Mumu in Papua New Guinea

mumu (pig and vegetables roasted in a ground oven) is a traditional method of cooking large quantities of food for celebrations in Papua New Guinea (PNG). It involves digging a pit, filling it with hot coals or rocks, adding food, then burying the whole lot for hours so it can cook.

Coastal/Island Region Style Cooking

  1. Dig a hole in the ground that is large enough to accommodate hot stones and all the food that is to be cooked in it
  2. Layer the pit with large stones.
  3. Build a fire over the stones so as to heat them thoroughly.
  4. Remove some of the hot stones, leaving a layer of stones at the bottom of the pit.
  5. Cover the stones with leaves such as banana leaves.
  6. Place foods such as yams, sweet potato, and taro on the leaves.
  7. Wrap a whole, cleaned pig in leaves and place on top.
  8. In coastal areas, coconut milk/cream may be added to the food
  9. Cover with hot stones.
  10. Cover stones with dirt to insulate the underground oven.
  11. Cooking the pig may take up to 12 hours (depending on size of pig).
  12. Dig up pig and vegetables, unwrap if necessary
  13. Serve as part of a celebratory or ceremonial meal.

Highlands/Inlands Region Style Cooking

  1. Dig a medium sized, shallow, circular hole in the ground
  2. Place firewood across the pit to form a platform
  3. Place medium sized stones on the platform
  4. Light fire and monitor carefully until the stones are heated to an extremely high temperature
  5. Lay the hot stones evenly in the base of the hollow and up the sides of the hole creating a ground oven and remove excess firewood and embers
  6. Place banana leaves and ‘kunai’ grass over the stones
  7. Place a variety of food such as green vegetables, edible ferns, gourd vegetables, corn, cooking bananas, kaukau, fresh meat such as pork (often times killed especially for the mumu) and anything else that is available – mostly whole and in large chunks – on the banana leaves. Place larger vegetables and meat requiring a longer time to cook such as whole pumpkin and sides of pork on the bottom first and layer other foods about two or three times
  8. Place a couple of sticks horizontally poking out of ground
  9. Cover food in banana leaves and kunai grass, placing a hessian bag or two over the top to help keep the heat/steam in, then completely cover back up with the soil that was dug up. Sometimes another hessian bag or corrugated iron piece may be placed over the top to keep the heat in as much as possible
  10. Remove the two sticks and pour a cup of water down the outlets to create steam from the rocks inside the ground oven
  11. Leave for 2-3 hours to cook by steam
  12. Remove the hessian bag and/or corrugated iron piece and spread over the ground beside the oven
  13. Using shovels, carefully remove the dirt and place it away from the vicinity of the oven
  14. Remove the banana leaves that are directly in contact with the soil and place far away as well
  15. Place the ‘clean’ leaves on the hessian and/or corrugated iron sheet to form a bed
  16. Carefully remove food from the oven, place on the bed of leaves
Beginning the excavation process after several hours of cooking
The plastic covering beneath the dirt
After the plastic, blue cloth
Banana leaves (we’ve almost reached the food!)
Food! The kumu (greens) goes on top
Beneath are carrots, sausages, cabbage, kakaruk (chicken). The contents of the mumu varies based on what is available in the gardens at the time.
And now, the kaukau (sweet potatoes), one of the main staple foods of PNG
Ready to serve (via: Brad’s PNG Blog

Notes:

  • If the mumu is part of a large feast involving extended families and friends, the head male who is hosting the mumu either takes the food out of the oven, or oversees the distribution of the food by announcing who a particular food item is for, and the food is then placed in piles for the different families. Care is taken to ensure the fair and even distribution of the meat.
  • Only when the general consensus is that the food is evenly distributed will each family then bring their own dishes and collect the food.
  • Everyone gathers around the mumu and eats the food by hand. The younger people and children hold out their hands covered by banana leaf ‘plates’ (like napkins) and their fathers or mothers place different portions of food on them after they cut the portions up with a knife.
  • The excess food is then taken to individual huts to be consumed over the next few days (note there is no refrigeration).
  • It is impolite for people not participating in the mumu or uninvited guests to be in the vicinity of the mumu.
  • If the hosts and families so desire, they will call out each person they wish to share some food with, and only then will that person come up to the mumu to receive the food.
  • Sometimes, those from very poor, or broken homes or an orphaned child is called upon and presented with some food. Although they may be the last to be called, they are not forgotten, as people do their best to share the food around to as many people as they can afford.
  • Food is highly respected and cherished, and almost never wasted or treated with disrespect. What someone does not want to eat is gifted to another.

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