Organic Umu – the ultimate slow food
I can unashamedly say that the way to my heart is through my stomach so it was with great anticipation that I headed down to the organic umu demonstration held during the Teuila Festival. Imagine my delight when I found out that the umu was going to be totally prepared by men. The umu in Samoa is the domain of men. They do the whole thing start to finish and the girls get to turn up when all the work has been done. Can this country possibly get any better.
Adam and I headed down to the tourism fale on the Apia waterfront to witness this unique event. Town was quiet this morning as I think most of Apia spent the night at the outrageously good Siva and Faleaitu Competition. Well, town was quiet except for the police brass band which routinely takes an early morning stroll along the waterfront complete with instruments… and yes they are playing them. NZ Police could take a leaf out of their books. Less tasors more tubas!
I digress….Back to the umu and the fact that Samoan men can cook.
The paramount chief in charge of this morning’s umu was Tauasa Sielu Avea. He flew in from Honolulu, where he is based, to contribute to the Teuila Festival because he loves coming home and he loves Samoa. A total showman, Sielu can cook, sing, dance, make you laugh and probably if you asked him he’d go and hand wrestle some sharks and snare some wild boar. Sielu is definitely someone you want to invite to your party.
Things to watch out for at the umu.
1. Exploding rocks! You can’t just throw any old rock on a fire. They are hand-picked because if they are wet they literally explode. Adam and I shielded ourselves behind Sielu who stood fearlessly like Kilgore (Apocolypse Now’s lover of napalm in the morning) as the occasional fiery rock rocketed out of the flames.
2. Tough octopus. Easy, you throw it on the rocks and seer it before you put the octopus down to cook. This will keep it tender.
3. Inexperienced hands. Palusami (a classic Samoan umu dish) has a real technique behind it. You have a number of taro leaves that have to be folded in a particular way to hold the rich coconut cream that is poured into it. Honestly this dish is a vegetarian’s wet dream.
Why is this the ultimate slow food? Well it takes a full morning to prepare it and it is imbued with song, prayer, love and hospitality. Everything is sustainable, the produce iis grown locally and is organic,the method of cooking is healthy and efficient as it all happens on the hot rocks.
There are many other beautiful things about the umu. Young boys are gently trained in one of the core values underpinning Samoan culture. Service. We all know that service, care and altruism should be held up as the most important quality of humanity but it is rare to experience it in its pure form. The umu holds that value high and as a result the umu experience is totally enriching.
Cultural values are reaffirmed as the men spend time making the meal. It takes one hour to cook but five hours to prepare and that why the Samoan umu wins my vote as the ultimate slow food.
- The Teuila Festival Siva and Faleaitu, Samoa's biggest dance off.
- The Teuila Festival They also do comedy and the crowd love it.
- Chief Tauasa Sielu Avea Our Umu host
- Samoan Police Brass Band
- Putting the Umu down
- The finished product