Litia Sini Beach Resort, Lalomanu, Upolu, Samoa

Lydia Sini To’omalatai
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Owner and operator:
Lydia Sini To’omalatai

Profile:
Litia Sini Beach Resort offers resort-style beach fales (Samoan open hut). The resort was started by Lydia’s parents in the 1990s, with Lydia taking over in 2005. The resort comprises 14 double fales, two family fales, a beach bar and a restaurant. The resort’s capacity is a maximum of 50 guests. Litia Sini employs 18 staff, seven of whom are in the kitchen. Food is considered one of the key features of the resort. In 2009 the Lalomanu coast where the Litia Sini resort is located) was devastated by a tsunami, which killed 143 people, including many tourists. The resort was reduced to nothing more that the concrete platform on which it was built, and several members of Lydia’s family lost their lives. Despite the devastating loss, the resort was rebuilt and fully operational within a year of the tsunami. Fundamental changes to the resort’s operations, including cuisine, were implemented as part of the re-build.

Lydia had always wanted always wanted to use local food at the resort. She recognised that tourists to Samoa wanted to try local cuisine, and many arrived in the country with high expectations of what they should be able get in the islands. As a guest at Litia Sini Resort suggested, “When travelling, the more authentic or more linked in you are to a country, the better the experience. It adds to the whole flavour of the place. Experiencing the local food has been a key part of my travel experience, just like learning part of the language. Part of culture is food and language. It gives you a sense of the people and how it’s prepared. I don’t want to travel and eat the same food I can eat at home” (Dave, New Zealand guest at Litia Sini Resort). As Lydia observed, many of these tourists had been to other Pacific islands and experienced other local food. She recognised this as an opportunity for the Samoan Tourism Authority to promote Samoa and what it has to offer.

Despite this desire to highlight local foods as part of the Litia Sini Resort experience, Lydia is not a cook and was unsure how she could integrate more local ingredients into the resort’s menus, “There’s a lot of products available on the island but it’s a lack of knowledge of how to put them together or make use of them on the menu” (Lydia To’omalatai). Lydia (and Litia Sini resort) had been featured in Me’a Kai: The Food and Flavour of the South Pacific and Mea’ai Samoa: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Polynesia. An episode of the TVNZ series Real Pasifik presented by Chef Robert Oliver was filmed at the resort. As part of the filming, Chef Oliver provided staff training. He also suggested to the staff to use local ingredients like o’o (the endosperm of a mature coconut) and raw pawpaw (papaya) in dishes such as salad and coleslaw.

 

The suggestion of using more local ingredients in innovative ways was not all that was required however. The staff’s knowledge was restricted to how food was cooked in the village and they lacked the skills and ability to adapt these dishes and ingredients to the tourism context. Chef Oliver provided a week of training for the staff as part of the Real Pasifik television episode that was filmed in Samoa and this enhanced their understanding of how to use local products, and built their skills and confidence in doing so. Along with the increase in local dishes on the menu at Litia Sini resort, has come an increase in the purchasing of local products. Lydia sees this as a “win-win” situation for the resort and the local producers. The local supply chain however is not without its challenges. Due to an inconsistency of supply locally, the resort has started to grow some of their own such as cucumbers, herbs and greens (such as bok choy).

With their new-found confidence, the staff have developed good relationships with the customers. Staff are excited and happy to present Samoan cuisine and enjoy explaining what is in the dish, “People travel from afar to come here to eat and for them to eat what they can have at home isn’t a 100% experience of our cuisine so being able to put together little bits and pieces is something that the kitchen staff never thought they could do. Aside from just pouring coconut cream onto something and that’s usually what they cook at home. Being able to use other methods and ideas makes them very happy and they are proud to use and sell our local products” (Lydia To’omalatai). Lydia also reported that ever since they changed the menu and added more local Samoan cuisine they have had people come to the resort to specifically request local dishes, “It’s been an eye opener for us and other restaurants down the coast that are making use of the local produce. Our guests are amazed and happy that we sell the local cuisine. This is what they come to Samoa for. Not just to enjoy the beach and the people but the food. Being able to have the Samoan cuisine is something that’s fascinating to them. The palagis [tourists] come and say they would like to try a local dish. We’ve had a lot of people say they’ve seen us on TV and they’ve seen our pork marinated in Samoan koko, which is something our local people, even Samoans overseas didn't think was possible.  We’re very happy to offer that. We noticed we are receiving a lot of people from the other resorts to come and try our coconut crusted fish. It’s not just coconut crusted but it’s cooked in coconut oil. You can smell the smell coming out of the kitchen, it’s the smell of Samoa. It’s not just the taste, it’s the smell (Lydia To’omalatai).