Labouring and layering: Papua New Guinean mumu

Normally we start these blog posts with a little preamble about the dish we’ve made, or the country it’s from, or a completely irrelevant story that we somehow manage to tenuously tie in to the meal we’ve just eaten. Today, however, we’re struggling with that task. The dish, mumu, is little more than layers of stuff cooked for an hour or so, and there’s not much more to say than that. We’ve never been to Papua New Guinea, so don’t have any charming travel anecdotes. And irrelevant stories usually require something interesting to have happened, and our lives recently have looked something like this:
Ash: Work.
Miranda: Sitting around the house for FOUR DAYS, unable to leave, due to the repeatedly broken promises of Parcel Force who said they would definitely deliver the package we were expecting. And whilst stories about dusting, vacuuming, choosing a new suitcase on Amazon and clearing our Sky+ box of 30-odd recorded episodes of Seinfeld would most certainly be irrelevant, they wouldn’t be ever so entertaining.

With that in mind, our exotic Papua New Guinean cooking experiment should have been very exciting indeed. Of course, it would have been more exciting had we been able to cook our mumu in its traditional form (in other words, under hot stones in an earth oven, which is actually what the word ‘mumu’ refers to), so that kicked off the disappointment for us. And, honestly, it pretty much continued from there. There’s a possibility this is our fault, as we ignored the recipe’s vague instructions to ‘add herbs and spices according to your taste’, but we found this dish a little bland. Having said that, it was incredibly easy and the flavours that were there were well balanced. We referred to recipes from The Fair Trade Cook Book and What’s Cooking in your World?, but the tradition of mumu says that you can pretty much use whatever you want as long as you follow the basic formula. What we used is below.

Mumu

Ingredients
Banana leaves
1 sweet potato, peeled and sliced reasonably thickly
2 eddoes, peeled and sliced reasonably thickly
About 600g diced pork
4 chicken thighs, skinned, deboned and cut into strips
1 medium pineapple, cut into chunks
300g of green beans, topped, tailed and halved
A few good handfuls of frozen peas
1 can coconut milk

Method
1. Lightly oil a large, heavy, stovetop-friendly casserole dish and line with banana leaves. (Spinach or similar would be fine if you can’t get hold of banana leaves – plus you can eat the spinach afterwards!)
2. Make a layer of the sweet potato and eddo (other root vegetables can be substituted).
3. Make a layer of pork.
4. Make a layer of pineapple (you could also use mango, papaya etc).
5. Make a layer of chicken.
6. Make a layer of beans and peas (or broccoli… you get the idea).
7. Pour the coconut milk over everything and ‘seal’ the top with banana leaves.
8. Put the lid on the dish and cook over a medium heat for about 15 minutes to bring the juices up to cooking temperature.
9. Turn the heat down to low and simmer gently for about an hour. Do not stir it while it’s cooking.(Our beans were still a little crunchy after this time so a few minutes more wouldn’t hurt. Traditionally it’d be cooked for about five hours in the ground anyway.)
Serves about 5.

Banana leaf lined pot

Eddoes and sweet potatoes
If you buy the white flesh sweet potatoes, you can play a fun game of ‘guess the root vegetable’ when you’re eating it.

Layer of root veg
Spot the difference!

Layer of pork

Layer of pineapple

Layer of chicken

Layer of green veg

Sealed mumu

Cooked mumu

Mumu

So, as mentioned above, the pros of this dish were that it was easy, it was a one pot meal (a massive pro for two people who seem to generate dirty dishes as easily as breathing), and (a pro from Ash’s perspective) the coconut flavour was muted by the pork and pineapple. It also gave us an opportunity to cook with and eat eddoes, which we hadn’t done before,
and we were able to appreciate the tropical, almost primitive feel of the dish: because it would be made with whatever ingredients were on hand, it isn’t exactly a finely tuned recipe. But the major con was that it just wasn’t all that exciting: the coconut wasn’t the only flavour that seemed muted. Adding some onion and garlic with the peas and beans may have livened it up a bit, but it’s hard to know whether it would have made all that much difference. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it didn’t send our tastebuds into raptures. Therefore, it’s probably not a dish we’ll make again.

Fortunately, although we aren’t singing and dancing about mumu, we have an incredible feast of Australian food to look forward to! And, for the first time (well, with the exception of England, obviously), we’re actually going to eat this traditional food in its home country. We’ll therefore probably be absent from the blog for a while, but we promise LOTS of foodie photos (and stories, probably) when we return!

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