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The Mumu

Big get togethers- like singsings or election campaign meetings - or the visit of special guests and VIPs - are often focused around a mumu.

First you need a big enough flat area of ground into which you can dig a shallow pit in which to heat the stones that are going to do the cooking for you. In Paiga, the mumu site is on the village 'green', the place of meetings and singsings. It's a permanent circle of about a metre and a half diameter that's marked out by large rocks.

And that's the next thing you need - stones, rocks really, that aren't going to explode when heated; river rocks, they invariably say when you ask what kind, which just leads to the question - what kind of river rocks, to which there is usually no answer forthcoming as it ought to be clear to anyone what kind of river rocks.

You dig a pit in the earth deep enough to take a good layer or two of rocks. Several hours before you want to cook the mumu you build a massive wood fire on top of the rocks. When the rocks are ready, you get down to the mumu.

Each family will have brought two lots of raw produce for the mumu, that which they are going to eat and that which is for the guests. Those that are for you, you will tie together or wrap in leaves and tie off with strips of vine or palm leaf. You mark it as yours by using a fancy knot of your own devising, or tying something particular to the parcel. What's for the guests you'll also tie up if it's the leafy side of the vegies, or you'll just chuck into the coals if it's the tuber end. It's highly unlikely any family will have their own meat to bring; that's usually up to the guests to provide.

There's a specific order to how things get layered on the mumu because it works through a combination of steaming and roasting. The tubers are usually placed around the side of the pile near the stones and in among the coal from the wood, that's the roasting part.

To make the steaming part of the mumu work you first cover the stones with a thick layer of banana leaves, tunget leaves (a particular tree with broad thickish leaves) and whatever else you have that's leafy but no edible and not deadly. This acts in two ways: it provides a buffer between the stones and the edible vegies, and begins the process of creating steam as the moisture in the leaves heats, exudes, and begins the steaming, like when you throw a bucket of water on sauna stones. Then pile on the pitpit which is a softer stemmed plant so has a fair bit of moisture in it to add to the steam. Then you can put on other green vegies like wing beans, cabbage, cress.

And it's now you put the meat on if you have it - lamb flaps, chicken, pig. This at first looks contradictory; why wouldn't you put the meat on the bottom first so it could roast? But it works, the meat stays nice and moist and tender up top and gets the benefit of all that perfuming and flavouring from everything that's under it.

On top of the meat you pile more leaf greens and the parsley and mint if you have it. Now cover all of this with banana leaves. By now you have a pile that's a couple of meters high. Pour some water over it all. Cover all of this with spadefuls of dirt and leave alone for an hour or more.

When you reckon it's ready or when people are getting really, really hungry or it's starting to go dark and cold, you scrape away the soil and the banana leaves. The latter get laid out like a big mat and you get into the business of pulling the mumu apart. Families come up and get their bundles and go off to munch down. The host family or the village council or elders or some designated group then get together all that's for the guests and put them on the banana leaves. They then allocate lots to the guests and each is called up to collect their food.

Whatever's left - and there's usually heaps - families and guests may parcel up and take home or may be kept for brekkie the next day.

But does it taste any good! Yes, yes and yes.

The Igir

So you're back in Port Moresby and you've got a heap of wontoks and visitors coming over for dinner. You haven't go much of a back yard to speak of, and what there is of it is hard clay and rock. A mumu is out of the question. What to do?

Well, you can surprise them all with a Tollai style igir, a sort of mumu in a pot.

For this you are going to need some thing you can heat up and drop in a pot of liquid. Mumu type stones are ideal, and maybe you can borrow them from a wontok. If not, maybe you can get one of those new fangled hotrock things they are selling for Korean style table cooking these days.

You also need a big enough pot to take all of what you are going to cook for your guests. A typical tollai igir will have chicken, tomato, greens, chilli and coconut milk.

You start as you would a mumu by heating your stones. Meanwhile, make up some coconut milk and pour it in the pan. Chop your chicken into small pieces that are likely to cook quickly. Chop your vegies and your chilli.

When the stones are very hot indeed, drop them into the coconut milk. Quickly toss in the chicken and all the vegies and put a good tight fitting lid on the pot.

Give it a short cooking time - 10-15 minutes will do it.

Lift the chicken and greens out onto a plate. Put the soup into a tureen or similar.

Serve these two separately, the coconut milk as a starter, the chicken and vegies with some rice or bread.