How to create a Maori Hangi

A unique way of cooking food using the earth’s elements, creating or enjoying a Hangi gives an authentic taste of Māori Culture in New Zealand.

What is a Maori Hangi?

Pronounced “hungi”, this traditional Māori meal is essentially a feast cooked in an earth oven for several hours. Similar to the luau prepared by the Hawaiian people, and the umu prepared in Samoa, it’s a long cooking process – but the tasty, tender feast that awaits at the end is so worth it!

The significance of whenua – or earth – as the giver of all life and a source of all kai (food) is embedded in the Māori culture. And our people have turned to the whenua for cooking for hundreds of years.

To begin, a fire is lit. Once it is burned out, especially selected stones that don’t splinter are placed in its embers to heat. Meanwhile a pit is dug in which will be placed the hot stones with wet sacking. The kai can include chicken, lamb, pork, kai moana (seafood) and vegetables (particularly kumara or sweet potato) and is placed on top of the stones then topped with earth to trap the heat. Traditionally, the food would be wrapped in leaves then arranged in baskets made of flax; these days baking foil and steel mesh are more common.

A Maori hangi is cooked for three to four hours, depending on the quantity of food being cooked. The result of this long cooking process is tender, off-the-bone meat and delicious vegetables, all infused with a smoky, earthy fragrance.

Māori hangi geothermal feast of meat and vegetables getting lifted out of ground and prepared for serving

(L-R) Tending to two Hangi in the ground then bringing it out of the earth. Then it’s time to feast!

Significance of the Hangi in Māori Culture in New Zealand

Due to the intricate process involved in preparing a hangi, it is more than a means of cooking food. It is a social occasion to be shared with the whanau (family) and friends.

Hangi is an integral part of our culture and our manaakitanga (loosely translated to hospitality). Māori consider that whatever the gathering or activity, whether it is a small family affair or a larger tribal event, it should be remembered with fondness and gratitude by those who attended. The tangata whenua (hosts) lay particular emphasis on feeding the manuhiri (visitors) who visit our marae (meeting place), treating them to the best of local delicacies. So the Hangi has a very special place in our culture.

Hangi experiences in New Zealand

Experiencing a Maori hangi is a great way to interact with Māori culture. As you wait for your kai to be served, your tangata whenua (hosts) tell you tales of the land and its people – a pretty awesome experience.

Many Maori cultural experiences around New Zealand now include a hangi. however the experience takes on a special meaning right here in Rotorua, the cultural and geothermal heart of NZ. When you’re planning what to do in Rotorua, a cultural experience that includes an authentic hangi is a must.

The hangi is a big part of our village’s Evening Experience. Staying true to our roots, we believe that it is our duty as your tangata whenua to provide a traditional meal when you visit. You’ll get to watch the hangi being lifted out of the ground, and then taste the food that was cooked in a hearty buffet-style feast.