When I first moved to Moloka'i I was invited to watch, and photograph, the preparation of the Hawiian Imu, honoring the late Walter Meyer's life. If you have ever been to Hawaii, you may have experienced a Hawaiian lu'au (feast). The main part of the lu'au menu is the kalua pig. Pigs are cooked in an underground pit for hours, when they are removed from the imu, the steamed pork literally falls off the bone. It is then shredded and served with other traditional foods for group meals, festivities, or religious ceremonies. I wanted to share with you what I witnessed, the Hawaiian art of cooking in an imu. First of all, it was a man's thing, there were no women invited. I am not sure why that was, but it must be a tradition in Hawaii for the men to prepare the imu. I was amazed at how all of these men, at least 20, worked in unison during this procedure. It was like watching a ballet. Obviously they had done this many times before.
|The Imu pit with blazing hot lava rocks|
Since the cooking process requires steam and not dry heat, green plant materials were needed to create steam. Banana stumps, ti leaves, honohono grass, banana leaves, and coconut palm leaves were gathered. Smashed banana stumps were laid directly over the hot rocks to prevent the food from being scorched and to create steam for cooking. A second layer of ti leaves were added to add flavor as the meal cooked.
The pigs were then placed on top of the ti leaves. Then a third layer of ti leaves were added followed by banana leaves, and wet burlap bags. After that, the burlap bags were covered with dirt and the whole thing was whetted down with water, creating a mud cap over the imu, preventing any steam from escaping. Estimating the time it takes to cook the food depends on the heat of the imu, the thickness of the vegetation, the kind of food, and the mass of the food. A large whole pig, in a good hot imu, may take from 6 to 8 hours of steaming time. This kind of cooking takes years of experience, there is no need for a meat thermometer here.
When the cooking was done, the dirt was removed revealing the steaming burlap bags. The covering material was removed, being careful to avoid getting any dirt into the imu. Then the hot steamed pigs were removed. Two men would grab the hot chicken wire and lift the pigs out of the hot imu and place them on large tables.
The chicken wire was then taken off and the kalua pig meat was picked. and placed in insulated boxes. The meat was then taken to a luau, at a different location, for consumption. Some of the meat was reserved for the workers meal. While the pigs were cooking, more dishes were being prepared for the workers meal. Woks, grills and large pots were set up to cook shrimp, rice, steak, and various pig parts. There was plenty of beer to go around all day. It was something I will always remember.
|Preparing the vegetables to go into the Imu|
|Cleaning the pork|
|Everything is used, even the heads|
|Filling the pigs cavities with hot lava rocks|
|Wrapping the pigs with chicken wire|
|Covering the pit with vegetation|
|The pigs are ready to be moved to the Imu|
|Moving the pigs to the Imu|
|The pigs were then placed on top of ti leaves|
|Covering the Imu with banana leaves|
|Then covering the vegetation with wet burlap bags|
|Covering everything with a layer of dirt|
|Wetting down the dirt to form a cap over the Imu|
|After 8 hours, removing the dirt and vegetation|
|The pigs are cooked and removed from the Imu|
|It took 4 men to remove each steamed pig|
|Removing the chicken wire|
|Picking the meat from the bones|