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Last updateWed, 20 Feb 2019 12am







    Tuesday, February 19, 2019-1:08:27P.M.






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Our Oceania: There’s something special about ‘saibok’

“YOU can saibok anything —‘saibok’ just means “cooked in coconut,” Zenn Tomokane told me as he darted through the busy kitchen.

The Hyatt’s executive sous chef is a speed-walker. He is prone to turning on a dime, leaving me to slip and scramble after him, rushing to catch his words over the clang of pots and pans.

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Everything you need to make sweet potato saibok.
Chop off sweet potato ends and blemishes before steaming.
Hyatt executive sous chef Zenn Tomokane likes to prepare his sweet potatoes in large, serving-size chunks.
Chop off sweet potato ends and blemishes before steaming.
Add coconut milk
Add a dash of salt

 “…very simple dish; people forget that this is something we’ve always eaten,” he was saying as I caught up. He had gathered his ingredients, a modest collection in comparison to the major productions taking place elsewhere in the kitchen: just five sweet potatoes, a can of coconut milk, salt, and cinnamon.

“Sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients and can give you energy all day,” he explained. “They’re tasty, they’re full of nutrients, and they’re not pricey.”

For all its modesty, there’s something special about saibok — whether you use tapioca, banana, sweet potato, or breadfruit, it has that certain element present in all comfort food. It tastes like home.

“I know growing up it was always one of those dishes that made us different than other cuisines,” Tomokane said. He means the Chamorro cuisine, in which he is an expert. “It was like almost every weekend going up to the farm, we had family gatherings and whenever the older guys were drinking beer and having tuna sashimi, there was the saibok.” 

“It was harvest food,” Tomokane continued. “We need to revive eating healthy and source our food locally. We need to support our local farmers.”

Here’s Tomokane’s take on this simple, nutritious, delicious, and affordable local classic:

Step 1: Chop

We used five sweet potatoes (around two pounds); wash them well, rubbing hard with your thumbs to ensure no dirt is left behind. Then chop off the ends, remove any long fibers still attached, and cut off unappetizing blemishes. Tomokane leaves the skin on to preserve the starch’s taste and nutritional value. Then chop the sweet potatoes —  some like to cut them into one-inch chunks, but we chopped ours into halves or thirds, creating “serving-size” pieces. While chopping, submerge finished pieces in water to keep them from oxidizing.

Step 2: Steam

“It’s way, way, way better with fresh coconut milk,” Tomokane said. “But if you’re going to use canned coconut milk, you have to shake it for at least a minute first.” Place the sweet potato chunks in a large sauce pan and add a well-shaken 400ml can of coconut milk. Add a large pinch of salt to the mix and place the saucepan on low heat. Cover and leave for 15 minutes, keeping an eye on the pan to make sure the milk doesn’t bubble up and overflow.

Step 3: Final Touches

Once steamed, the coconut milk should become creamy and the sweet potatoes should soften. You’ll know you’ve reached the sweet spot when you can easily poke a knife into the chunks and lift them out of the milk. If you’re like Tomokane, you might enjoy dressing up this simple dish with a more sophisticated presentation; he served the sweet potatoes in a small pool of the coconut cream, then garnished the plate with a swoop of cinnamon.

If you want, you can dress up the dish even further, adding raisins and almonds to the mix. Or just leave as is and couple with your favorite meat to barbecue.