Apparently torisashi a.k.a. chicken sashimi is a thing in Japan. That's a nope from me.
Same goes for steak tartare.
not even if you paid me, though I enjoyed Carpaccio the one time I’ve tried it.
Conversation over the page also reminded me of my search for the type of fried wontons that were a staple in Chinese restaurants here but not there – I think I eventually found some in Guangdong.
Another mouth watering culinary discovery for me were the different varieties of barbecue – e.g. Brazilian bbq, Xinjiang kao rou etc. I’d never thought much about it, and though things have expanded here since I was young, the popular definition of the Kiwi barbecue remains a fairly conservative incendiary adventure by comparison – at least in the popular imagination.
I miss Korean barbecue restaurants where you get to DIY on gas or charcoal grills built into the dining table itself – adds a neat collective dynamic to the meal as well as being a great source of warmth in winter – thinly sliced meat wrapped in crisp lettuce is divine. The communal engagement of Chinese hotpot varieties has a similar appeal.
One of the strangest things about being back here is how incredibly expensive sweet potato are - Kumara Republic indeed.
To be fair, kumara prices are ridiculously high at the moment. It's typically more like $4-5 a kilo vs the current ~$8.
Korean barbecue restaurants where you get to DIY on gas or charcoal grills built into the dining table itself
represented in Japan by the Anrakutei chain
Thanks for that detail Soon Lee. It still strikes me that there’s something quite off about these prices given kūmara’s comparatively long history in ANZ and the Pacific in one form or another (sweet potato currently sells at about the same price as regular potato in China, 2.5 NZD per kg) – especially given Māori/Pacifika over-representation in poverty metrics.
Obvs demand/supply plays a role but there's a circularity in that. It's difficult to have a conversation about food in NZ without acknowledging the influence the Foodstuffs, Progressive duopoly has on our diets and by extension our health.
well, having lived in Japan for twenty-something years, tori sashimi is not passing my lips anytime soon. neither is basashi (horse-meat sashimi), which is a local delicacy in Nagano prefecture, where i live.
and as for teriyaki chicken sushi... totally a western adaptation (California/NYC/Honolulu, i would guess). there are some non-seafood ingredients used in traditional sushi, but these are mostly vegetable-based. although in Takayama (Gifu), which is famous for Hida-gyu (beef) i had some pretty amazing beef nigiri-zushi (beef cooked rare).
nice article Nik. but as someone born in Auckland in he mid-60s and who grew up there in the 70s and 80s, i feel your view is somewhat Christchurch-centric, unsurprisingly. the Asian influence definitely built up momentum starting in the early 80s when local Chinese with ties to Hong Kong began opening more restaurants and doing very well based on the huge popularity of their takeaway businesses which really did huge turnover from the mid-70s onward. by the time i started university in 1985, there was already a fast-expanding choice of Chinese and other Asian restaurants in Auckland, and they seemed to do pretty well. you need to remember that in the lead-up to the handover of HK in 1997, there was reasonably substantial immigration into Auckland (enough to prompt the nickname "Chowick" in reference to the Chinese community in Howick).
Great topic, and I'll be buying the book when I am back in NZ over the holidays.
In Auckland, there was (and is) always Wah Lee to visit for its fantastic range of mysterious ingredients stuffed from floor to ceiling, from the baskets on the floor to the things hanging from the walls. While the family who own the place have probably been in NZ almost as long as my ancestors, there was that sense of stepping literally into another country and culture when you walked into its doors.
A formative experience I had with Chinese cuisine in the early 80s was at a restaurant in Panmure, of all places. Beef in black bean sauce - tender thin slices, the light but super savoury sauce (nothing like the jarred goop you get in supermarkets), the REAL thing. I still haven't had a better version of that dish, and it began my love affair with fermented soy and what we now know as umami - 13 is a good age to get kids expanding their palates, I think.
Earlier, my mother worked at an Italian restaurant in Milford, called Alberto's. He was a lovely man, and treated my mother, with four kids and a fuckwit adulterous husband, with respect and consideration. Not the routine treatment of a working class woman in the 70s. My mother did have to be educated on who did NOT get the bill presented to them one night, when a set of very large Italian men in wide-lapelled broad-pinstriped dark suit and tie ate and talked for hours and nearly drank the place out of wine. Apparently said gentlemen continued to be regular patrons and no-one went missing, so all ended well.
The drawback was we NEVER got to eat the very trendy Pizza Hut when it hit Auckland's North Shore - even years after mum stopped working at Alberto's, she wouldn't let us eat "that crap". Then there was the time she loaded all of us kids on the bus from Birkenhead to go buy real fresh spinach lasagne sheets from the one deli in Takapuna that stocked them. A multi-hour mission, and pretty damn radical for Irish-descent pakehas in the late 70s. I still highly rate mum's lasagne recipe. And she's right - if you can cook a "white sauce" (now I know the fancy name for it is a bechamel), you can cook pretty much anything.
And a couple more oddies - the Japanese (definitely not Korean-masquerading-as-) restaurant in Wellesley (?) St in the mid-late 80s that did shabu-shabu and sukiyaki at the tables, which also featured hot plates you could cook your own okonomiyaki on for the princely sum of $10. It was fantastic, and ahead of its time (in NZ). And the Japanese lunch bar that did simple school-style four-ingredient takeaway meals - cabbage salad, rice, something stewed or fried for the day, a bit of omelette or fruit. And let us not forget Daikoku Ramen, serving ramen and gyoza to Japanese sailors and surprised passers-by near the wharves, also since the 80s and still trucking mightily along today.
