New Zealand Hangi Maori Traditional Cooking

The Hangi

In New Zealand restaurants you'll find little or no representation of Maori or Polynesian cuisines, but you can sample traditional cooking methods at a hangi (pronounced nasally as "hungi"), where meat and vegetables are steamed for hours in an earth oven then served to the assembled masses.

The ideal way to experience a hangi is as a guest at a private gathering of extended families, but most people have to settle for one of the commercial affairs in Rotorua or Christchurch. Though you'll be a paying customer rather than a guest, the hangi will be no less authentic. First the men light a fire and place river stones in the embers.

Hangi Preperation

While the Stones are heating, they dig a suitably large pit, place the hot stones in the bottom and cover them with wet sacking . Meanwhile the women prepare lamb, pork, chicken, fish, shellfish and vegetables (particularly kumara), wrapping the morsels in leaves then arranging them in baskets (originally of flax, but now most often of steel mesh).

The baskets are lowered into the cooking pit and covered with earth so that the steam and the flavours are sealed in. A couple of hours later, the baskets are disinterred, revealing fabulously tender steam-smoked meat and vegetables with a faintly earth flavour. A suitably reverential silence, broken only by munching and appreciative murmurs, descends.