Hold on to your Britches-This is a Weird One: Kapisi Pulu

Okay, stuff’s getting weird.

Kapisi pulu is an island food popular in Tonga and eaten for special occasions.  I couldn’t really find out WHY Tongans eat this, just that they do, so I had to settle for no explanation.

Making this required me to dig deep. The more I research the cuisine of the Pacific Island, the more I realize I’m going to be going far out of my comfort zone. Like, way far. Way past where Jesus lost his sandals. And Kapisi pulu is example #1 of the weirdness to come. But I guess that’s the point of this whole shebang.

The ingredients are simple: Banana leaves. Corned beef. Onion. Tomato. Coconut Cream. Cilantro (my addition. I thought it needed some green).

Problem #1: Where does one find banana leaves?

Solution: In Chicago, The Broadway Supermarket.


I’d been here before, but have been too lazy to trek up there recently. After looking around, I realized I should have been up there long ago when I was cooking all that African food. They have the cassava that I somehow managed to avoid that whole continent. Dragging Tomato for support and good measure, I found not only banana leaves, but taro leaves, pepper leaves, and a few others I didn’t recognize. This place had it all, so I stocked up.

leaves 2Found in your freezer section…

tomatoTomato, excited to be eating a frozen Mochi.

Problem #2: Canned corned beef? Ew.

Solution: Suck it up and buy it. I like corned beef. A lot. But canned? I was skeptical. I DID find it at the grocery store… and actually found myself ashamed to buy it. Who buys this stuff? Someone apparently, because the store had it.  How old was it? Best not to ask.

When I went to open it, the can had a key.


I didn’t know what to do with that, and it took me a few minutes to figure out all I had to do was the obvious: Turn the key.

key open

BAZINGA! The can opened.

beef cannedLooked like dog food. Tasted like dog food.

Moving on…

Problem #3: Convincing myself this would taste good.

Tallyho. Onward.

Recipe from Worldcook


1 12-ounce can of corned beef

1 tomato, cubed

1 onion, diced

1 handful cilantro, chopped

4 sheets of banana leaves

1 cup coconut cream


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.

2.  Add all the ingredients to a bowl. Think of the coconut cream like mayo, and the corned beef like tuna. You’re just making tuna salad.  Using your hands, mush everything together.

beef salad

  1. Unwrap the banana leaves.  I felt like I was unwrapping the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Cut into four sheets.



4.  Divide the filling by 4. Place 1/4 of the filling onto each of the four banana leaf segments.  Wrap each into a little package.


5.  Bake for 45 minutes.  Unwrap and eat.

beef cooked

Ok, after all of the above, I tried it….and it was actually good (though it still looks questionable)! It took me a few bites to come to this conclusion, but bottom line is that it exceeds expectations.

Would I make it again? I’d venture to say highly unlikely, but I WILL also say that I no longer fear the canned meat (which is good, because apparently Spams is a thing in Hawaii…).


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3 thoughts on “Hold on to your Britches-This is a Weird One: Kapisi Pulu”

  • The reason why you do not know why we eat kapisi kapa pulu is because we do not make it this way. Kapisi is translated cabbage in english and you are clearly not using cabbage and we do not oven cook kapisi pulu in banana leaves. ugh! We also do not use tomatoes unless it is cooked over the stove- eeks! Do not mock our cultural foods unless you know what you are doing. What a ditz!

    • I’m sorry if I made this dish wrong- Unfortunately, I do have to settle for what is a click away on the internet, and while it does make the world smaller, a lot does get lost in translation. As stated above, the recipe I used was this one: http://www.worldcook.net/Cooking/MainCourse/MC-KapisiPulu.htm Having never been to your country or eaten this food before, it is difficult to put into context what I do not know and can only rely on recipe that I find. As with any recipe, every family, every house makes it different (I can speak on that for any number of recipes that are my family’s or my countrymen), so perhaps THIS family’s recipe using tomatoes is authentic to them. I certainly do not intend to mock anything of yours, and if you mistook my sarcasm for that I sincerely apologize.

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