The Sunday UMU
The traditional method for cooking food in Samoa is the Umu. The Umu is an above ground stone oven where lava rocks are heated by fire to a glowing red and the food then placed directly on the rocks, either wrapped in banana leaves or plaited in coconut fronds for cooking.
Generally, the fish is coated with coconut cream and wrapped in banana leaves. Taro and bananas are tucked between the hot rocks and roasted, and octopus or mackerel is mixed with coconut cream and poured into half coconut shells.
The whole thing is then covered with banana leaves to seal in the heat. After a few hours, the food is removed and transferred to the table. Little or no oil is used in this cooking and the smoky flavor permeates all the food giving it a unique flavour. Meat such as chicken and lamb comes out particularly juicy due to the slow cooking, and fish literally melts in your mouth.
As a general rule, Umu is usually used made on Sundays as a special treat or for large functions and other special celebrations. In rural villages, this is the only method of cooking as microwaves and stoves are non-existent. You will usually find umu in the back of a cooking fale.
Your first Sunday morning in Upolu will be like no other Sunday you have experienced – the smell of hundreds and hundreds of umu fills the air!