Kāwhia Kai festival: a taste of tradition
28 Jan 2011
Kāwhia Kai Festival, Hamilton Waikato
5 February, 2011
Thousands of food lovers will swoop into the small Waikato town of Kāwhia in February for a hands-on experience of New Zealand’s kai Māori / traditional Māori food.
Named in Lonely Planet’s Top 10 indigenous events for tourists, Kāwhia Kai Festival offers Kiwis and international guests a taste of traditional Māori life that includes New Zealand’s largest hangi / kai cooked in an underground oven, Māori art and craft.
In 2010 more than 2500 kono / traditional flax baskets were woven to serve up hangi portions to 10,000 hungry guests.
Locals call Kāwhia - on the North Island’s rugged west coast - "kai food heaven" because of its plentiful supplies of seafood and wild game.
The annual Kāwhia Kai Festival coincides with New Zealand’s national holiday Waitangi Day / 6 February which celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the nation's founding document.
The 2011 festival will take place on Saturday, 5 February.
Food is cooked for the event in traditional underground ovens using super heated stones.
For 2011, hangi experts working at four Māori marae / villages plan to produce the largest hangi New Zealand has ever seen - cooking mountains of pork, chicken, beef and vegetables in a series of huge pits.
On the festival eve, teams light fires of hot-burning manuka wood to heat the cooking stones. Around dawn, the food baskets are laid in the cooking pits, layered with the hot stones and mounded with soil to allow the food to steam in its own juices.
It’s a fine art to get the cooking time right, but festival organiser Hinga Whiu says "the results are delicious".
In traditional life, New Zealand's Māori were hunters, gatherers and crop farmers who harvested their food from the forest, rivers and sea.
"For many non-Māori, the Kāwhia Kai Festival is the first time they have been able to experience the delicacies that come out of the hangi - let alone other traditional kai on offer," said Whiu.
Other traditional kai on the menu at Kāwhia will include: toroi / marinated mussels and puha, creamed paua and kina / seafood, inanga / whitebait patties, kanga wai / pirau / fermented corn, puha and pork spring rolls, pawhara / smoked fish and eel, and local Waikato delicacy koki / shark liver paté.
Māori kai continues to develop, and traditional Māori foods and delicacies are enjoying a resurgence in both restaurant and home cuisine.
While the main focus of the festival is kai, visitors will be entertained by numerous cultural activities including more than two hours of kapahaka / Māori dance performed by three local groups.
In addition to the 25 stalls offering kai, another 20 stalls will display traditional arts and crafts such as raranga / flax weaving, whakairo- rakau / wood carving, and ta moko / tattooing.
The festival will open with a mihi whakatau - a traditional Māori welcome and blessing for all of the guests and performers.
Background: Kāwhia, New Zealand
Kāwhia, a seaside village in New Zealand’s central North Island, is known for its rich food resources, offered by the sea, fertile lands, and low bush-covered hills.
A 60-minute drive south of Hamilton, Kāwhia is the spiritual home of the Māori Tainui tribe who arrived on the great ocean-going waka / canoe Tainui, after traversing the Pacific Ocean around 1350.
The descendants went on to found the single largest grouping of Māori - known today known as the Tainui confederation which includes the Waikato, Maniapoto, Raukawa and Hauraki tribes.
The great Tainui waka now rests at Te Ahurei and is marked by two stone pillars named Hani (a te waewae I kimi atu) and Puna (whakatupu tangata).
It is said that a pure woman who touches the Puna stone, will become pregnant and receive the gift of a child.
European settlers arrived in Kāwhia 500 years after the arrival of the Tainui people. The area soon became a major trading centre with timber, flour and flax exported to overseas ports including Sydney and Hawaii.
Kāwhia has many attractions including scenic bush walks, historic sites, fishing, Te Puia Beach hot water springs, inner harbour beaches, kayaking, horse trekking and local cafes and reasonably priced accommodation including camping grounds, backpackers and hotels.
Māori hangi - a taste of culture
Kai - traditional Māori food ingredients
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