If you’ve been searching for Samoan desserts paifala, fa’apapa and panipopo, I now know where to send you. Polynesian Favorites, a Samoan deli and bakery, opened in mid-February in East Tacoma in a neighborhood filled with my favorite taquerias.
The business is owned by two couples — Henry and Moli Po Ching, and Joe and Metala Mikaele, who is the primary cook.
Polynesian Favorites is the first storefront the couples have operated together. Henry Po Ching said they decided to open in Tacoma because they knew there was a Samoan community here. All four are Samoan. And “there aren’t any actual Samoan stores here,” said Po Ching. “We felt there was a need. Everywhere we go, everybody’s always, always looking for a Samoan store. They always say they wish there was a Samoan store here.”
And now there is.
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The small business has a bakery case and a steam table filled with Samoan hot foods for takeout (there’s no seating for dining in).
Weekends are busiest, with families stopping by to pick up items for their Sunday supper, said Po Ching. The hours listed for the business are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, but Po Ching said the official hours are “when the food runs out,” so if you have your heart set on something, call ahead.
Offerings change frequently in the bakery case and steam table.
IN THE BAKERY CASE
Find paifala, also called Samoan half moon pies ($3.99 half pie/$7.98 full pie). The hand pies come filled with sticky sweetened pineapple in an empanada-like turnover with a tender bite. Po Ching said the entire business was built around the pies, which are Metala’s specialty and the item for which she’s known in local Samoan circles.
Baked papa (a shortened name from fa’apapa) is another popular item in the bakery case. It’s a small loaf of foil-wrapped sweet bread with a slightly crunchy, browned crust that broke to a dense, coconut-flavored bread ($4.99). (It’s terrific when toasted and buttered, by the way).
There also are German buns, which are fried buns made with a fluffy dough and filled with jam or coconut ($4.99). The coconut German bun was filled with a dollop of coconut and brown sugar.
A few other bakery specialties, Po Ching said, include puligi, which is a steamed pudding with a sweet dipping sauce. They also have pani popo, which are coconut buns that look like dinner rolls. Puligi and pani popo are not always available, but can be special ordered in advance, Po Ching said.
ON THE STEAM TABLE
Steam-table items are available for individual purchase, or get a combination meal. The meals are $10 (three items, plus a starch) or $15 (four items, with taro).
Hot deli items include sapasui, known as Samoan chop suey, with slippery noodles, lots of chopped vegetables and bits of meat in a savory sauce.
Fai’ai pilikaki is fish cooked in coconut milk with spinach (mackerel on my visit).
Turkey tails are popular with Samoan customers, said Po Ching. The turkey tails are “slow cooked and then we add our own sweet-and-sour sauce,” he said.
Another popular item is kale mamoe, a curry stew made with lamb.
“You can use any kind of meat in that stew, but the majority of Samoan people like lamb,” said Po Ching.
Be sure to order the taro, he said.
“That is one of our main starches. We bake it, we boil in hot water, add coconut milk and garnish with spices,” he said.
Where: 918 E. 72nd St., Tacoma; 253-301-0832; facebook.com/pg/polyfave.
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.