I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get tired of cooking in the kitchen. I get tired of using high tech, convenient and super efficient appliances. Instead, I’d go back to the traditional, time consuming, tiring way of cooking. Ok fine I don’t, but this was an interesting experience.
The kiln. It’s an earth oven or a cooking pit, built from scratch to cook food. Historically, Taiwan traditional kiln cooking is an old method used to cook food. When we visited Mr. V’s uncle who has a farm in Meinong, Taiwan, he asked if we were interested in seeing how this was carried out. Of course we said yes, and he gladly showed us how to build this “kiln”.
First, we needed a flat open space.
A small, shallow hole was dug.
The direction of the wind noted so that wind would be blowing into the ‘chamber’ to help with the burning. Also, the smoke would blow away from us instead of toward us.
Dry chunks of clay (not rocks or stones) were collected and stacked around the hole, upwards and inwards to make a pyramid shaped tower with a door (a small opening). This took some skill, effort and a lot of patience. The clay had to be laid in such a way that it supported each other yet not collapse. Since the clay was stacked inwards as the kiln was built, it would fall. The clay had to have some weight but not too heavy. It had to come in different sizes and shapes. It was like putting a 3D puzzle together really.
Firewood was then stuffed into the chamber through the opening and burned, heating up the clay (eventually turning it red) and increasing the temperature in the chamber. This took about an hour for us (this depends on size of kiln and fire).
Once the chunks of clay were hot red, the remaining firewood was carefully removed and replaced by food wrapped in foil. You can cook sweet potatos, corn, chicken, fish, eggs… anything you desire.
Here comes the crazy part. The tower that just took us hours to build was destroyed so that it collapsed onto the food with the residual heat used to cook the food. It was at this point.. actually, throughout the whole process that I thought about dumping the food into the oven and be done with it. (Also, from this point forward, I stopped taking pictures).
We topped the collapsed clay with soil and filled the gaps to prevent heat loss. We wait for a couple of hours for the food (some may take up to a day depending on the type of food). We went exploring while we waited.
Taking care not to destroy the food, we literally dug in for our food. I shoveled, unwrapped the foil and ate. It felt a lil primitive.
The food: Well, they came out perfectly cooked with a tinge of woodsy smoke and charred taste. And because the aromas and flavors were trapped, the flavor of the food was concentrated and deep. That… and I also ate some dirt along the way.
Given that not everyone has a farm of their own, plenty of leisure farms all around Taiwan offer this as part of their activity. Some require you to build from scratch while others don’t. If you’re adventurous enough, try one at your own backyard. Or else, if you happen to be in this part of the world, experience this for yourself. Overall, you get to taste food cooked this way and nothing can ever beat that.
What kind of ‘traditional’ way of cooking have you experienced?