What the Heck's a "Hangi?" A Little New Zealand Culture in New Hampshire.
"Haere mai!" (Maori for "Welcome!") graced the sign leading guests on to the property for the 6th Annual Hangi, a wonderful event I attended this past weekend in scenic Canterbury, New Hampshire. Unless you're a Kiwi (or know one), you probably don't know what the heck a Hangi is. A Hangi (pronounced hung-ee) is a New Zealand method of cooking underground based on the Maori tradition (the original settlers whose decendents are dwindling but whose traditions live on). The whole event is actually referred to as a Hangi because the day revolves around waiting for the big unveiling of the food.
The event was hosted by Simon Leeming, New Zealand Honorary Consul to New England, on his vast country property overlooking the mountains, something you might find in New Zealand. Spacious, spectacular views and healthy, beautiful sheep and llamas with plenty of room to roam.
How to Hangi
Preparing a Hangi is quite an involved process and not one you could easily pull off in your back yard. First, a large fire is built. Train tracks (don't ask where they get those) and fireproof bricks are warmed on it. Next, a large pit is dug next to it about the size of a grave site (sorry, that's the best reference I could think of). Then the train tracks and bricks are placed in the bottom of the hole and the layering process begins. The food is lowered into the pit in metal buckets and baskets filled with a variety of foods for the feast — beef, lamb, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, onions, corn with the husks on and stuffing. The food is then covered with muslin cloth and burlap bags that have been soaking overnight which helps create a steam oven effect in the pit. The pit is then re-covered with soil and the food cooks in the ground for about 4 - 5 hours.
A Rugby Match
While the food was cooking, folks set off down the street to watch a little Rugby action - Kiwis vs. a team from Portland, Maine. For those of us who only know the rules of football, Rugby can be pretty confusing with the scrum (see photo), no "downs," throwing the ball backwards, no pads. It's crazy but fun to watch, especially since one-time All Blacks (New Zealand Professional Rugby team) star Mike O'Callaghan, at 60(!) was playing and smoking his opponents. Unfortunately, the Kiwis lost but were very gracious losers (what did they care? they were about to chow down at the Hangi!).
The Kahurangi Maori Dance Theater of New Zealand Performs
Maori singing and dancing took place right on the mountainside. They performed several songs in the Maori language. A very passionate, entertaining group who interacted so well with the audience and distracted them from their growling stomachs. At one point one of the women performers asked the audience to repeat "Kia Ora!" (Hello/Greetings!) after her and to our neighbors to the left and right of us. It was one of those events where nothing seemed silly or over the top. It was all genuine, real and you found yourself getting caught up in it all. "Kia Ora!" I said to my friend on the right and to the stranger at my left. Somehow it all felt good and right. I enjoyed the Maori dancers very much. Check out the video below.
The Pavlova Dessert Competition
There was also a little dessert competition which my boyfriend, Kemal (a Kiwi), and I felt the need to enter. Pavlova is a meringue-like dessert that was invented by New Zealanders (although some Australians contest that fact and want to claim it as their own). This is a delicious, light dessert that's a little crispy on the outside and sort of marshmallow-y (although not that dense) inside. Its classic incarnation is the baked meringue itself covered with whipped cream and fruit (kiwis, strawberries, etc.). We decided to break the mold a little and added New Zealand "Crunchie Bars" as a topping. They have sort of a malted flavor and are covered in chocolate. We also added raspberries and bananas. In our eyes, this was hands down the most innovative entry. Unfortunately, we did not win. The mother of one of the judges won (can you say "fixed?"). She entered 4 different Pavs. Oh well. We know in our hearts that we had the best one. It tasted amazing!! At the bottom of the page is the recipe if you'd like to try it yourself. We found that the key step is to NOT ever for any reason open the oven while it's cooking or even when it's resting in the turned off oven.
The Unveiling of the Hangi!
Finally, it was time to unearth the food that had been buried at 8:30 in the morning. A crowd formed around the men with shovels. The anticipation was building. The stomachs were growling. Dig that thing up! After a a short informative talk about the Hangi tradition (watch video for details), the digging commenced. Several men shoveled the soil off the top. When enough soil was removed, the men pulled up the muslin and burlap to reveal the metal cans and baskets with the cooked food. What a sight! The steam came pouring out. The meat looked so tender. The carrots bright orange. The corn - ready for shucking and eating. But could it feed 300 people?! It certainly didn't look like it.
The men pulled up the containers and before I knew it, a huge line had formed where the meat was being cut for serving. We high-tailed it to the line before we got too far back and waited not-so-patiently for our turn. Would there still be food by the time we got up to the serving area? Plenty. Seemed like a loves and fishes miracle to me but I was not asking any questions. Kemal, I and my friends Preethi & Joe loaded up our plates, found a nice sunny spot on the hill overlooking the mountains and dug in. Excellent! The meat, the stuffing and the cabbage were our personal favorites. They were cooked to perfection. So simple (no spices or anything) but very flavorful, almost a smoky flavor from the heated bricks and railroad track.
Canterbury is a great little town. Just down the street from the Hangi is a Hackleboro Orchards so you can get in a little apple picking. They have the best Honey Crisp apples ever! The name says it all.
New Zealand Pavlova Recipe
After combing the Web for the perfect "Pav" recipe, I opted for the one on epicurious.com because some guy named "Tom" had posted some extra tips on the recipe (I incorporated those below) which many of the other readers found helpful. Of course the topping idea is our original. Patent pending. LOL.
For meringue-like part:
- 6 large egg whites
- 1 1/2 cups superfine granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 cup boiling water
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 bananas
- 6 - 10 raspberries
- 2 Cadbury Crunchie Bars (or Velvet Crumble if you must - the Australian version. Both are available at Cardullo's in Harvard Square). This is obviously optional but it's darned tasty.
- Preheat oven to 350° F. and line a large baking sheet with foil.
- In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat together whites, sugar, cornstarch, vinegar, and vanilla on low speed until just combined.
- Add boiling water a little at a time and beat on high speed 3 to 5 minutes, or until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks.
- Spoon meringue mixture onto baking sheet and spread into a 9- to 10-inch circle.
- Bake Pavlova in middle of oven 10 minutes.
- Reduce temperature to 200° F. and bake Pavlova 40 minutes more. Turn off oven and let Pavlova stand in oven 2 hours.
- Transfer Pavlova to a rack and cool completely. (Pavlova will be hard on outer surface and soft inside.)
- In a bowl with cleaned beaters beat cream pouring sugar in a little bit at a time until it holds soft peaks and spread over Pavlova.
- Slice bananas into 1/2" slices. Place slices in a circle around the top of the cake, overlapping one banana slice over the next.
- Break up the Crunchie bars into small pieces and drop on the cake, leaving a small circle in the middle for the raspberries. Place the rasperries with open end facing up in the middle.
Eat immediately or refrigerate. Should be eaten within a few hours from creation for best results. ENJOY!!