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How to Become An Island Princess

When I stepped off the bus at the last stop of our day tour in Pago Pago, I had taken ten steps and one picture before a burly man sidled up beside me and struck up conversation.

“Hello, what is your name? You from China? Japan?”

Yes I’m aware of stranger danger, but this was a tour stop exclusive to the white people (and one Asian family . . . Konnichi-hao?!) off the cruise I was on. All the locals there that day were involved in the tour and island hospitality had been warm and welcoming.

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My Happy Puppy alter ego responds very quickly to friendly people.

So I wagged my tail and replied chirpily that no, I wasn’t from China but yes, I am of Chinese descent.

The big man eyeballed me and broke out in a wide, white grin.

“You are very beautiful.”

At which Happy Puppy stumbled, ducked her head and shuffled away to take more photos.

Welcome to the village.

Pago Pago

A large grassy field met my eyes as I walked under and past the painted welcome banner. Dotted on the edges of this green expanse were coconut trees and several small huts with thatched roofs. Masses of white plastic chairs faced a raised platform running down the length of the field. Tourists swarmed around me, hats perched on sweaty heads, cameras at the ready.

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My parents found a wooden bench in the shade and once my sister and I saw to their comfort, we wandered off separately to take more pictures. It wasn’t long before an amplified voice announced the start of the cultural performance.

A brother and sister pair walked out to the front of the platform and greeted all of us tourists. I vaguely remember him giving himself the nickname Kiss. His sister batted her eyelashes and said we could call her Princess. Why?

“Because here on Pago Pago, the men do all the work. They look for food, cook, clean, build houses . . . we women just sit back and relax.”

“And gossip,” coughed Kiss. Princess glared at him and he shut up.

Ooh, the men ARE well-trained.

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Princess and Kiss went on to explain how they got milk.

Two men presented themselves, dressed only in grass skirts, bright red hibiscus tucked behind their ears. One of them quickly scaled a nearby coconut tree, picked one and tossed it to his waiting companion. Coconuts were cracked open on the point of a wooden pole, and the outer husk was stripped off. Working deftly, the men scraped away at the inside of the coconut until triumphantly, they had a small tub spattered with white liquid.

“And this, my friends, is the milk we use on the island!”

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Coconut milk. Santan, as we know it back home in Malaysia.

It’s extensively used in their staple diet: lots of coconut, breadfruit, taro leaves, fresh fish, chicken . . . The men then proceeded to build an umu, a traditional above ground earth oven. Alternating layers of firewood, hot river rocks and leaves were assembled into a pile. Balls of taro leaves with coconut milk at its core were laid on the umu before being covered up with more leaves. It would take upwards of an hour to cook meals using this traditional method.

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Smoke wafted through the air as they announced that we would get to sample several local dishes that had been prepared the same way much earlier. Yay!

First though, I went wandering around the huts, where the process of building them was explained. How they used wood for its structure, leaves for its roofs and windows . . .

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One hut had men grinding and pounding away at a black paste, which I discovered was to make a local chocolatey drink. It almost tastes like a Kopi-O, without the bitterness.

As more performances started up again, I finally got to the food stands.

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The young man behind it gasped dramatically when I sheepishly told him I hadn’t tasted the food yet. He immediately picked up a square of foil and piled it high. I tasted breadfruit, chunks of tuna fish and chicken marinated and cooked in coconut milk, and taro leaves cooked the same way.

It was delicious. The chicken was tender, the tuna fish fell to pieces between my fingers to soak up even more of the coconut gravy, the taro leaves reminded me of kangkung.

Note to self: marinate everything in coconut milk from now on.

I continued nibbling away, watching as a group of girls swayed slowly in grass skirts. The dance was followed by the introduction of the Real Island Princess.

A pretty young woman strutted out into the middle of the field, wearing an eye-catching red-and-yellow feathered headdress. A similar belt was looped around her waist.

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So this is what a Real Island Princess looks like.

I want that headdress. I will run around waving a headless chicken and screaming bloody murder at the top of my lungs at any man who mistreats any of my girlfriends / princesses.

Kiss announced that he would randomly pick men from the crowd and if they got his questions right, they would get a plot of land to build their own hut and live happily ever after in Pago Pago . . . but they had to work to find their own woman. The women just had to look for a single, available man she liked the look of.

“Aaaaand,” Kiss winked, “the men here are all single and available, ladies!”

The crowd cackled with laughter as jokes were tossed back and forth but I barely paid attention to this part as I was chatting with some of the locals at the huts. I never got to find out if any of the men did get that piece of land.

Finally, it was time to leave the village. On my way out, a group of men called out greetings to me, some of whom I had talked to throughout the day. I asked for a photograph of them and they huddled together as I snapped away with my iPhone. Then they pulled me over to take a group photo with them as well.

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“Sit with me…” “No, me!” “No, in the middle of us!” “What is your name?” “She said it earlier…” “Do you have Facebook?” “You like Pago Pago? You stay?”

