Tama’a ! It’s lunch time… Follow me behind the furnaces and get to discover the genuine preparation of the ahima’a, the traditional tahitian oven.
From « ahi » which means fire and « ma’a » food, this method turns out to be particularly prized during big events or family gatherings and it generally encounters a tremendous success on Sunday lunchtime. Thus, if you are keen on ma’a Tahiti and you are lucky enough to have a small garden, an impromptu class won’t hurt, and at least i twill be more original than a barbecue…
First thing you need to know if you are willing to handle this mission perfectly is that you have to start early on. Indeed, everything has to be done the day before so you will have to be patient.
Luckily enough, I happen to have the structure made already : a 2 meter diameter whole dug on the ground, of a 50 to 80cm depth, circled with several stones heaped on one another. All we need to do is feed the fire with wood and coconut fibres, fan it to make sure everything goes well and cover the whole thing with porous volcanic rocks. Here is the key : the stones will capture the heat and contribute to steam cook the meals, which will eventually enable ingredients to release all their flavors. Now we need to pick up some banana leaves and arrange it on the rocks. The ahima’a is almost ready, now it’s time to cook.
If you thought you could find an escape, cancel all your plans and roll up your sleeves, it’s going to be a long night… Let’s start with the pua oviri (wild pig), nothing complicated, all you need to do is basting it with a soy sauce marinade and put it the way it is on the banana leaves.
We keep going with the « poulet fafa » (chicken with taro leaves, which taste like spinach). Rince the leaves and cut it off in small bites, do not forget the stems. Chop the onions, cut the chicken and brown it all in the pot. The purists would definitely grate their coconut so as to extract its milk with a kitchen towel but we are too lazzy for that so a stop by the Papeete market will do… Therefore, we add our coconut milk, we dust it all with corn starch, ginger, curry and it is done. We only have to finalize the cooking in the tahitian oven.
Now, shall we continue with the poe. There are several varieties such as banana or pineapple but we decided to get on with the mautini poe (pumpkin one). In this way, you need to pick up a big pumpkin in your patch, cut it off and extract its pulp. Afterwards, feel free to use your hands in order to knead your cucurbitacea, add sugar and starch (let’s say 2 bowls of fruits per bowl of starch) until you reach the right consistency and put it in the oven.
And now the most crucial step, the covering of the ahima’a. The idea is to arrange banana leaves all over the pots and the fruits. Then, you need to humidify the copra bags thanks to a hose and position it all carefully all over the oven to make it airtight and prevent the heat from getting away. As the rock structure is not hermetic, it is highly recommended to add a tarp and to fix it with a rope.
Now the oven will gently cook the dishes but our mission is not yet completed. We have to keep an eye on the fire and start to prepare the traditional trimmings, namely the rice, the favorite food of Polynesians. And, as you may already know, it is not conceivable to prepare a ma’a Tahiti without raw tahitian fish so let’s put our apron back on.
Time to fix last minute details and welcome the first guests, we uncover the traditional oven and… it’s lunchtime ! Tama’a maitai !