Oh, and the lack of restaurants doing Pacific-style cuisine continues to be a mystery. Even Australians have come up with a concept of "Australian cuisine", with some emphasis on bush ingredients and the like.
There are plenty of bush ingredients in NZ, and surely plenty of Maori/Pasifika techniques that could be brought into play to create something fresh but not gimmicky. What about hangi-style meats that get prepared with bush herbs, or seared and finished off with bush spices, served up in some little (genuine) kono?
My former "dad in law" invented a super speed hangi device out of a 40 gallon drum cut in half, with the top half turned into a basket-holder with a bit of welding and some wire milk trays, the bottom part stacked with volcanic rocks, and a couple of oxy-acetylene torches poked into holes near the bottom to get the rocks up to temperature. Baskets were loaded up in the usual way, topped off with wet cloths and sacks, then the lid (with a few steam vents burned in) fitted back on tightly, and the whole thing done in half the time, tasting exactly the same.
Analyse (or source from Rotorua) the salts that make up the crystal-clear ngawha that's best for cooking sweetcorn. Steam and serve the kernels combined with fresh karengo and fancy cultured butter. Mutton bird slivers with pikopiko, all fushiony with a spiced coconut sauce and diced steamed taro. Fancy Samoan style chow mein. Something spicy with tinned corn beef and rice. All the fish, and a really good oka. A new spin in pineapple pie.
With all the variations on fancy burger and fancy fried chicken around the place, you'd think that someone could come up with interesting regional food at a mid-range price - we can't all eat at Peter Gordon (although I've done it once in London). Although some kind of overtly Pacifika riff on fried chicken would be pretty cool. Coconut instead of buttermilk for marinating? Crushed sugarcane and pineapple glazes?
It is interesting that most of the discussion here has centred around what we eat when we go out in trying to seek a definition of NZ cuisine and talking about the impact ofAsian cuisine.
When he was in NZ recently Jonathan Gold said that New Zealand food "reminds him of British comfort cooking circa 1968". Significantly, the writer of the piece I read that in took that as a mild insult thus showing our insecure cultural cringe dies hard.
But when you think about it what we eat at home or for lunch at work, every day, the meals put in front of families (still largely) by Mums is still pretty much that. We still like our puddings. Many workers grab a pie and a donut from a bakery at lunchtime. NZ is just about the last bastion of domestic baking of cakes and scones and biscuits in the world. Our diet is still built around meat and three vege, pies, roasts, casseroles and the BBQ in the summer. And that isn't bad - we cook things a lot better than they did in 1968 Britain (or 1968 NZ for that matter).
The range of pies (for example) has got wider. Now you can get butter chciken and chilli Thai pies. Casseroles might come in a tangine and be served with couscous but it will still be a kiwi casserole at heart.
NZ cuisine is still basically British modified for our climate and ingredients at its core. I can't see that changing for a long, long time yet. And there is nothing wrong with that.
With all the variations on fancy burger and fancy fried chicken around the place, you’d think that someone could come up with interesting regional food at a mid-range price
Huhu grub burgers - forestry blocks could diversify to have a nursery grub raising area...
and the lack of restaurants doing Pacific-style cuisine continues to be a mystery.
When you consider the culture in which we live where Maori and Pacific culture is treated as primitive. Combined with a culture of requiring chefs to do an OE before we consider them to be "real chefs". And as a final nail the loss of knowledge resulting from decades of suppression.
No I don't think it's a mystery at all.
But it is changing. Pacifica was named Cuisine magazine's restaurant of the year.
I think it will take time for chefs to become knowledgeable and confident enough to include Maori and Pacific influences. Meredith's definitely had that influence at the highest level of fine dining but then again Michael Meredith is a very special chef. That is at the very top (expensive) end but it does give credibility and creates something for young chefs to aspire to.
What I'd love to see is more family level quality places with those styles and no just in Otahuhu. Like Mr Zhou's dumplings but Pacifica and Maori instead of Chinese.
There is Kai Pasifika in Auckland which we've been meaning to visit, and as Bart said, Michael Meredith brings his heritage to his food at the soon-to-be-closed (sadly), Merediths.
"reminds him of British comfort cooking circa 1968"
I kind of agree in that if you squint, it's not entirely wrong. But it misses the bigger picture: NZ food incorporates a much wider diversity of influences.
For me, a key characteristic is that we "borrow" from cuisines and tweak to the local palate, with little regard for culinary boundaries. Like the "Malaysian" place that serves Vietnamese coffee, or any number of pan-Asian fusion eateries around these days. I include the "butter chicken pie" as part of that borrowing & tweaking.
Even at home, what we eat can be diverse (what I cook at home is diverse but I'm probably an outlier). One only has to look at what's available from supermarkets: ingredients from many many cuisines are available, and many items are not segregated to the "international foods" aisle either which suggests to me just how mainstream they have become. Contrast that with what you might see on supermarket shelves in e.g. Italy, where you can get a wide range of ingredients, so long as it is Italian (slight exaggeration).
For those of you with a surfeit of comestibles at this time of year:
Actually i have had chicken sashim in Tokyo and whilst i didnt die or get sick it wasnt so memorable that id go out of my way to try it again
Very belatedly, thank you for the rec! I'll check it out next time I'm in the burg.
And Bart, yes, cultural cringe and embedded racism does account for a lot - good point. I'd hoped we'd be doing better by now.
What a beautiful story and what a great mum !