Koala park near Brisbane, Aus

Koala park near Brisbane, Aus
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Monday, April 18, 2011

Hangi-Over

Hangi-Over
Unearthing lunch from the garden

The hangi's finished. Out of the ground and into our stomachs. The kids and I attended our first backyard hangi yesterday. A hangi is a traditional Maori (native New Zealand peoples) way of cooking food. Dig a hole in the ground, throw down rocks and light a fire. In a metal basket, add chicken, pork, lamb and beef, plus pumpkin, kumura (sweet potato) and potato wrapped in aluminum (which is pronounced "al-yoo-MIN-ee-um") foil. Cover with sheets, blankets, burlap. Shovel dirt back over your feast, and let it cook 4 hours.
Imagine visiting your neighbor for a meal. The neighbor says, "Dinner's in the backyard. Come watch me dig it up." That's exactly what this hangi looked like. Among the rows of lettuce, celery and whatever else was growing in the garden, sat a mound of dirt. And under that mound – lunch for 2 dozen people. It's one thing to don mitts and remove a roast from the oven – quite another to grab a shovel and excavate your food. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C4%81ngi

The taste of food cooked in a hangi is smoky and tender, often flavored with wood such as manuka or tea tree. Knowing it cooked underground makes it taste that much better.
Hangi's are so much a part of NZ culture, organizations sell individually wrapped hangi meals as fundraisers. Groups deliver the meals to offices. Beats the board shorts off a ham sandwich (called a "sammy" here). 

Before serving the hangi, the chef, Mike, blessed the meal in Maori. I've heard these prayers several times, and while I can't understand the words, they sound beautiful.
Yesterday's event was held in celebration of a wedding at the business of friends of friends. The venue was a combination funeral/wedding chapel. "How appropriate," I thought. "First comes marriage, and then, not long after, the funeral." Ouch. That sounds cynical. Let's reframe, and call both occasions – weddings and funerals – part of the circle of life.
And if you're putting down a hangi, remember to call me.

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