Island Life by David Slack

You Won't Get This On Food In A Mnute

I believe you should try to do at least one new thing each year. This year I'm going to get around to trying some muttonbird.

Our friend Adrian puts it this way: Think about it. You've got these little chicks hidden away in a secret nest in a little hole on the side of a cliff, just sitting there getting fat. Each day their parents come flying back from the southern ocean and fill them up with omega three oil from the fish they've digested. By the time the harvest season comes, those chicks are actually fatter than their parents. They haven't moved, and they're just loaded with Omega 3.

I know that elsewhere in the world they like to market tuna as the Chicken of the Sea, which is just too confusing for some people, but actually, I like the notion: chicken that actually tastes like fish.

If you're a bit brave about your eating, you can have all kinds of surprisingly good experiences.

A few years ago in Hong Kong our friend John got a bit disgruntled with us when we wouldn't try some food at a little stall in a dusty market on one of the islands. We saw cracked bowls and hepatitis, he saw the food. Okay, but I think you guys are missing out on an experience, he said, as he tucked in. He suffered no ill-effects. He also declared it to be one of the best meals he'd ever had. He would say that, of course, but I suspect we actually did miss out on a treat.

In my life I have also passed on eating snake, mountain oysters, eyeballs and probably a few others that an analyst may one day find under a blanket in the repressed memory corner of my brain. If you grow up on a sheep farm, your week starts well with a Sunday roast, but as you work your way through the animal, the standard drops a little bit each day. The low point comes at Saturday lunch time when you ask yourself which treat you're in for today: Liver? Brains? Tongue? Tripe? You tell that to the kids today and they won't believe you.

Sorry, I've made you lose your appetite. Let's get back to the mutton bird.

There's more than one right way and plenty of wrong ways to prepare any kind of meal, and I think the poor old Titi's come to grief in more than a few kitchens. My Mum says that on the day Dad came to pick her up from the maternity home along with yours truly, he was in an expansive frame of mind.

So when he spotted a sign in the fish shop window offering muttonbirds he said: I've heard they're good. Let's try one. Home they came with a nine pound baby boy and a muttonbird that for all I know may have weighed more. Mum got to cook it. She said it smelled appalling, and that things didn't get any better when they sat down to eat it.

Every other muttonbird story I've heard has been a variation on that theme, accompanied by the helpful advice: You don't want to try them, mate.

Well, I do want to try them. Adrian's promised he'll prepare them for us some time, and we're on.

Adrian thinks that if it's presented to people in the right way it could become a true delicacy. Forget about Mike Moore's lamburgers; think what the Russians have done with salted roe of sturgeon. Maybe the people who do the harvesting could talk to the people at 42 Below about getting the buzz going. I do see one guy here is doing his bit to help.

According to,

The nightly homecoming of countless numbers of these birds on bird islands of southern New Zealand has been described as one of the marvels of the world. An observer seated on shore will notice before 9pm in mid-summer the birds collecting in hundreds on the water off shore. Soon they will rise and begin to circle the island or the area containing their burrows in their thousands. As one watches a thud is heard followed by a soft rustle. The first bird has arrived to be followed by countless numbers.

If you're a herbivore, you'll be picturing the beauty of that moment, but if you're a carnivore, admit it, isn't there a little bit of Homer in you that's saying Mmm. Chicken.

I could be wrong. Still it's just a thought, and I do recall that a marketing approach along those lines worked for the butcher ship in Willis St that put a sign in the window about the time Watership Down was in the movie theaters and the law on selling rabbit meat had changed.

It said: You've read the book. You've seen the movie. Now eat the cast.

Bon appetit.