Like many good stories, the Hangi Boys began with friends chatting around a few beers.
Nathen Pore tells SBS Food, "We were in a bar in Melbourne one evening and we were talking about our childhood back in New Zealand and how we missed the homegrown kai [food].
"We wanted to bring people together and to ensure our tamariki [children] who grow up here can experience their roots, so to speak, which have been handed down through their tīpuna [ancestors]."
Along with Pore, Hangi Boys is comprised of Christopher Muraahi, Kareem Toomata and Sailesh Vala, who all hail from New Zealand's North Island but met in Australia.
What was initially supposed to be a one-off event in 2015 soon turned into a business after they noticed a keen interest from New Zealanders and Australians. Since then, the boys have been bringing traditional and modern style hāngi to festivals and private events around Melbourne.
"It takes many people back to their childhood and it's really satisfying for us," says Pore.
What exactly is hāngi?
Hāngi is a traditional Māori way of cooking meat, seafood and vegetables in a pit oven.
"You light a fire using volcanic rocks as the heating source. You dig a hole in the ground about four feet, place the food wrapped in cloths – or leaves back in the day – to keep it from being dirty.
"Once you've placed the food in the ground, you cover it [with earth] and cook it for three to four hours," explains Pore. "It gives a beautiful, earthy flavour to the food."
Pore says his father was nominated to prepare and cook hāngi. "We would always do hāngi for birthdays, Christmas and for tangi [funerals at the marae, a communal area]. After coming from the urupa [cemetery], we would all head back for a feed and a couple of beers."
Nowadays, metal baskets and aluminium foil are commonly used, and hāngis are popular for all sorts of large gatherings.
Hāngi with the Hangi Boys
The Hangi Boys use either the traditional pit-oven method for their hāngi or a special low-pressure cooker. The latter recreates the feel of the hāngi thanks to a barbecue hotplate, a gas burner and Manuka sawdust, which imbues the smoky flavour.
The cooker comes especially handy in locations where the boys can't dig a pit oven or when there's a fire ban in Victoria.
In the ground or in the oven, they cook lamb, pork belly and chicken, as well as veggies like pumpkin, potato, kumara [sweet potato], cabbage and carrots, which come with gravy and stuffing. They also use lamb and pork in a hāngi burger.
"It takes many people back to their childhood and it's really satisfying for us."
Since their beginnings, they've added other classic New Zealand dishes like whitebait fritters, fried bread (which you can have as a side to the hāngi or by itself with condiments), boil up (which sees pork bones, watercress, puha – a native green – and doughboys flour dumplings boiled together), and citrus-cured fish with coconut cream.
Their dessert offering includes their version of two popular New Zealand ice cream flavours, hokey pokey (vanilla and honeycomb toffee) and Jelly Tip (half vanilla, half raspberry jelly).
They also make steamed pudding served with custard and butterscotch sauce. "It has lovely caramel notes from the brown sugar," says Pore.
Where to find Hangi Boys
The Hangi Boys do private catering and take part in festivals and events, like the recent Kiwi Fest at the Footscray Community Arts Centre.
Game meats are important part of New Zealand culture and cuisine, and a number of different meats are combined together here in a delicious hearty pie. Hare, wild pig and venison share a gaminess that is brought together with a minerally pinot noir. If using meat from farmed animals perhaps limit the dish to farmed venison only, as rabbit and pork will not have the same depth of flavour as their wilder cousins.