When I was in Hawaii, my wife and I were invited to go to the Polynesian Cultural Center to attend the center and to learn about how to cook a pig in an imu – a traditional style of underground oven cooking used in many parts of Polynesia. The Polynesian Cultural Center is an cultural park located on the north shore of the island of Oahu, Hawaii, that shows and preserves the cultures of the major island of Polynesia. They represent Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, and New Zealand.
For each of the island nations, they’ve set up a traditional style village and displays about lifestyle, tradition, and food, of each island. When you enter the center, you can walk around to the different villages, and then go to see a series of different shows and cultural performances at each of the island villages. But along with touring the center and learning more about the islands of Polynesia, another draw to the Polynesian Cultural Center is the luau, which is a big Hawaiian feast. What I was most interested in learning about was the imu, a traditional Hawaiians style underground hot rock oven used to cook. In Hawaii it’s called an imu, but they have very similar forms of cooking throughout Polynesia that have a different name, but almost the same style of cooking.
In order to cook using a Hawaiian imu, they first started with a pile of river rocks. The rocks were sitting on a bed of hard ironwood. The wood was burned, and the rocks sitting on top, were heated in the hot flaming wood for about 2 – 3 hours. During this time, we walked around the Polynesian Cultural Center and just enjoyed the beautiful nature and manicured gardens. After the rocks for the imu were heated, they removed all the burning wood – the wood was used only to heat the rocks – and spread out the rocks. David, who was teaching me about how to set up an imu, explained that the one we were using was sort of a Samoan style, because it was mostly above ground, as opposed to being dug into the ground too deep.
After the hot rocks were spread out, they then added a layer of banana stalk to the top of the hot rocks, then on went an entire pig – it was a small pig, but a tasty pig. I could immediately hear the hiss of the meat sizzling on the hot rocks. After the pig, then on went about 20 layers of banana leaves, which were stacked on top of the pig in an effort to keep all the steam and smoke in and cook the pig. An imu is a slow method of cooking, and so after the imu was prepared, it took about 5 hours to cook, and during that time again, we walked around the center and enjoyed the cultural displays and performances. In the late afternoon, when it was time for the official Polynesian Cultural Center luau, we had access to the stage and were there to see them take the pig out of the imu. The pig cooked in an underground Hawaiian oven, after being cooked, is called kalua pig and is one of the most famous Hawaiian food.
The rest of the food at the Polynesian Cultural Center was alright, but nothing compared to the pig cooked in the imu. I was lucky enough to get the pig cheek, which was incredibly flavorful, juicy and fatty. The other parts of the meat were fall apart tender and had a wonderful smoky flavor.
*During the making of this video, I received the food and entrance to the Polynesian Cultural Center for free, but I did not get paid to make this video or write this blog posts. The video and all thoughts are my own.
Polynesian Cultural Center: http://www.polynesia.com/
Music in this video courtesy of Audio Network
By Mark Wiens and Ying Wiens: http://migrationology.com/blog & http://www.eatingthaifood.com/ & http://www.travelbyying.com/
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