Samoan ‘Sapa Sui’ Chop Suey: A Recipe from the East

Whenever I cook Island Food, it is usually in large quantities, and most of the time I give it away to family or friends.  As a side note, cooking for a ‘family event’ in my culture is not limited to providing a meal for a few individuals, rather, a small crowd.  Pacific people rarely refuse any given opportunities for gatherings or decline offerings of food which for some may consider as offensive.  ‘Coming together’ is a way of reconnecting with kin, sharing and reminiscing past stories of memorable events, transferring indigenous knowledge about ancestors and customs, singing songs and laments, thus confirming cultural identities of who we are. 

One of the more popular Samoan dishes that I frequently make is Sapa Sui or Samoan Chop Suey.  I can remember as a child standing on a chair in the kitchen watching my mother making Sapa Sui at the stove; stirring the vermicelli and flavoured meat inside a large stock pot.  Those were the days!


Sapa Sui is relatively fast and easy to make and quite tasty.  Essentially, this dish comprises of small cubes of cooked meat such as chicken, pork, lamb or beef mixed with fen si 中国粉丝  Chinese bean vermicelli (also known as cellophane or glass noodles), sliced or cubed vegetables and flavoured with Soy Sauce.  There are many varieties of Sapa Sui within the Samoan community and other Pacific nations. Furthermore, some countries have inducted Chop Suey into their food databases, e.g., the Philippines, Jamaica and the United States.  Moreover, some individuals (and myself) opt for the healthy adaptation, e.g., using Soy Sauce (light version), excluding salt, swapping meat for tofu, egg or prawns, and less meat and more vegetables. 

Interestingly, Sapa Sui is not an authentic Samoan dish.  Known as 杂 za sui, it is a recipe from China that was carried across the Pacific Ocean most likely by the early Chinese free settlers (circa 1840s) or indentured Southern Chinese labourers from the Guangdong and Fujian provinces during the German Administration of Samoa (1889 – 1914).  Although laws were prohibiting the socialization of these workers with the local villagers, many Chinese migrants intermingled and married Samoans.  Thus, combining two indigenous cultures, households, customs, resources and of course: cuisine[1]

The original za sui consisted of vegetables and giblets, or the edible offal such as the liver, gizzard, and other visceral organs in place of chicken meat that for some was too expensive, and therefore substituted with cheaper options.  However, the Samoan Chop Suey used small cuts of chicken meat boiled with soy sauce and noodles.  In time, the popularity and demand for Sapa Sui grew as more homes and restaurants recognized its versatility, low cost, ‘bulk’ quantity, unique flavour and time-saving features.  Today, the Samoan Sapa Sui is among the most popular and sought-after Island foods at Pacific-themed events. Ia manuia le tausamiga!

sapa sui 1

Special thanks to Qian Liu for your assistance with the Chinese translations!

[1] Other Chinese-derived Samoan meals include Keke Pua’a (Steamed Pork Bun) 叉燒包 Cha Shao Bao; Falai Fuamoa (Egg Fu Rung) or  芙蓉蛋, and Keke Saina (Chinese Savoury Biscuits made of Soy Sauce, garlic and onions).



  1. Amber Nicholson

    This is so interesting Betty – I never knew the history of Sapa Sui – like many others I assumed it was a traditional dish. Thanks for the info, and your amazing plate of Sapa Sui and potato salad!!


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