beans for your protein intake!

A composite image showing a local with fried chicken and another local with bananas for sale

Try the traditional dish ‘umu’

The Samoan tropical climate is perfect for growing a wide variety of fruit and root vegetables. The most famous festive meal usually served on Sundays after visiting the church is called umu.

Umu is the most traditional way of cooking for Samoans. It's a variety of different local ingredients with fish folded into banana leaves and then baked in an earth stone oven. Samoans use volcanic stones to keep the heat.

It takes about an hour and a half before the food is ready. This ancient style of cooking produces fresh and simple flavours that are a must-try experience. One bite will leave you craving for more.

A composite image of a Samoan man wrapping some umu and a close-up photo of the umu unwrapped after cooking

If you have a chance to participate in such a feast, you can simply let the host know that you don't eat fish and would like to just have the other ingredients: root vegetables, fruit, and palusami.

Palusami is taro leaves cooked with fresh coconut cream folded into banana leaves and is the perfect plant-based food in Samoa. For the other ingredients, Samoans usually include breadfruit and taro.

Breadfruit is a highly nutritious fruit that offers a wealth of health benefits. It's an excellent source of vital carbohydrates, dietary fibre, and protein. Furthermore, it provides valuable micronutrients such as calcium, potassium, iron, vitamin C, and B3.

Taro root is an excellent source of carbohydrates and fibre, and it also boasts high nutritional value. It is packed with essential vitamins and minerals including manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin E, and potassium.

During our trip to Samoa, we had a chance to try umu a few times and felt that it was substantial enough for a meal.

Other local plant-based dishes in Samoa

For breakfast, we would have tropical fruit such as papaya, pineapple, banana and passion fruit, and toast. Sometimes we’ll also have suafa’i, which is a tapioca pudding with banana and coconut milk.

Alaisa Fa'apopo, also known as coconut rice, is another Samoan favourite. This traditional meal is made by cooking white rice in coconut milk, giving it a rich and creamy texture.

We were also served Samoan pancakes known as panikeke a few times, which are made with ripe bananas and deep-fried until golden brown.

A composite image showing a typical Samoan breakfast and bananas in coconut milk

For a unique spin, try koko alaisa, a version of coconut rice infused with cocoa and orange leaves. This sweet and flavourful dish makes for a perfect snack or dessert.

Both of these dishes can be served for breakfast.

Where can I try traditional Samoan foods?

Now that you know what kinds of traditional Samoan foods are available, let’s explore where you can enjoy them.

Eat umu like a local

At the Cultural Village in Apia, you can learn how Samoans prepare umu and even participate in the cooking process before trying the food.

This is one of the best ways to try it!

Three men dressed in traditional Samoan clothes are preparing the traditional dish umu at the Cultural Village in Apia

You can also try it if you stay in traditional fales, as the host usually prepares umu on Sundays for their family and sometimes guests can also be invited. Resorts also provide this experience but you have to check with them to be sure.

Try local food at Fugalei Market

Fugalei Market is a big fresh produce market where locals sell their fruits and vegetables as well as boiled taro and baked breadfruit. You can also find other traditional food like palusami and green bananas baked in coconut milk.

If you're a sweet tooth, you can try coconut jam, usually sold in jars or plastic containers. It’s much cheaper to buy it here than in the supermarket. It has a very interesting taste that we bet you've never experienced before!

There is alway a guy selling fresh and chilled coconuts if you feel like a refreshing drink as well as a lady preparing fresh sugarcane juice. If you see plastic bags filled up with dark liquid, that's a local way of selling coffee for take away. We recommend going for fresh coffee in one of the cafes we have listed below.

When travelling through the country, you will see many stands with fruits and vegetables on the sides of the roads. While it's a great way to support locals, visiting the market first is a great way to understand prices so you don’t get overcharged. We paid three times more for a pineapple from a roadside stall than it would have cost us at the market!

A composite image with a coconut and pineapple seller at Fugalei Market.
Various stallholders selling their vegetables and fruit at Fugalei Market.

Attend a fiafia night

Another way to try traditional Samoan food including umu is to attend a fiafia night. Together with other dancing, music and cooking style traditions, the fiafia has been passed through generations for more than 3, 000 years.

Fiafia night is the most celebrated event where guests are immersed in captivating and mesmerising performances. The evening commences with a graceful and elegant siva dance by women, followed by a thrilling and dynamic fa'ataupati - a fire knife dance by men.

Guests can even learn the taualaga, or final dance. Fiafia nights are generally public social gatherings that take place after sporting events, on saints' days, and during the Christmas period.

