There was a time, I am told, when New Zealand cuisine was ghastly. A good feed might be a big hunk of meat and two boiled vegetables, accompanied by a nice iceberg lettuce salad (topped with tomato wedges and hard-boiled eggs, and dressed with, shudder, condensed milk). Garlic was viewed with deep suspicion, and coffee unknown. Kiwi tucker was essentially British food, but with all its interesting diversity (toad-in-the-hole, spotted dick) stripped away by the rigours of the long sea voyage, emerging pale and weak on Southern shores.
Well, not any more. Kiwis are now food-mad. The indigenous snack food, the humble meat pie, has been transformed into dozens of gourmet variants. Chicken, asparagus and cashew; curry and rice; steak and Guinness; hunza and lentil; lamb’s liver and bacon. That last one I bought at the modest Lyttelton Farmer’s Market, where in the shade of a local primary school on a freezing July morning you can get fresh locally-grown shiitake, and artisanal baguettes as good as any I ate in Paris. How can this be? Well, most New Zealanders live next to farmland or the ocean or both, so there’s abundant fresh local produce. Nasty industrial farming hasn’t really arrived, so cattle eat grass all year round and butter and cheese are as yellow as God intended—no need for the orange annatto coloring you get in American cheese. Supermarkets haven’t driven local butchers to extinction. And there’s no California or Florida conveniently nearby, so you have to eat more seasonally.
One thing I knew I would miss when I left America was real Mexican food. There are no Mexicans at all in New Zealand, and you could put on a sombrero and a silly accent to sell corn chips on TV without anyone complaining. But Tex-Mex, which is what most Americans think Mexican food is, has certainly arrived. On Armagh St in sedate Christchurch you can buy a burrito that kicks the living crap out of anything I ate in 8 years in the USA. Hey, Cosmic Cantina, on Perry Street, Durham, NC, I’m talking to you. (For years I would tell Americans that Cosmic sold garbage in a wrapper, and they would look at me like I was nuts, until I seriously doubted my sanity. Well, I am vindicated, and they were wrong, wrong, wrong.) Yes, New Zealanders could teach Americans how to make a burrito—yet just ten years ago if you advertised a burrito on TV you had to explain to the viewers what it was.
On every travel show about New York, one’s invariably exhorted to sample a hot dog. A hot dog is rubbery mystery meat that’s been bobbing all day in a tank of warm water, stirred up occasionally by the vendor’s sweaty arm, and plopped on a gluey white bun. Now, folks will argue passionately about whether to dress the dog with sauerkraut or with mustard and ketchup (combining all three is apparently a mortal sin), and which are the best hot dogs (Nathan’s Kosher at Coney Island, apparently). But I’m afraid it scarcely matters, because hot dogs are intrinsically terrible. I realized this when I had a freshly-grilled, locally-made organic weisswurst on a crusty French roll with a dab of mustard at one of the two wurst stands at the Arts Centre market. The other stand’s wursts didn’t look as yummy, but they also sold their own whole salamis, speck, sausages, and a dozen other kinds of charcuterie, which made up for it I think.
New Zealand pizza makes all but the very best New York pizza look pretty sick, too. The fastest-growing chain is Hell Pizza, with a box that transforms into a little cardboard coffin for storing your “remains”. Oh, and you don’t tip the delivery guy. In fact, you don’t tip anyone in New Zealand (perhaps because they’re paid a decent wage), and sales tax is always invisibly included, and the bill is always a nice round number because the smallest coin is 10c, and you’re never expected to clear your own table, because that’s what the servers are paid to do. And when you order a cup of tea, you get a little teapot with leaves in it and a tiny jug of milk, not a styrofoam cup of hot water and a teabag. (OK, I’ll calm down now.)
Haven’t found real bagels yet, though.
Due to popular demand, here’s the granola I make and give away in vast quantities, part of my cunning plan to subvert civilization with granola. Adjust proportions to suit; more coconut, for example, if you like coconut more than me.
- 2 C nuts; halved blanched almonds, walnut pieces, chopped cashews or pecans; whatever’s cheap, but avoid lots of powdery nut fragments (these scorch)
- 4 C rolled oats
- 1 C unsweetened shredded coconut
- ½ C sunflower seeds
- 4 T sesame seeds
- ½ C honey or maple syrup
- 1½ C fruit: raisins and chopped dried figs are good
Set the oven to 325°F. Preheat a big heavy roasting pan straddling two burners on medium. Toast and stir the nuts in the pan until they start to color and smell nice, which takes a few minutes–don’t burn them. Add oats and coconut and stir until the oats start to toast, but don’t let the coconut burn. Add seeds and toast and stir a few minutes more. Remove from heat, add the honey/maple syrup, then bake in the oven 15 minutes, stirring and respreading at the five and ten minute mark. Add the dried fruit, stir, then let the granola cool on a rack until it’s room temperature (but not overnight, or it’s less crunchy, being presumably hygroscopic). This will fill four big airtight jars, and stores well in the fridge.
This recipe is kindly brought to you via Flick’s mum. A fine winter comfort food, it’ll feed four.
- ¾ C (3 oz) self-rising flour (if you don’t have self-rising, you can fake it with cake flour plus 1¼ t baking powder and ¼ t salt)
- 2 T cocoa
- 1½ t instant coffee powder
- pinch salt
- 4 oz butter, room temp
- ⅔ C (4 oz) superfine (caster) sugar
- 2 eggs, slightly beaten
- ½ t vanilla essence
- 1–2 T milk
Sift flour, and mix in cocoa, instant coffee and salt. Cream the butter and sugar until light, then gradually beat in eggs and vanilla. (Do this a little at a time, incorporating the egg completely into the creamed butter before you add more, and add some flour mixture with last few additions of egg. Don’t just dump the egg in the butter, or you end up with a lumpy swill and have to toss it and start again.) Fold in the remaining flour, and enough milk for a fairly soft consistency. Spoon evenly into a well-greased smallish but high-sided oven dish. Add some chopped or halved walnuts to top; I used good North Carolina pecans.
- ⅔ C (4 oz) firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 T cocoa
- 1 C very hot water
In small bowl mix the cocoa and brown sugar, then add hot water and stir until it’s smooth. Pour this over the pud and bake at 375°F for 40 minutes. The sauce will magically migrate under the pudding, and the whole bubbling mass will seem alive, eager to slither out of the pan like a tiny marauding chocolate Blob. Wait until it stops moving then serve with whipped cream. Delishimo.
As we all know, there is some dispute over whether New Zealand or Australia invented the pavlova. In the spirit of détente, we made one for Australia Day but topped it with kiwifruit.
Flick’s Pav (via Catherine’s Mum)
- 4 egg whites
- 8 Australian tablespoons caster sugar/superfine sugar (that’s 11 US or NZ tablespoons)
- 1 T cornstarch/cornflour
- 1 t white vinegar
Beat the egg whites to peaks, beat in sugar slowly and cornstarch until glossy, fold in vinegar, scrape into a round on parchment and bake 250°F for 45 minutes. Cool and top with whipped cream and kiwifruit. Yum.
My previous pavlovas had been crisp on the outside, but always somewhat collapsed under their shell. This one was softer and fluffier; there’s a good case to be made for both, but I wish Cook’s Illustrated would send in the cavalry and sort the pavlova out once and for all.