Boasting unparalleled powder snow, adventure and excitement during winter, and lush forests, bubbling brooks and sunny beaches throughout the warm summer months, it comes as no surprise that a number of visitors remain enchanted enough with Niseko to remain for the long term and call it home.
As such, Niseko’s cosmopolitan influences continue even as the last of the holidaymakers board their flights and leave the melting snow behind; foreign customs, language, activities and food have added extra colour to the regions already rich tapestry over the years.
When New Zealander “Wazza” moved to Niseko some 15 years ago, it was no coincidence that the first Hangi pit appeared a short time later – the warm summer days proved to be perfect conditions for a classic NZ style get-together and the other local Kiwi lads were quick to jump on board –
What is a Hangi?
A “Hangi” is a traditional method of cooking food below ground in an “earthen steam oven”.
Long employed by native Maori in New Zealand, Hangi’s are still a popular event, bringing large groups of friends and family together to enjoy plates of hearty food throughout the day and long into the evening.
Traditionally a Hangi was prepared by digging a pit in the earth, then heating stones in the pit with a large fire. Wrapped meat, seafood and vegetables were then placed with the heated rocks and covered with large leaves and other vegetation before being covered with earth for several hours. Later, the food is removed from the pit and ready to eat.
Methods have evolved over the years and these days the food is usually wrapped in tin foil or cabbage leaves then placed inside wire cages or “Hangi Baskets” to prevent dirt from making contact with or crushing the food. Clean wet cloth and sacking is placed on the cages to stimulate steam.
Today there are even modern gas-powered Hangi machines available, although most kiwis would agree that the traditional method of working together to put the food beneath the soil, then the reward of lifting the Hangi from the earth with friends is an essential part of the authentic Hangi experience.
The Niseko summer Hangi has become a bit of a local tradition over the years – with Wazza acting as the resident “Hangi Master” and with Holiday Niseko hosting the event. Food is sourced from nearby farms and members of the community aid in providing the manpower needed to put together this large feast which attracts plenty of mouths from within the surrounding area.
Local Kutchan potatoes, kumara (sweet potato), pork, lamb, beef and occasionally Hokkaido venison are prepared for the Hangi and wrapped with fuki leaves. While the ingredients are below the soil cooking, above ground families and friends mingle and eagerly anticipate the lifting of the Hangi – a ceremonious affair which is sometimes complemented with a traditional blessing of the meal.
The Hangi process results in tender meat and vegetables infused with the fragrance of earthy smoke and fuki leaves – this combination of traditional “earthen steamed” cooking using local Hokkaido ingredients makes the Niseko Hangi a unique, social experience which will satisfy anyone’s appetite.
If you keep your ears and nose open you might be lucky enough to encounter a Hangi taking place in Niseko – just follow the sound of a happy crowd and the smell of delicious food. If you bring your own drinks and a smile you’ll be welcomed with open arms!
Kiwis are always keen to chuck down a Hangi!
The Hangi Process:
“Putting down the Hangi” – the baskets laden with food are wrapped and lowered into the earth.
“Lifting the Hangi” – steam pours from the Hangi pit as the food is uncovered and removed from the cooking pit.
Locals enjoy cooked vegetables and meat served from the Hangi basket onto their plates.