`Sam Choy's Polynesian Kitchen' does several things right in a sincere attempt to promote the cuisine of the South Pacific Islands; however, it falls short of convincing me that the food preparation traditions of widely scattered island groups forms an `overlooked cuisine' as claimed by the book's subtitle.
At it's heart, I suspect this is primarily a book like Emeril Lagasse's latest, designed to promote interest in the author's establishments in Hawaii. As with Emeril's book, this does not mean it is a poor cookbook. Let's look at what the book does right:
First, there is an excellent description of a wide range of Polynesian foodstuffs. While many may simply be beyond a mainland American's ability to find without extraordinary effort, most are available from Hispanic or Oriental or East Indian sources. There is a clue here that the claimed `Polynesian cuisine' may be a fairly derivative practice, borrowing heavily from Spanish and English explorers and Asian immigrants. This survey of foodstuffs includes substitutions, but the number of items where no reasonable substitution is available is rather high. At least one substitution of `yams' for `sweet potatoes' is suspect. The author makes no note about the ambiguity between the African white starchy yams and the misplaced name for New World sweet potatoes.
Second, almost all recipe directions are very short. Most are short because they are simple. Many are short because the author seems to skimp on some important details, such as reasonable tests of doneness. A recipe for fried squid, for example, gives no warning whatsoever that cooking for more than one or two minutes can produce a good imitation of rubber bands.
Third, the stories of how the author came by some of his recipes are engaging and well written. They are easily one of the better parts of the book.
Fourth is the glossary of Polynesian words.
Fifth, the book presents the recipes by island group, including dishes from the seven groups of Fiji, Hawaii, The Marquesas, New Zealand, Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga.
The book's shortcomings are most prominent in it's trying to make the `Polynesian cuisine' more than it really is. For starters, many of the recipes are Sam Choy's own invention. I don't hold that against the quality of the recipes, only the believability of the book's premise. Then, almost all staples such as curry and soy sauce are imports, primarily from Asia. There are no classic Polynesian products.
I am puzzled especially by the dishes from Tonga where there are several with distinctly Italian origins such as Caponata, Polenta, and Pane (bread in Italian). Choy gives no explanation of this connection. New Zealand's being included in the list also puzzles me. The influence here is so overwhelmingly English and the landmass supports so much more varied foodstuffs that it doesn't seem to fit the archipelago model of the other six island groups.
Lastly, I find it hard to take a cuisine seriously where one of the more important sources of protein is canned corned beef. This doesn't surprise me, as this product is also an important foodstuff in the Philippines.
If you are of Polynesian extraction, this book will be a great resource. If you are simply in the market for a new, unusual cuisine, I suggest you try Moroccan cuisine or Turkish cuisine.