Earth to Table / Rotorua

The concept of earth to table cooking was not new to me, until recently. The term got a new lease of life when I travelled to the geothermal area of Rotorua, on the North Island of New Zealand.

Deep in Maori culture, cooking was clearly a means of survival for the Maori people. They utilized whatever resources they had, and what’s more, they continue to keep these traditions going (mainly on special occasions). Maori ancestors found natural steam vents in thermal areas like Te Puia, then cooked on top of them! How cool is that? The ‘steambox oven’ was used to cook chicken, fish, corn, kumara (Kiwi sweet potato), and even preserve food.

This one was around 98 degrees c, and it was alkaline based (so no sulphur in the steam). Baskets were filled with food around the vents and covered them with cloth, so the hot steam would cook and flavour the dish. Chicken would roughly take 1 1/2hrs to cook, and something like corn in 10 minutes.

And then there’s the more commonly known ‘hangi’ or earth oven. Think digging a hole in the ground, lining it with heated rock (remember my volcanic rock?), adding wood, and lighting. Food is loaded into baskets, then lowered down and covered, then smoked goodness comes out of the hole. I need to get closer to this whilst I’m in Fiji.

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Nature at its best!

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