A booming voice sounded over the multitude of questions and tangled arms still clutching onto squirming Happy Puppy.

“Miss! We have to go back now, everyone is waiting for you!”

As the matronly guide Dina Brown ushered me back towards the rickety wooden bus, she put a fleshy arm around me and in a confiding tone, she whispered, “They’re all married, dear.”

At which I stopped short in horror. “I’m not interested at all!”

Dina just raised her dark, painted brows and went oh. I couldn’t tell if she was relieved or insulted.

Just because this guy I kissed once happened to be Polynesian, it does not indicate my future life plan to marry one and become an island princess.

But if you so chose, these are the steps you should take:

How To Become An Island Princess

1) Book a trip to Pago Pago, American Samoa.

How to get there:

  • From Kuala Lumpur, fly to either Sydney/Brisbane (Australia) or Auckland (New Zealand).
  • You will then need to fly to Apia, Samoa. Air New Zealand and Virgin Samoa service this route.
  • From Apia, you can connect with Inter Island Airways or Polynesia Airlines to Pago Pago.

2) Pay a visit to the village.

3) Dress up in brightly-coloured feathers. Adorn yourself with as many flowers as you can.

4) Sit back on a sand-sculpted throne in the shade of coconut trees while glistening men fan you with large fronds.

5) Sip on a scrummy cocktail while your subjects shower you with adoration and gifts for your favour. (Shells are pretty but coconuts are useful.)

6) Enjoy the rest of your days singing, dancing, eating and relaxing in this bit of paradise.

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Note to self 2: I should really rethink this whole island princess thing.

Do you have any dreams of becoming an island princess? Where would you ideally like to live or travel to?

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FIQ’s Gastronomy, Subang Jaya

Why, hello!

Blog virgin and all, and since I’m a Subang girl born and bred, it seems fitting that I pop the cherry in my hometown.

A friend of mine casually mentioned that there was a new kid on the block: FIQ’s Gastronomy (FIQ stands for Food, Innovation, Quality; in case you were curious). When my sister seemed in need of some sisterly time a couple of days back, I jumped at the chance to try out this place.

We drove up on a quiet Thursday afternoon. The moment we walked in, I did a little happy dance inside my head. This café’s ambiance checks most of my boxes: breezy, laid back, colourful, greeeeat sunlight streaming in . . .

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Less than a month old, FIQs Gastronomy looks right and feels even better. Like your cheerful best friend who gives you lots of space until your latest relationship falls apart, and he lets you cry until your eyes are all puffy and your nose is dripping.

Then the food comes out.

And you realise you’re actually in total love with your best friend instead.

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I mean, just look at that presentation. Simple. Comforting. Beautiful. Love as it should be.

Reading the menu, I was intrigued. There’s been a rash of Melbourne-inspired cafés popping up all over KL lately, and this one hasn’t taken the exact same route when it comes to their food. I got to chatting with Shahaman, the friendly restaurant manager, who shared that FIQ’s was modeled after Brooklyn cafés instead.

Good, I thought. Since I haven’t been there, I won’t have any idea or expectations on what the food will be like.

We went with the roasted gnocchi starter and the salted beef sandwich.

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The roasted gnocchi was an interesting play in flavours. Square cut pieces of potato dough, capers raisin emulsion, thin crispy fried strips of mushrooms, ground-up hazelnut and . . . olive oil powder??

Yep, that white sprinkling on the corner of the dish? It’s not ricotta, or feta, but olive oil powder. I had fun popping pieces into my mouth and letting it dissolve into an oily paste. Imagine having cotton candy, but savoury rather than sweet.

Like I said, interesting dish, but it was more fun than anything else. What really got my attention though, was this:

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The salted beef sandwich.

I had to try their breads after finding out that they bake it themselves. They didn’t disappoint.

Thick, fluffy slabs of buttery, white bread. The crunch from fresh lettuce and sweetness of ripe, firm tomato slices. Hot miso mustard spread. And those generous chunks of tender, juicy, salted beef; air-flown chilled from Australia.

I had a foodgasm in my mouth from the very first bite of this deliciousness. Screw it FIQ’s, I’m sold on your café. I would go back just for this. To try everything else on your menu, too (duck tagliatelle, imma gobble you up next).

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And for the cheery, happy smiles I get there 🙂

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Say hello to the kitchen crew! You get to see them hard at work in the large open kitchen.

One more thing:

What makes FIQ’s location unique is the amount of space that they have, compared to most other cafés around KL. Outside, parking doesn’t look like it will be a problem – a huge plus point for me! I’m sure it will be for everyone else, too 😉

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 Don’t forget to snap a picture with that gorgeous mural of the Brooklyn Bridge outside. I got lucky its artist was at work when I was there that afternoon. If for nothing else at all, this place is worth driving to just for photos.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

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FIQ’s Gastronomy
34 Jalan SS19/1D, Subang Jaya
Tues-Sun, 12pm-10.30pm
(Desserts only between 3pm-6pm)
Tel: 03-5613 0473

http://fiqsgastronomy.com/v1/