How to make an underground "Umu" oven, South Pacific style

     Now that I've showed you how to cook a pig on a spit, we may as well go "whole hog" with the rest of our Polynesian cooking.  It may seem like a lot of work to dig a hole, start a fire, and so on just to make dinner, but if you're really cooking for a crowd and its hot as blazes and you don't have an industrial size oven OR air conditioning in your kitchen, this will start to make a lot of sense.  South Pacific Islanders do this every time they have a feast, which is to say that they do it A LOT.  This underground oven is called an Umu or a Lovo depending on the island,  With an Umu, one can cook enormous amounts of food quickly and easily with no greasy pans to wash up afterward.  Who could argue with that?  In fact, the next time I get back to the Haukebo family reunion, I'm going to see if my Uncle Jim would mind if I dig an Umu in his yard.


Step 1:

     Dig a hole about a foot deep and about three feet square.  Start a fire in the bottom and pile on a layer of logs that are 4 to 6 inches wide.  Cover this with cantalope sized rocks, then cover with another layer of logs.  Let the whole thing burn down for a few hours until only hot coals and hot rocks remain in the pit.


Step 2:

     Spread the hot rocks into a flat even layer  with a shovel or stick.  Cut some banana stalks and beat them over a rock or stump until they shred apart.  Then sprinkle a layer of this shredded plant material over the rocks.  This will help to prevent the food from scorching by insulating it a bit.  It also releases steam to cook the food above.


Step 3:

     Lay down the food in the following order:  First goes the meat--wrapped in foil, banana leaves, or palm baskets.  Next place starchy foods like breadfruit, yams, potatoes and taro around the edges of the hot rocks.  Atop all of this can go other items like "Lu" which is fish or meat soaked in coconut milk and curry spices, wrapped in banana leaf or foil packets.  The photos above show about 18 whole chickens and ten pounds of root vegetables--enough for a serious feast!


Step 4:

     Cover the whole mound with a couple of layers of palm leaves.  Old tarps also work well if they're not too flammable.  Cover this with some logs and the pile of dirt left over from digging the hole.  Leave the whole thing for about an hour and a half.  Come back and start hauling all that food to the table.