Traditionally, an umu is laid three times a day to cook the family meals, a custom that continues in Samoa’s villages today.
Slathered in freshly made coconut cream, umu-cooked food is infused with beautiful, completely natural smokey flavours. An umu is lifted after about two hours and served immediately, while the food is hot and delicious.
Many hotels and resorts offer umu buffets at weekly fiafia nights. Visitors who are lucky enough to be invited into a Samoan village may experience firsthand an umu meal as the locals have done for thousands of years.
A Samoan umu is an above-ground oven of hot volcanic stones.
The stones are heated in a fire before the food is placed on top, wrapped in banana leaves or coconut fronds, or put into half coconuts. More banana leaves cover the top to seal the 'oven'.
Food cooked in an umu includes fish and other seafood such as octopus, along with pork, chicken, lamb, taro, bananas and other vegetables. Coconut cream is traditionally used instead of oil, which adds a delicious, quintessentially tropical element to the ingredients, and ensures the food emerges juicy and full of flavour.
The Samoa Cultural Village in Apia offers visitors umu-cooked food for lunch as part of its cultural programme. The village is located on the waterfront off Beach Road, behind the Samoa Tourism Authority information fale.
Most Samoan villages still prepare food in this way, particularly on Sundays or on special occasions when the tantalising, smoky smell of many umu cooking permeates the air. For some in more rural areas, umu is the main way that family meals are prepared.