BYU-Hawaii Cafeteria brought the authentic taste of Tonga to their menu on Jan 9. to initiate a new focus of sharing culture through food.
Tongan main courses, desserts and soups were available and all were labeled in both English and Tongan languages.
Akanesi Niutupuivaha, a junior social work major from Tonga, said it was hard to contain herself. She said she was screaming to her friends in Tongan about all of the familiar foods. “I came 20 minutes earlier and I had to sit here and wait. That was how excited we were to eat!”
Not only was the Cafeteria food themed for the night, but also the back wall of the Cafeteria was decorated with traditional Tongan fans and woven mats. “The moment I came in here and saw the tapa, I was amazed,” said Niutupuivaha. “I felt like I was at home because we rarely eat these foods while we live out here.”
Alex Doggett, a senior social work major from Utah, also agreed with Niutupuivaha’s comments. She said she loved the food and was familiar with [the food] from when she served her mission in Auckland, New Zealand. Doggett said her favorite part of the meal was the kumala, or sweet potato. “It’s my favorite vegetable, besides taro,” she added.
After emptying two plates, Niutupuivaha said, “It was really good, especially the lupulu… It’s what we eat back home.” Lupulu is made with taro leaves, coconut cream, and corned beef all mixed together and cooked. She said the juices from the meat soften the leaves while the cream from the coconut soaks into them both, allowing one to taste all three savory flavors in every bite.
She said back home she would only eat lupulu on Sunday because it is the day reserved for the best meal. “Lupulu is the perfect meal for me to eat with my family.”
To other students, the Tongan diet was much less familiar. Sandra Khoo, a freshman hospitality and tourism management major from Malaysia, said she was excited to try out the Tongan-inspired meal.
As a Chinese-speaking tour guide at the Polynesian Cultural Center, Khoo said she often heard about Tongan dishes while working in the villages, but never had the opportunity to try them.
After her first couple of bites into the meal, Khoo smiled and said, “That’s something new.” She said in Malaysia it’s popular to use coconut in their dishes, so she was surprised the Tongan food, which was also made with coconut, didn’t taste more familiar to her. “I like coconut milk,” she said.
Marilou Lee, who works in the kitchen, said, “For this new year, every week we’re going to have a different culture night.” She said the Cafeteria has a goal to cater to culture from around the world.
Lee didn’t say specifically what they would be serving next, but she mentioned the proximity of the Chinese New Year and how students should expect a taste of China soon.
Niutupuivaha said, “We are looking forward to other cultures. We want to taste their food. We really like it because it makes us feel like we are included.”
If the Cafeteria were to host a Malaysia night, Khoo said one food she would like to see served is a Malaysian breakfast food. “It’s coconut rice with sumbaouu, which is like Chili, cucumber, anchovies, and eggs. It’s really good.”
For less adventurous students, the Cafeteria will still have other food options available.