They are also held to commemorate significant ceremonial occasions. Hotels and resorts in Samoa organise their own fiafia nights for guests to experience the cultural richness of Samoa.

Here is a list of a few hotels and when they hold their fiafia nights. Please double check if the days have changed since publication of this article.

The other option is to keep an eye out for fiafia nights when staying at fales. We noticed Taufua Beach Fales, FaoFao Beach Fales, and Tanu Beach Fales organise faifai nights weekly.

What other kinds of plant-based food can I find in Samoa?

We mainly stayed in traditional fales with local families as our hosts when we travelled in Samoa. Most of them included breakfast every day and some also offered lunch and dinner.

We’ve detailed below what you can expect to be served staying in a traditional fale, or when visiting a local restaurant.

Vegetarian stir fry or local vegetarian curry (usually not spicy) were always our go-to options. We were often served deep fried breadfruit and boiled taro as a garnish and one time we tried it mashed and it was really nice.

A few times we ate fried noodles that are actually quite popular on the island. Sometimes the host made us more western food with a local twist like pasta, pizza, fries or spring rolls.

After one week we felt like we weren’t getting enough protein, so we were OK to eat eggs at that point. The host usually fried them or made an omelette.

A composite image of food we ate when staying at beachside fales in Samoa.

If you want to keep your diet strictly vegan and explore Samoa outside of Apia, which we really encourage you to do, we recommend you stock up on some beans in the supermarket. You can never go wrong with a can of baked beans in tomato sauce!

You can also find other legumes in the local supermarkets. These can be added to the meals that your host is making for your lunches and dinners.

In the worst case scenario, almost all the small shops and kiosks will have instant noodles with different varieties and flavours. While it's not the healthiest option, it's a very popular food among the locals especially when they travel.

Everyone was having them when we took the ferry from Upolu island to Savai’i. We even had them served for breakfast once at one of the cabins we stayed at!  

Locals selling take-away food, including cups of instant noodles.

The best plant-based restaurants and cafes in Apia

Apia is the capital city and where you’re likely to fly in and out of Samoa. This is the best place to find plant-based food at restaurants and cafes, as listed below.

Kure Juice Bar is 100% plant-based. They offer healthy bowls and paninis in addition to juices, smoothies and shakes.

Rivaiv Cafe and Turmeric Bar are owned by the same family that owns Kure Juice bar. They are actually vegan themselves, and have a large amount of vegan/vegetarian options such as scrambled tofu and more unique dishes like sushi tacos.

Tiapapata Art Centre is an art gallery and cafe surrounded by a tropical lush garden in the hills of Apia. Their café specialises in local, seasonal ingredients, and boasts homemade tropical fruit vegan ice creams as well as other vegan dishes to choose from.

Giordano's Pizza offers a few vegetarian pizzas which can be made vegan on request. It was the best pizza in town when we tried it!

Nourish Cafe has a few vegan and vegetarian options from their local and international menu. It's a relaxing and cool place to hang out or work on your laptop.

A composite image of a pizza from Giordano's Pizza and various small dishes from Nourish Cafe.

Milani Caffe has vegan bowls, but we found the food there was quite average and the portions were small.

Phat Burger has two vegan burgers and a vegan salad to choose from. The vegan homemade buns are crafted from Samoan taro, a Samoan staple.

Bella’s Kitchen is a fast food restaurant that offers a good variety of vegetarian and a few vegan options. We highly recommend getting a wrap! The koko Samoa smoothie is really good too, but unfortunately made with dairy products.

A composite image of noodle soup and veggie burger with fries at Bella's Kitchen.

Paddles is an Italian restaurant with a Samoan twist to it. They have a few vegetarian options which can also be made vegan upon request.

The Curry House Restaurant is an Indian restaurant with a vegetarian menu. Please confirm which dishes can be made vegan.

Overall verdict of our experience in Samoa

Samoa offers a decent amount of plant-based food options for vegetarians, with some options also available for vegans. From traditional Samoan dishes to modern cuisine when dining out, we were able to experience local culture while still maintaining our plant-based diet.

If you're visiting Samoa and looking for top-notch vegan restaurants, Kure Juice Bar, Rivaiv Café and Turmeric Bar are must-visit spots. The Tiapapata Art Centre also offers a unique combination of art and vegan cuisine.

Travel itinerary for Samoa

If you haven't already, read our comprehensive 14-day suggested travel itinerary to make the most of your trip to beautiful Samoa.

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