The Oka Festival challenge
If there is one sacred Samoan dish that brings out the food snob and the most serious food critic in all of us, it would be our beloved oka.
This Saturday, 13 January, the third annual Oka Festival will be held at Home Cafe in Malifa. We can expect some serious culinary contenders battle it out to see who will take out the Cup for the Best Oka on island.
The man driving the Festival is Horace Evans, Owner of Home Café.
“If there’s one dish that you would pick that represents us in Samoa in a world culinary competition, it would be oka. It’s local, it’s fresh,” he said.
“Oka festival is about who makes the best oka on the island and as you know when I used to live overseas and come over to visit, it was always about who makes the best oka and we would go there.
“That word spreads, it doesn’t have to be online it just spreads like wild fire. The oka festival with the Chefs Association was about giving it a shot and seeing what happens and people just took it on.”
Every year has seen the Oka festival grow in numbers because locals become more interested and a little competitive, but it’s not just getting the locals’ attention, it’s attracting the attention of our Samoans abroad, who also understand the sacred art of making the oka.
“Fresh T.V. (from New Zealand) has been here since the beginning and they love filming it with the vibe and energy and of course the New Zealanders love it. Again it represents Samoa to other Samoans living outside and maybe bringing them over.”
Horace has a challenge for Samoans around the region.
“What I really wanted to ask Fresh T.V., it’ll be nice for a New Zealand team to come and try and take the Cup away from us. I mean, it’ll probably a local Samoan restaurant that wins it,” he laughs.
“But I want it to get bigger and more recognized.”
The rules are simple, only local ingredients can be used to make the delicacy dish and each team will compete against each other to be the best in coconut husking, milking, fish filleting and dish presentation.
“It’s all about the prepping, we valu the popo (scrape the coconut), we kakau it (squeeze the milk from it), that’s the main ingredient. As people see, we don’t use the can or other types. But working with hotels and industries, it’s a must to use cans because of hygiene purposes.”
The Home Café Owner, and Chef, has another reason to be enthusiastic about the oka fest and wants to see more events like this in the future.
“Oka fest is about showing our dishes, getting kids interested in cooking; it’s one of the highest most wanted jobs on the island. I used to be the executive chef for Aggie’s Resort for four years and I never knew that doing that career in Australia would end up being one of the most wanted jobs in Samoa.
“I want to see young people get motivated to see ‘hey that’s cool’ I mean there’s chef shows everywhere nowadays, it’s gone ballistic. So I hope that this shows some Samoan kids watching T.V. that chef jobs are important.”
The list of entrants are mainly hotels and restaurants, but Horace wants to see more locals get in the mix to showcase their oka making talents, knowing that there are some hidden gems out there.
“This year, we have most hotels entering like Sinalei; we have two teams from Sheraton, a team from Taumeasina, Roko’s restaurant and Amanaki’s restaurant (which is well known for good oka). Roko’s has won it twice in a row now and we are hoping to put a stop to that this year,” he jokes.
But hopefully with the newspaper and the radio, more local people will want to join in; hey the Samoa Observer should enter. Obviously you have an entry fee, it’s a $100 and part of that includes the option to join the chefs association.”
The oka festival will be held between 11am and 5pm at the Home Café in Malifa. Locals can expect fun for the whole family with food stalls, fun activities for the kids, raffles and of course seeing chefs in their element demonstrating the art of oka making.