Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Kai Cooker

Traditional Māori - the indigenous people of New Zealand - believed that the earth was the giver of all life. From the soil, came food and that same food was cooked beneath the earth in ovens called hangi.

Kai is the Māori word for food. 

In traditional life, New Zealand's Māori people were hunters, gatherers and crop farmers who harvested their food from the forest, stream, sea and garden.  Contemporary New Zealanders still enjoy traditional Māori foods and delicacies, and Māori kai continues to develop.

Hangi actually refers to the method of cooking in the ground with hot stones, to the underground oven itself,  and to the food cooked.  Various types of meats and vegetables, such as kumara or sweet potato, are wrapped in leaves but a modern hangi is more likely to substitute with aluminium foil and wire baskets.

Putting down a hangi is a time consuming process. Dig the pit for the food, heat the hangi stones for a couple of hours in a roaring fire, dig out the stones and all the ash from the pit, places the heated stones back in the pit. The baskets of food are placed on the hot stones at the bottom of the hole. The food is covered with wet cloth and a mound of earth that traps the heat around the food.

The food is in the ground for about three to four hours, depending on the quantity being cooked.

More and more often these days you see modern technology at work with cookers made that cut out most of the heavy work.  My friend Chris' neighbour, he who made the windmill in yesterdays post, turned his creativity to making himself a Kai Cooker.   Here he is with his invention.  The whole thing was made with bits and pieces he had around the place, the only purchase being a couple of fittings for the gas hot plates he used to apply the heat.  The outer layer was actually the surrounds from his childrens' first swimming pool, 30 years ago.  He chose his birthday celebration for the "dummy run".

The first time the meat was lifted out the cooks decided it wasn't cooked so back in it went for another hour.  A lot easier to do than with the traditional method.  The meat was resting on cabbage leaves, the vegetables wrapped in muslin cloths. 

The second time everything looked perfect.  Johnny's grandson, Jack and I agree.

Then, as the steam rises, it was carve that meat.  The lamb was cooked to perfection.

And then .... we all enjoyed the feast.  Well done, Johnny.

Thanks for the photos, Chris.  I was a bit too engrossed.


  1. That looks fantastic. none of the stink associated with BBQ's.

  2. Hi Pauline!! Thanks for visiting my blog and for your kind words!! Wow, that food looks yuuummmo!! I have only ever been to one Hangi years ago but I still remember that the meat was the tenderest I had ever had! Looks like a great time was had by all!
    Jen xo

  3. Pauline--I studied the Maori in my Anthropology class. Very interesting. This is such good writing, Pauline. Thanks also for the comment on my blog about the turkeys. I don't know what happened to it. I hit the "publish" button but then I notice that it is not there! I just wanted you to know that I did read it even if I couldn't publish it. Thanks again.

  4. How interesting!
    When The Great Dane was at the Royal Military College, the word for the small evening meal was Kai. We both wondered where it came from - can't wait to tell him!

  5. Hello Pauline,

    Great cook up. Lucky Johnny saved the swimming pool from 30 years ago. Have a great day.


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