Hāngi, the Maori’s traditional Earth oven
So what is it?
The New Zealand Maori people have a unique way of cooking a mouth watering feast. This technique is their traditional way of cooking food and has been used by them for hundreds of years. Its called a hāngi and is still used on special occasions today. To sum it up, a hāngi is pretty much burring your food on top of hot rocks for several hours, steaming it, before digging it up and digging in. You can cook all sorts in these pits, beef, lamb, pork, poultry, potato, kumara (New Zealand sweet potato), Pumpkin and even steamed puddings. Early Polynesian settler sites around New Zealand show evidence of this type of cooking from as early as 1280.
First up you are going to need a site ideal for digging holes. You don’t want the ground to be real hard or rocky as this could mean you end up with blistered hands and a slipped disk. Avoid putting your hole near flammable objects, such as you house. These spots become perfect places to grow veges once the day is over, so keep that in mind. You are going to need to dig a hole big enough to fit the baskets I will tell you about later.
Rocks, you are going to need some rocks so be prepared for heavy carrying. There are several varieties that will do the trick. Stay away from the metamorphic or sedimentary (sandstone) types. Igneous is the champion when it comes to this job. Your every day river rocks, the kind that look like mini boulders work well. Auckland blue and other volcanic rocks will do the trick to.
These can vary considerably depending on how old school and crafty with your hands you want to be. Original hāngi’s used leaves, sticks and vegetation to avoid food being in direct contact with hot rocks and being crushing by soil. If you feel motivated you could weave a basket out of flax leaves. If the prospect of this doesn’t excite you then use small hole chicken mesh folded into a box shape or steamer type containers. If this becomes a regular occurrence you may want to weld up some purpose made boxes. Three baskets are required, a larger one for meat, then two smaller ones for vegetables and anything else you decide to throw in there. The hole you were reading about earlier is going to need to fit these baskets with at least 100 mm clearance all around.
You are now going to have to act like a caveman and create fire. Chuck some scrunched up newspaper in the hole as a starter and top this wood. There is a special way of stacking the layers of wood in perpendicular layers with the rocks spread out between these layers. Once the fire is lit you are gonna wanna make sure it keeps burning for two or three hours to get those rock nice and hot. The rocks can also be heated in a fire next to the hole.
Line the baskets with tin foil. You are going to have to gather enough meat and vegetables to feed all your mates that are going to turn up. Season the food to your liking and place meats in the big basket. Veges in the smaller one and items like steamed pudding and stuffing in the third.
Putting it together
The scourching rocks will need to be spread around the bottom of the hole. Cabbage leaves can be place on top of the rocks to avoid the food being in direct contact with the stones. Carefully place the baskets on top of the rocks. I probably should have warned you earlier, but now you are going to have to quickly find some cloth and soak it in water. Place it over the top and sides of the baskets. Now layer some saturated sacks on top, completely covering everything, ensuring no dirt will contaminate the food. Now cover with dirt. If you notice any steam escaping, chuck more dirt on those parts. Now its time to play the waiting game.
Did it work
Once three or more hours have passed then its time to get excited. Dig up some of the dirt. If steam escapes it gonna be a mean feed. If it doesn’t, bury it and go buy McDonalds.
In the fast pasted lives we live today you are going to need a bunch of motivation to create your own hāngi. Especially with the creation of ovens and microwaves and also instant food from the fast food drive through. This being said, the time and effort put into digging a hole, gathering rocks, starting a fire and waiting for hours will make the end result taste that much more rewarding. The meat is the juicy, fall off the bone kinda meat and the veges are divine. So if you have a day that looks like its going to be wasted, then give a hāngi a go.
If you are more of a visual learner than watch the clip below