Traditional Hangi, a Pacific Underground Feast

in New Zealand, Oceania

A hangi is a traditional meal enjoyed in the island nations of New Zealand and the South Pacific. In Samoa it is called umu, and in Fiji it’s known as lovo.

Hangi refers both to the food eaten, the method it is cooked, and the underground oven it’s cooked in.

At a hangi, different meats and vegetables are wrapped in leaves or aluminum foil, then placed in a pit lined with hot stones. The parcels are covered with wet cloths and earth to trap the heat inside. The dishes then steam for several hours until the vegetables are flavorsome and the meats are fall-apart tender. Chicken, beef, fish, and kumera are traditional dishes served at a hangi. Today pork, lamb, potatoes, and pumpkin are also often prepared this way. The unconventional cooking method imbues the food with a delicious earthy, smoky flavor.

The decision to cook food underground may seem unusual to Westerners, but it makes sense when understanding that the native Islanders believe that the earth gives all life. As all life comes from soil, it seems right to return that life-giving food to the earth.

A hangi is a communal experience, where food is shared freely amongst old friends and new ones. Traditionally a hangi was reserved for special occasions where a village came together to celebrate. All members of the family would assist in the feast, with the men preparing the underground oven and the women tending to the food.

A Maori warrior

A Maori warrior

Today many hotels and cultural villages in tourist towns regularly serve hangi feasts. These allow visitors to experience the country’s culture, and are often accompanied by traditional music and dancing. Tourists can enjoy a hangi meal at many locations throughout New Zealand and the South Pacific including Tamaki Maori Village in the New Zealand city of Rotorua, Lalati Resort in Fiji, and Princess Tui Inn (NOTE: Fire destroyed the building in late 2010) in the Samoan beachside town of Apia.

[Image Source: Geoftheref/Flickr]

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