Sunday, June 28

Preparing an umu in Rarotonga

I’ve mentioned Highland Paradise before. The tour of the beautiful gardens set in rugged hillside bush is a great way to learn something about Rarotonga’s history and culture.
They also put on an island night feast and show twice a week and I went along to a recent Wednesday night “Drums of Rarotonga”. Great fun – more on that in a later post.
But in order to have a feast, an umukai, you first need an umu. (Umu is an underground oven, kai means food). So I headed into the hills to watch Papa Rima get the umu started at about half past eight in the morning. He uses coconut husks and ironwood, they burn really hot, and gets the fire going with orange tree twigs. He then piles rocks on top and leaves it for about four hours.
Meanwhile kitchen workers are preparing the food. Pork, chicken and some of the vegetables, pumpkin and bananas, will go in the umu. Other island favourites like taro, chowmein, potato salad and various salads are cooked the normal way!
By one o’clock the rocks are hot enough and Papa Rima adds the meat and vegetables, covers them with banana leaves and then a fireproof sheet. Everything slow-cooks for about four hours and believe me, the meat is really tender when it’s time for the feast and show.
And as Papa Rima says, you can cook enough for a hundred people in one pot!

By the way, the background music in this video is a chant by the dance troupe E Matike who perform the "Drums of our forefathers" show.