Star-Bulletin Features

Samoan market bears fruit
Puligi photo by Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin

Samoan dessert
dressed for holidays

By Catherine Kekoa Enomoto

IN the world of festive bundt cakes, the French Alsatians bake dense, buttery kugelhopf. The Italians showcase dense, buttery panettone. And the Samoans prepare dense, buttery puligi.

Diane Timoteo imbues her fruit-laced puligi with holiday spirit. "You need to be happy and feel spirited in order for your cake to be good," she said. "The touch of the person doing it, that's the best ingredient."

Redolent of cinnamon and cloves, her puligi (pronounced pu-LING-ghee) is like a high, dark gingerbread cake. The confection is topped with a buttery sheen and has a lightly dense texture and a spicy flavor. With about an hour's notice, Timoteo can mix up and steam the Samoan cake with optional additions of raisins, glace mixed fruits, nuts and her "secret" custard sauce included in the $22 price.

ByGeorge F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
From left are Fouaimalo Timoteo, Jimmy "J.T." Timoteo,
Mike Sao and Diane Timoteo with a plate of Samoan-style
roast pork and Samoan taro made at J.T. Timoteo's Market
and Food Service in Nanakuli.

"Hot, fresh and buttery," she endorsed. "It's nice and moist, melts in your mouth."

Timoteo is the daughter of Jimmy "J.T." Timoteo, proprietor of the new J.T. Timoteo's Market & Food Service in Nanakuli. The market/delicatessen opened its doors Thanksgiving Day to a multiethnic crowd, which they treated to free food, drinks, entertainment and bananas. For patriarch Timoteo, the market is a long-held dream to benefit the community as well as his family.

Only two other Samoan-owned Samoan grocery/delicatessens operate on Oahu -- in Waipahu and Kalihi Valley. So cement-company retiree Timoteo wanted to make Polynesian cuisine readily available to Leeward Coast residents.

"I am doing something to help the community people, so they do not have to go far," Timoteo said. "The Samoan people, even the Tongan people, all Polynesians eat palusami (a version of laulau), taro and banana quite a lot. Kalihi Valley and Waipahu are quite far for Polynesians (on the coast).

"We're just 10 minutes away," he said of his store. "That's the main purpose."

Timoteo is a pastor's son originally from Atu'u, American Samoa. He served as a police officer and firefighter before emigrating to Hawaii in 1959. Here, he co-founded the First Samoan Congregational Christian Church of Maili. Now, in the yule spirit of giving, he brings hot, wholesome, ethnic cuisine to Leeward folks.

The market at 87-110 Nanaikeola St. in Nanakuli (668-4831) opens from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. The 70-year-old Timoteo wakes at 3 a.m. He and his cook hit the road by 4 a.m. from Waipahu.

Timoteo is a youngish-looking septuagenarian with 11 children, 25 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Granddaughters Sana Fua'au and Lela Mauai are fans of his palusami, a Samoan delicacy of luau leaves, coconut milk, onions and salt, all wrapped and baked in tin foil..

"Nobody else does 'em like my grandfather," said Mauai, 20. Fua'au, 24, agreed, "One thing about my grandfather, only his hands do the palusami. Nobody else comes near when he pours the coconut milk or wraps the lu'au leaves. And they're always big."

Deli offerings repose in a stainless-steel food warmer under a Polynesian display of kava bowl, naifi 'oti (fire-dance knife), Samoan flag and to'oto'o rod. The latter signifies Timoteo's rank as both Samoan to'oto'o and to'oto'o ali'i -- high chief and high talking chief, said his wife Fouaimalo Timoteo.

Below the display, hearty grinds include palusami ($1.75 each), cooked banana ($1 per pound), turkey tails ($1.59 pound), fai'ai maso (mussels in coconut milk, $1.99 a pound), fai'ai fe'e (squid in coconut milk, $5 a pound), and fried mullet with optional gravy ($2.50 a pound).

