Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday Feast: Making Lu

Long before the sun rises and the first rooster crows, one of the men in my host family is outside preparing the 'umu for our Sunday feast. The smell - a mixture of earth and burning leaves - drifts towards my open window. My alarm clock is not set to go off for another few hours, but the village roosters have started their day and suggest, ever so kindly, that I start mine. The mosquitoes spent yesterday feasting on my exposed legs - using the backs of my knees as their own personal buffet line. If my legs were the sky - the mosquitoes left their mark in the form of red constellations, with the big dipper being on my upper right thigh. Even though I'm itching and cautiously scanning the area underneath my mosquito net for giant centipedes and lizards, I am happy. I slide out from underneath my cloud of safety eyeing a giant wasp that has found its untimely end in my billowy protector. I throw a floral skirt on over my shorts and walk out of my room.

Traditional Tongan singing is coming softly from the radio as the first rays of sun creep into the room casting their shadows on the cement floor. A symphony of pots and pans clank and clunk in the other room. I know they are being filled with kumala (rich purple sweet potatoes) and the sound lures me into the kitchen. The table is covered in lush, leathery green leaves which were picked yesterday.

The sun has yet to find the kitchen as it's location is kept cool and safe under a canopy of trees at the back of the house. The backdoor is open and frames the silhouettes of two puppies waiting patiently for leftovers. Una has taken command of the stove and making sure that the propane tank on the floor is connected properly, she goes to work cutting up lesi momoho - fresh papaya. Later, this will be served after being cooked for hours in coconut creme - Tonga's version of ice cream. Sela, who is expecting her first baby, is seated at the table cutting up fresh chicken. The women are quietly talking and laughing in their native language.

I find an open seat at the table and attempt to add to the conversation in my broken Tongan and when I'm finished I ask Sela if I can watch her make the lu. This is a favorite part of my Sunday. Part art - part Polynesian Food Network Channel - I watch as she and Una carefully prepare our Sunday feast.

In Tonga, every Sunday feels like Thanksgiving. The amount of preparation needed for this meal is extensive. Yet even though it is done every week, each feast is special. Here are some images from today's food preparation.


This is the fish that one of our neighbors caught and gave to us. We made ota ika with it (raw fish, tomatoes, green peppers and coconut creme).


The chicken sitting on taro and lu leaves.


I got momentarily distracted by the wildlife. My backyard is cooler than the zoo.


Lu is made with coconut creme - fresh from the coconut.


First, the chicken is wrapped in the lu leaves.


Next you make a bowl out of the lu leaves.


Pour in some coconut creme.


Wrap the lu leaves in giant taro leaves.


Making sure that no creme seeps out, wrap the contents like a Christmas present.


Almost there...


Keep folding...


Then take a reed and tie the package closed.


Now it's ready to go in the 'umu (underground oven)!

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