Hāngi: Eating The Māori Way

New Zealand is home to some of the best scenic beauty in the world. The plush green forests and sparkling blue waters make it a dream destination for many. But this little country has a lot more to offer than just its picturesque beauty, it offers years of culture and heritage that have carved the lifestyle and history of the people living here. The local culture of the Māori people- the original inhabitants of the land, is in cohabiting with nature and its resources.

Since the beginning, the Māoris have learned to use every resource to their advantage and that’s best represented within the little village named Whakarewarewa in the city of Rotorua in the North Island. This tiny village is home to the Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao tribe and lies on the geothermal fault line of the Taupo volcanic zone. Hot springs, geysers, bubbling mud pools and clouds of sulfur erupting from these water bodies is a common sight through the village. A strong smell resembling rotten eggs is an everyday occurrence within the village and is part of daily life along with having water bodies in your backyard with average temperatures of at least 96 degree Celsius.

With such an abundance of natural heat around, the locals of Whakarewarewa use it to cook most of their meals in a traditional Māori way called Hāngi. Hāngi is the traditional process of cooking food in an underground pit oven using heated rocks that are buried within. Kumara, cabbage, carrots, corn and potatoes are some mains that feature in a Hangi meal along with fish and red meat.

In this little village, small pit ovens are built in the ground but heated rocks aren’t put in as the heat from the ground is enough to cook anything, right from meat to vegetables and even dessert. Many vegetables are put in plastic bags, tied with a string and dropped in the hot geysers to cook in the boiling water. An added advantage of this process is not having to add salt to the veggies, as the water is naturally salty and hence seasons the food while it cooks. The plastic bag and string are a part of the cooking process for sheer convenience, so that it’s easy to get the food in and out of water without getting burnt.

Boiled or steamed vegetables and meat usually make up a Hāngi meal, sometimes with a side of some cake that’s made in the same traditional way. The food takes a few hours to completely cook, but once done is as good as any meal made in the best of restaurants. Earthy, rustic and flavourful, a Hāngi meal is every bit delicious, healthy and quite the experience on its own. So, if you can procure ways to cook a Hāngi by yourself, then making your way to this beautiful village should be on the top of your to-do list.

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