Mumu: Meet Papua New Guinea’s National Dish

Last updated on October 6th, 2023 at 02:38 pm

Mumu is a traditional dish that holds a special place in the hearts of Papua New Guineans. It’s more than just food—it’s an integral part of their culture and heritage, often prepared during significant events and celebrations.

Our team at Remitly created this guide as part of our series that celebrates the traditional foods of our global customers.

The History of Mumu

The origins of Mumu are deeply rooted in Papua New Guinea’s history. This cooking method has been passed down through generations, reflecting the country’s rich cultural heritage. It was initially used by indigenous tribes as a communal way to prepare meals.

Mumu also played a crucial role in fostering community spirit. The preparation process required collective effort, strengthening bonds among tribe members. Over time, it evolved into a symbol of unity and cooperation.

Ingredients Used in Mumu

The ingredients used in Mumu vary depending on availability and personal preference. However, some staples include pork, chicken, sweet potatoes, bananas, taro roots, and leafy greens—all locally sourced.

These ingredients are wrapped in banana leaves before being placed into the pit oven. The use of banana leaves not only adds flavor but also ensures that the nutrients remain intact during the cooking process.

The Cooking Process of Mumu

Cooking Mumu is an elaborate process that requires patience and skill. First, a pit is dug into the ground and lined with heated stones. Then comes layering—banana leaves are spread over the stones followed by meat and vegetables.

Once all ingredients are layered properly, they’re covered with more banana leaves to trap heat inside. Finally, earth is piled on top to create an oven-like environment where food slow-cooks for several hours until tender and flavorful.

Variations of Mumu Across Papua New Guinea

While the basic concept remains consistent across Papua New Guinea, regional variations exist based on local produce availability or tribal customs. Some regions prefer using fish or shellfish instead of meat; others might add unique spices or herbs found only in their area.

Despite these variations, the essence of Mumu—communal cooking and sharing—remains unchanged. It’s a testament to Papua New Guinea’s diverse yet unified culture.

Serving and Eating Customs Around Mumu

Mumu is typically served on large banana leaves, maintaining the traditional touch. Everyone gathers around the spread, signifying unity and shared experiences. The act of eating together from a communal plate reinforces social bonds.

It’s customary to eat Mumu with hands, enhancing the sensory experience. This practice also reflects Papua New Guineans’ close connection with nature and their respect for food as a life-sustaining force.

Role of Mumu in Special Occasions

Mumu is not an everyday dish—it’s reserved for special occasions like weddings, festivals, or tribal ceremonies. Its preparation involves everyone in the community, making it a collective endeavor that brings people closer.

The process of preparing Mumu is often accompanied by singing, dancing, and storytelling—making it more than just a meal. It becomes an event—a celebration of life and community spirit.

Influence of Mumu on Other Cuisines

While Mumu remains unique to Papua New Guinea, its influence can be seen in other Pacific cuisines. Similar cooking methods involving earth ovens are found in Hawaii (Luau), New Zealand (Hangi), and Fiji (Lovo).

However, each region adds its own twist to this method—be it through different ingredients or cooking techniques—creating distinct flavors while preserving the communal aspect inherent in this style of cooking.

Personal Stories and Experiences with Mumu

People who’ve experienced the joy of participating in a traditional Mumu often describe it as unforgettable. The sense of community spirit that permeates throughout the process leaves a lasting impression.

Whether you’re partaking in digging the pit or layering ingredients or simply enjoying the delicious outcome—the experience is deeply enriching. It offers insight into Papua New Guinea’s vibrant culture and the importance of food in bringing people together.

A Basic Mumu Recipe

Mumu is a dish that requires time, patience, and a communal spirit. Here’s a simplified version of the recipe that you can try at home.


  • 1 kg pork or chicken
  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 2 bananas
  • 1 taro root
  • A bunch of leafy greens
  • Banana leaves for wrapping


  1. Cut the meat into large chunks and season it with salt.
  2. Peel and chop the sweet potatoes, bananas, and taro root into sizable pieces.
  3. Arrange banana leaves at the bottom of a large pot.
  4. Layer the seasoned meat on top of the banana leaves.
  5. Add the chopped vegetables over the meat layer.
  6. Cover everything with more banana leaves to trap heat inside.
  7. Place a lid on your pot and cook on low heat for about three hours until all ingredients are tender.

Remember, this is just an adaptation of traditional Mumu cooking—it lacks some elements like pit digging and stone heating due to practicality constraints.

Papua New Guinea’s Broader Cuisine

Papua New Guinea’s cuisine reflects its diverse culture and abundant natural resources.

Seafood in Coastal Regions

In coastal regions, seafood plays a significant role in daily meals—fish, shellfish, crabs are often used in various dishes.

Root Vegetables as Staple Food

Root vegetables like sweet potatoes (kaukau), taro (taro), yams (yam), and sago (sago) form staple food items across Papua New Guinea.

Use of Local Fruits

Local fruits such as pawpaw (papaya), pineapples, bananas, passionfruit are commonly consumed either fresh or used in cooking.

Traditional Cooking Methods

Traditional cooking methods like roasting over open fire or slow-cooking in earth ovens (like Mumu) are still prevalent, especially in rural areas.

Influence of Foreign Cuisines

Over time, foreign influences have also seeped into Papua New Guinea’s cuisine. Rice and noodles—introduced by Asian immigrants—are now commonly consumed.

Despite these influences, the essence of Papua New Guinea’s cuisine remains rooted in its traditional cooking methods and locally sourced ingredients. It continues to be a reflection of the country’s rich cultural heritage and close connection with nature.

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