Pastries are pagi popo (coconut bun, $1.50), pagi siamani (raspberry flavored "German" bun, $2 a package), pai (pineapple pie, $1 and $2) and falaoa (bread, $1 for a 14-ounce loaf).

In the grocery area, New Zealand canned corned beef costs about $5 a pound. Delicacies of kuikui (frozen sea urchin "caviar") and powdered kava come from San Francisco.

Tongan carpenter Sione Fine stopped in one night with less than $5. He left with a pound and a half of food, plus change in his pocket. His styrofoam-boxed dinner -- at a flat $3 per pound -- included fasi povi masima (corned fresh beef brisket with cabbage), musupi (lamb lu'au stew) and cooked taro.

"It's beautiful, I think so," Fine said. "Pretty good."

Said Timoteo, "People are eating in the morning. There are a lot at night, at 10 or 10:30, after pau work. We're gonna be here on the Leeward Coast for a long time."

Recipes for Christmas Puligi and signature Palusami follow.

Diane Timoteo's Puligi
(Samoan bundt cake)

3-1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon EACH cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg
2 sticks margarine plus 3 tablespoons margarine, divided use
2 cups granulated sugar, divided
3 eggs
1 regular-size can evaporated milk
1 cup water

Optional: 1-1/2-ounce box raisins, 1/2 cup crushed walnuts, 1/2 cup glace mixed fruits (or to taste)

Mix together dry ingredients.

In a separate large bowl, cream 1 stick of margarine and 1 cup of the sugar. Add eggs; mix well.

In saucepan over high heat, heat remaining cup of sugar until it melts and browns. Add water slowly, stirring constantly, to incorporate. Add milk and bring to a boil.

Combine milk and sugar mixtures well; add dry ingredients, fruits and nuts. Stir slowly in one direction until combined thoroughly.

Melt remaining margarine, pour into a bundt cake pan; tip to coat sides. Pour batter into bundt pan.

To steam: Place 3 empty cans in a stock pot large enough to hold bundt pan. Add water to cover cans, and bring water to a boil. Place bundt pan on cans; cover and steam 40 to 45 minutes or until a bamboo skewer inserted in cake tests clean. (Some cooks oven-bake puligi or steam it in an imu, or underground oven.)

Spread remaining 3 tablespoons margarine over a large plate. Up-end cake onto plate and gently remove bundt pan. Then, up-end cake again onto a serving plate, so "buttery" top is right side up. Makes 24 slices.

Lower-fat option: Instead of coating bundt pan with margarine, spray pan with vegetable-oil nonstick-cooking spray, then omit 3 tablespoons margarine on cake top. Serve with a custard sauce (see "By Request").

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving with fruits and nuts: 260 calories, 12 grams total fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 28 milligrams cholesterol, 265 milligrams sodium.*
Per serving, with lower-fat option: 220 calories, 7 grams total fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 28 milligrams cholesterol, 190 milligrams sodium.*

J.T. Timoteo's Palusami

2/3 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup water
1/2 tablespoon chopped onion
Salt to taste
6 fresh lu'au (young taro leaves)
Aluminum foil

Mix coconut milk, water, onion and salt. Use right hand to arrange 6 lu'au cradled in the cupped palm of the left hand. Pour coconut milk mixture into center of lu'au. Gather and fold leaves together at top, enclosing liquid inside. Wrap leaf packet in a sheet of aluminum foil, bunching at top like a laulau.

Bake at 400 degrees for 2 hours or until done. Makes 1 palusami.

Approximate nutritional analysis per palusami: 350 calories, 33 grams total fat, 28 grams saturated fat, no cholesterol, 560 milligrams sodium.*
Per serving, using Globe or JFC brand low-fat coconut milk (with 3 grams fat per 3-4 tablespoons liquid): 160 calories, 12 grams total fat, 9 grams saturated fat, no cholesterol, 580 milligrams sodium.*

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