“Mother earth connects us to food”. On the border of South Afrika and Swastini (formerly known as Swaziland), experts found the evidence dating back to 170,000 years about cooking underground and sharing food. The place which gives us the proof is in a different continent. But we find similar methods all over the world.
However, the methods adopted to the terroir, produce and eating habits. Some civilizations cooked their food on hot stones. And some preferred using Mud to encapsulate their food before putting hot ambers on it. As we progressed, we started using earthen pots for cooking. This practice made us more civilised. As years passed we improvised our practices and traits. The cooking method was one of them. But even after thousands of years we still practice cooking with different alterations of Earth. That might be digging up a hole in the ground or using mud or hot stones. The question I had was “WHY ?”.
Why it all makes sense?
Talking in technical terms, cooking this way, makes sense when you take a look at the available choice of meat and vegetables. cooking tough meats, root vegetables take more time than usual. Hence, burying it underground or covering it with mud to withstand high temperatures for a longer time. Also, these methods avoid drying up of meats. It helps to cook the vegetables by steaming them in their heat.
Using hot stones is another clever idea of cooking. As stones act as a good conductor of heat. They can retain and radiate heat for a long period. This way of cooking also added to smokey and earthy flavour to the food. Surprisingly, the Maori’s from New Zealand and Natives of Peru use a similar method but it’s not clear whether they shared the same ancestors or developed these methods separately.
WHAT INDIA HAS TO OFFER…
Talking about Earth oven cooking, India has its contribution as well. in the northern part other than Tandoor (A contribution from Afganistan), the state of Rajasthan and its royalties practice this method. Where the hunt of the day game animals and birds in old times, nowadays it’s done with farmed game and poultry. The whole animal is coated with basic dry spices and rolled in a day old chapatis and a wet jute bag. Placed on top of hot coals or dried cow dung and buried under hot sand of the desert.
You go to the coastal side of the Kokan and you will find a method called “POPTI” clay pot filled with winter vegetables, it’s free-range chicken and eggs. Covered in twigs and dried leaves and cooked for several hours.
These methods are somehow identical or connected through the elements of nature. The purpose of these cooking methods was more than just to provide food. It was meant to get people together, Hunt/Harvest, cook and eat together. May it be the pachamanca from Peru or Barbacoa from Oaxaca. It was more about gathering and Community. In Peru, cooking with earth oven was a symbol of celebration, fertility and rejuvenation. A way to thank the mother earth. even today Andeans and nearby regions practice this way of cooking to celebrate with their community. its no different with Barbacoa or Hangi in New Zealand.
IT’S ABOUT US.
While writing this, I thought we should try cooking with the earth. Living in the city makes it a bit difficult. I need an open space where I can dig up a big hole. Most important I need a crowd to share this amount of food with. But, After thinking a lot I figured out how I can achieve that. Without having to do all the hustle and breaking any rules of social distancing. All you need is a bit of gardening soil, a piece of cloth/ banana leaf/ parchment and your choice of meat or vegetable. It’s something we can do for 3-4 people now and even more people after this corona ends. In the end, it’s about cooking good food, keeping our traditions alive and celebrating us.