Today as I was putzing around in the kitchen, I was really missing some good old delicious kaukau and kumu.
...Huh? What is kaukau and kumu? Well - there's also balaam and sako. Actually, both those are the same things. Kaukau equals balaam and kumu equals sako. Still lost? Let me explain a bit more. :)

Kaukau is the main staple in Yemli Village. It is similar to the sweet potato here, but it has white insides instead of orange. And, it tastes SO much better than the sweet potatoes with orange insides. Kaukau is the word for that food in Tok Pisin - the trade language. Balaam is the word for that food in Malei. Get it?
Kumu is the second staple in Yemli. I haven't been able to find an exact match in US food markets, but kumu is similar to collard greens. Kumu is the Tok Pisin word for that food, and Sako is the Malei word for the food.

So, back to my original thought. i was really craving some delicious home cooked kumu and balaam. But - even if I could find the EXACT plants here in the US, it really wouldn't taste the same. And that led me to my next blog idea: a HOW TO cook balaam and sako PNG style.


1. First off, you have to go GET your balaam and sako. Get your hiking boots on (or just go barefoot) and get ready for a long sweaty walk.
Each family has a garden, (or multiple ones) and often they are a good two or more hours hike away. In the picture below, every brown spot you see on the mountains are either gardens or landslides, or landslides that have been turned into gardens, or gardens that have turned into landslides.

2. Once you reach your garden, you harvest all your balaam and sako and put them in your bilum - which you made earlier to hold your balaam and sako.

Women spend much of their time making bilums or vaks. A vak (Malei) or bilum (Tok Pisin) is a hand made bush string sewn bag. The women in the picture below are holding vaks on their heads filled with Balaam from their gardens.
3. Next, you store all your balaam and sako in an area where all the ladies will be able to work together to make the balaam.
In the picture below, there was no sako - only balaam. This particular picture was taken while the Yemli mama's were preparing for the Bible dedication in December of 2010.

4.Then start a fire. Easier said than done. First off, depending on if you already have coals in your fire place or not, you will need to go take some coals from a neighbors house. You may need to walk anywhere from 5 minutes to 15 minutes to get the burning coal. Matches are precious - you NEVER use them unless there are NO burning coals anywhere for you to use. Help your neighbor! Then, you bring your burning coal home, use your dried kindling and firewood to build a fire. If you already had coals in your fire pit, you're in luck! Just build your fire!
5. Then, you have to put fresh clean water in your pot and boil it. Again, easier said than done. Where did you get the water from? Was the water source clean? Were there pigs in the water upstream? Of course not, because you know ALL the places where pigs swim upstream so you DON'T go there to get water. Earlier in the day, you had gone to your special place where you filled up your water jugs, then carried them back up the mountain (at least a half hour hike most likely) to store for later use. THEN, you can pour your water into your pot and put your pot on your fire that you blew life into to boil the water to cook your food.

6. Then, you can start peeling your kaukau. Usually, all the kaukau is peeled onto a big old bilum which is then carried outside and fed to the pigs or bok (Malei) or pik (Tok Pisin). You don't own a vegetable peeler, so you just use a knife, but you have to be careful to ONLY peel off the potato skin and not any of the meat because you worked HARD to get those potatoes!

In the following picture, I am peeling kaukau with two of my PNG mama's - Yaya and Oreko.

7. Then, you put all your kaukau in one boiling pot of water, and all your kumu in another and wait! Often you'll have to blow the flames up higher or add more wood to your boiling pots of water.

 8. While waiting, you might get hungry, so go ahead and eat that cucumber that you picked from the garden today but didn't feel like eating then. You DEFINITELY worked up an appetite now!

9. Finally... you stick a fork into the kaukau and they are soft, so its TIME TO EAT! Thank goodness! You pull the pot off the fire and have already set up bowls for each family group (Usually there about three or four family unites living in a house - the extended family). You then dish up kaukau into each of the bowls depending on the size of each family group. For example, if your bother is married but has no kids, they don't need as much kaukau as your sister who is married and the two of them have three kids. Once you've served up the kaukau, you pull the sako off the fire and serve that up - same style. Then, you divy up the kaukau and sako soup into everyone's bowls. Then, you bring the bowl to their family.

In the picture below, the women have just taken the boiling pots off the fire and are about to split the food into the containers for each family.

10. Then, the head of the house (usually the oldest male) will pray over the food. Then, everyone else starts to eat.
In the picture is one of the old Papa's or a Wakamik (Malei) praying.

11. FINALLY, you can sit down and eat. Was it all worth it?! YES!

In the picture below, the people are actually attending a special gathering (The Malei New Testament Dedication) and so they gave each person their own plate and a fork. Normally, you eat out of the same bowl and use your fingers. Then, you just take turns lifting the bowl up to your lips to drink the soup. 

So, there you have it. PNG Mama Bar-B-Q for kaukau and kumu! :) Super simple and easy! :) Stay tuned for more HOW TO's regarding PNG Bar-B-Q.