Island Life by David Slack

Extremely Small and Incredibly Nice

I expect you will find when you sit down for your first dinner in Heaven that whitebait fritters are what God favours for an entrée*. I yield to no man in admiring the taste and discernment of Graham Reid, but I cannot let his casual dismissal of our national treat go unchallenged:

(nope, I still don't get it. It's a just a slightly fishy omelette. Right?)

Yes, and Townes van Zandt just wrote country rhymes with a croaky voice. I don't believe I could come within 100 miles of Mokau without driving the remaining distance to get one of their whitebait fritters. The last time I was there, you could choose from three tearooms. They all proudly declared their whitebait fritter to be the specialty of the house. Special alright. Vast, they are. I have seen space saver wheels on Japanese imports that wouldn't be as large.

Not that quantity is the only thing that matters. If it did, the sorry stodge they slop onto all-too-accommodating plates at the Lone Star "restaurants" would win awards. But a whitebait fritter in Mokau, huge though it might be, is also a delicate and beautiful thing. So fresh do they taste, you know that it can have been scarcely minutes ago that some sturdy Taranaki grandmother was emptying her nets into the bucket and trundling down to the café in her dusty old Bongo van.

You can stand by your car, look out over the cold blue water and take great gulps of the wind that never stops rolling in off the Tasman Sea, or you can go inside, tuck in your napkin, cut yourself a wedge of your whitebait wheel and close your eyes as you bring the fork to your mouth. Whichever way you go about it, your taste buds will be gently teased by the taste of the sea. Don't forget the lemon wedge.

Your whitebait is a subtle understated thing, a sorbet of sorts. I like an anchovy too, but that's all slapper; a meretricious shocker of a bar-crawler. Whitebait is demure Natasha in the corner, conservative skirt and spectacles and library books. Or so you think until she murmurs something to you in a low smoky voice as she passes. The appeal of the whitebait is all in the fleeting sense of the thing, and that will stay with you long, long after the meal is paid for, and you're once more rolling down the impeccably maintained roads of rural Taranaki.

The memory may still be with you after you have crossed several time zones and at least two language barriers. Buy yourself a copy of the Ukraine Observer, and discover that one of our missing million, Mark Wright, declares Ukraine to be "opportunity, opportunity, opportunity." While pursuing the business of his research and marketing firm keeps him busy, the story tells us,

Wright does acknowledge missing a few things about New Zealand, including his children, the All Blacks rugby team and a local delicacy called Whitebait fritters, made from a minute, thread-like transparent fish.

In that order, one hopes. Footy, then fish, then the kids doesn't sound all that good.

Ukraine is a very long way from hearth, home and little ones. One of the Dads in our neighborhood is currently working in Guam for months at a time, and of course this is a navy suburb, so we see parents sail away in Te Mana for half a year or more. So much to be homesick for, including the kids, the chocolate fish and the marmite sandwiches; but so many culinary adventures, too. The world stretches a long way past the golden arches.

I remember only the good: Po'Boys in the Napoleon House in New Orleans; salt and pepper prawns on Lantau Island; a huge plate of pig suffering in Prague. I suspect Juha, on the other hand, will never entirely slough off his cloak of Finnish despondency and pessimism. Last week he devoted a small corner of his blog to a catalogue of culinary calamities.

Japanese curry. Some war crimes are allowed to continue until this day.

Australian pasta/New Zealand "fresh pasta". Dried wallpaper glue for that Mediterranean zing in your kitchen.

Click on over. His photo of wasabi mayonnaise must be seen to be believed

Yesterday morning the poor man, who lives a couple of houses down from me, emailed in anguish about the Sunday morning choir of power tools. The complete and utter lack of consideration is a shock that will never lose its high voltage for Juha. I was on the other side of the bridge at the time, doing God's work bagging Telecom on the wireless, so I could offer him no solidarity. By the time I was back home, there was still some weed whacking going on just under his window. I can understand his distress, but all I can ever offer him is a Soprano shrug of the shoulders. Whaddayagonnado?

Perhaps next time it happens I'll invite him over and break out the whitebait.

* For the main, I'm thinking crayfish or duck. It will largely depend on how much lime is in the Margaritas.