22 July, 2021
Mumu, earth-cooked fish
By David Lornie LAST week I wrote about Kokoda Fish, a Papua New Guinean way of preparing raw fish. That particular dish is found mainly in hotels and restaurants but if you want real grassroots fish cooked the way the villagers would traditionally serve it, you can’t go past the mumu.
LAST week I wrote about Kokoda Fish, a Papua New Guinean way of preparing raw fish. That particular dish is found mainly in hotels and restaurants but if you want real grassroots fish cooked the way the villagers would traditionally serve it, you can’t go past the mumu.
A mumu is simply a hole in the ground used as a sream oven. Food cooked this way is unlike anything found in Western countries. I believe the Maoris have a version called hangi. To make a mumu you dig a pit in the ground, with the depth dependent on the amount of food you are cooking. Then you light a wood fire in the pit with plenty of timber to form burning coals (coconut shells are also good for this as their coals burn really hot and slow).
The real heat for cooking a mumu comes from river stones which are placed on top of the burning coals. When the fire has died down and you are left with glowing embers, the stones will be hot enough for cooking the fish. Another way to get the stones hot is to build a big fire next to the pit, throw the stones on and, when the stones are hot enough, chuck them into the pit. I’ve seen this done in the PNG Highlands but they cook pigs rather than fish.
Regardless, the pit is usually lined with banana or other leaves. Traditionally, the whole fish are wrapped in leaves but foil can also be used. The fish is seasoned with garlic, ginger, salt and whatever other flavours you feel like. Coconut milk can also be added before the fish is wrapped up and placed on the stones for cooking. Whatever accompaniments you have for the fish are also wrapped and put in the pit sweet potatoes, tapioca, corn and pumpkin are traditional favourites.
Greens or kumu, such as pumpkin tips, aibika and choko leaves fresh from the village garden or market, are also added. The food is then covered with leaves, cardboard or newspaper this is where your trusty old copies of the Mackay Local News come in handy and covered with soil. The food is then left to cook underground for about an hour like a BBQ, the timing is something you get a feel for, but it’s hard to overcook a mumu as the stones eventually lose their heat.
Then, when ready, you dig up the soil and remove the food. Mumu food is moist from the steam, richly flavoursome, smoky and delicious. It’s so good that once Heston, Ramsey and those other Michelin blokes hear about it, they’ll be charging you the big bucks to enjoy mumu food. In the meantime, take the time to give it a crack. It’s a tasty and fun alternative to the classic family Aussie BBQ and easy to make.
All you need is a backyard, some firewood and river stones. Next week, we’ll look at the Tolai Aigir, an East New Britain varient on the mumu. It’s sensational and just talking about it is making me hungry.
If you have any feedback on this or have an islander fish recipe you’d like to share, email me on email@example.com