Oka with a twist at Laupele Cafe

Locals who have converted to a plant-based diet for health and wellbeing have a reason to rejoice.

Now, they don’t have to write off all their favourite Samoan dishes in the name of health.

Laupele Café in Lotopa has created a fish-less oka and renamed it the “Oka Isa” using eggplant as a fish meat substitute. 

According to the Café Managers, Tutasi and Joseph Meredith, they have found that their customers have enjoyed a transformed version of the sacred traditional oka dish.

From the creators of the vegan based Krush café emerges Laupele café, which offers a more relaxed nutritious approach in their dishes.  

Laupele Café opened its doors at the end of last year to cater to those with meat-free diets without compromising on dairy and eggs. 

Food and beverage manager for Laupele and Krush, Douglas Nansen said providing that happy medium has widened their customer base.

“When Krush first opened, it was a vegan place so it was pretty slow as it took baby steps for a while,” he said. 

“But we are a bit more flexible than vegan because some people can give up meat but not dairy. Laupele is healthy but a little bit more relaxed than vegan eating. We have regulars that come in every day and lunchtime is getting really busy.”

According to Chef Nansen, he and the Café Managers have been experimenting with local produce and ingredients to recreate popular food dishes that locals gravitate towards. 

First on their list was to create vegetarian versions of oka and poke – staple entrées at any café in Samoa.

“We tried it before with tofu, which was alright but tofu keeps breaking up. It was Tasi’s idea because her whole family is vegan or vegetarian,” said Nansen. 

“Vegetarian people, especially vegan people, are really picky. We always ask them how they feel about what is on our menu and then we try out different stuff. We don’t use any canned pe’epe’e for that reason.”

The dishes were a hit with their patrons and as for their non-vegetarian customers, who wander into Laupele for coffee and curiosity, at first they were skeptical and now they are believers. 

“There were certain people that were excited about it and then you get the non-vegetarians who pop in here randomly looking for meat dishes, they would laugh at the Oka Isa. But then they actually try it and they end up enjoying it. We also have a poke version and we also used eggplant as a substitute.

“If you don’t think about, someone can just give it to you and say randomly that its oka, they’ll just eat it and think its fish. I think if you just get the texture right for people who are meat eaters, you can trick them into thinking they are eating meat if you get the texture of a dish right. Those non-vegetarians need that heaviness in their food which is why the eggplant works.”

Providing healthier options for health conscious individuals, Laupele’s customers aren’t the only ones who are reaping the benefits of a healthier lifestyle. 

“I’ve lost a lot of weight since I started working here,” said Chef Nanse. “We feed our staff everything that we make here so that they know the difference between vegan and vegetarian. We educate them on all aspects of food because people have this idea of vegetarianism that it’s all about green salad but its more than that.”

Café Laupele has been open for four months now and Tasi said it has been a work in progress to establish Laupele, but she was grateful to O.S.M. consultants for giving them the space and freedom to develop a vegetarian café that would cater to office professionals right through to the coffee mum groups.

The space has expanded to include a conference room that has wi-fi and multimedia display capabilities, making Laupele café an ideal place for business meetings and workshops.

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