Today we learned how to make and use a lovo (earth oven). We started
at 6:45 am pealing the purple dalo in preparation for the afternoon
feast. Turani had a small fire with a pot going in the shed when I
arrived. The wood storage was directly above the fire and smoke was
billowing from the shed. It definitely wasn’t OSHA certified.
Turani then lit ashes soaked in lighter fluid in the lavo pit about 8”
deep and 3’x3’ square. On this he stacked layers of small branches
about 7” high. He had a lean-to of tin and bamboo built over it for
rain protection. After the wood he placed dried coconut husks around
the wood and topped it all with a mound of rocks about 12” high. This
was left smoldering for about an hour.
We then finished up the Dalo peeling. It is much like pealing a
potato but the dalo is very slippery and the knife very sharp. I
received my first flesh wound on the thumb, but was quickly back in
the action after following the proper Peace Corps procedures for
bandaging wounds above the waist. We placed all the purple dalo in
the pot and cooked it for about three hours.
After the dalo Turani showed me how to crack a coconut with a
machete. The first step is stripping the fuzz and strings from the
outer casing. Then you hold the coconut in one hand and wack it
perpendicular across two or three of the dark veins. Two wacks should
get it but for me it took a few times. You have to hold it a bit away
as the milk comes spewing out once you hit pay dirt. Turani then
shaved the innards on a saddle like bench with a serrated spoon nailed
on the end. This is labor intensive and hard to do. Thankfully he
shaved them all.
We then peeled yellow dalo which are the same as purple but larger.
They don’t tast as good either but can be cooked directly in the lovo.
Following dalo preparations we squeezed coconut shavings to make miti
(coconut milk). This was a little tricky. Turani cut a section of
mill sack used to feed pigs and found two bamboo sticks about 24”
long. The coconut shavings are then placed in the sack while two
people, Turani and Ta, twist the bamboo rods on each end of the open
ended bag squeezing the permeable sack around the shavings. The milk
seeps out into a bowl below. We squeezed the shavings from six
coconuts twice and it made about 16 oz of milk. It was a lot of work
for that amount of liquid.
The fish and chicken preparations where then made using dalo and
coconut branches. The chicken was stuffed with garlic and onions and
soaked in soy sauce. The fish was wrapped head and all inside a dalo
leaf and then tucked inside a coconut branch with the spine following
parallel to the fish. The leaves where braded around the fish to
create a cocoon. The same procedure followed for the chicken minus
the dalo leaf.
In the kitchen Kelly was placing pounded garlic and onions with the
freshly squeezed coconut milk inside dalo leaves creating a folded
pocket of goodness. She put tinned tuna in some as well. A few where
wrapped and foil and some where tucked inside the half shells of the
coconuts we scraped earlier.
Back to the lovo. After the wood had mostly burned, Turani shoveled
the ashes and unburned pieces out of the fire so that all was left
where hot rocks a grayish red color. He then placed a small grate on
top of the rocks with some coconut stems to balance the cooking
platform and to keep the food from touching the rocks. He spread the
food around the grill then covered the mound with coconut branches and
dalo leaves, in that order. All of this was covered with a yellow
tarp to hold everything down. He shoveled dirt over the tarp to keep
the steam in. We left the food in for about 1.5 hours and let
everything cool while we went to church.
The dalo leaves in the coconut shelves where very good and had a nice
smokey flavor. The fish and chicken turned out great and all in all
it was a great feast. Every meal is new experience and I’m having a
hard time remembering what everything is. Everything we made in the
lavo could have been cooked in the oven but tasted much better from
the lavo. The lavo can also be made pretty much anywhere in the bush
showing the resourcefulness of the Fijian people.