The ‘umu or “earth-oven” is the best slow cooker and traditional method for preparing high volume meals.
On a Sunday morning, or any time you need to feed a lot of people, the ngoto ‘umu (under-ground oven pit) is prepared, and the family gets together to prepare the meal to be baked inside the ‘umu.
Coconuts are de-husked, cracked and the meat is finely scraped over the hakalo. The meat shavings are squeezed to drain out the milk/cream and becomes a critical ingredient for the key dishes for the day.
Manioke (manioc), Kape, pealed and sliced, whilst ‘Ufi (yam) skin is cleaned but left to be ‘pealed’ after coming out of the ‘umu.
The younger boys are generally tasked with starting the fire in the ‘umu. Matches light the va’a toume which is better at keeping a flame, then the va’a toume is put together with the ‘husked’ coconut outer shell (remember the husking process earlier?) as good flame starter. The coconut shell, is used as a good fire sustainer, once it starts burning it gives off a good amount of heat that is used for getting stubborn logs to catch the flame. The boys start laying down layers of stick and logs to burn. Rocks are placed on top of the logs to be heated by the fire below.
The meat dishes are prepared, different meats ‘seasoned’ with salt, onions and coconut milk, wrapped inside taro leaves. The food package is wrapped again in banana leaves.
Once the rocks have heated up sufficiently, the ashes and un burnt is are scraped out of the ‘umu and the foundation of the ‘umu is lined with the heated stones. The food is then layered ontop of these rocks. Wire mesh may be used to separate the food items and make it easier to pull out groups of food together.
The ngoto ‘umu is covered with various things. Banana leaves are layered closes to the food to allow the food to breathe through but not to allow dirt into the cavity where the food is being cooked. Dirt is poured over the top to trap the heat in, and the job is to minimise heat leaking through any unsealed areas.
The heated stones, trapped inside the earth cavity with the food, becomes the source of heat used to cook the food.
The below video seems the best demonstration of a normal family’s activities in getting together to prepare their food, and celebrating with their meal (and guest.)
Korean with English sub-titles.