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Feed: Melting pot: A cuisine of immigrants

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  • Russell Brown,

    Most of the restaurants here seemed to base their fare on that of England’s version of curry. This is as much a story of English descendants demanding a particular style of food as it is of Indian cuisine. Restaurants from Auckland to Invercargill had identical menus and served chicken tikka masala, which – even though it hails from the north of England – is one of New Zealand’s favourite curries. This homogenised cuisine does little to reflect the incredibly rich culinary heritage of India or any of its regional or religious culinary ideas.

    But the explosion of immigration is relatively recent and we can see two things happening already. A more diverse range of Indian restaurants is beginning to open, from the fine dining of Cassia in Auckland to the street food of Mumbaiwala in Christchurch. The proliferation of Indian food stores means it is now easier to get the ingredients and required spices. We can already see the influence of Indian cuisine as it is quickly being integrated into home-cooking.

    We also had the New Zealand sausage curry, which typically contained pineapple, apple and/or sultanas. I've wondered whether there's a link to the sweet Cape curry style of South Africa.

    And yes, we're certainly seeing the different Indian regional styles in Auckland, including the hot, dry Hyderbadi ones. But on the other hand, there's the juggernaut which is Paradise in Sandringham, which serves a variety of styles. And the ingredients, even fairly obscure or specific ones, can generally be bought.

    We discussed all this at great length under an earlier Feed post three years ago.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • Tom Semmens,

    The other week I went past two Islander construction workers arguing over the best dumpling shop.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report

  • Tom Semmens,

    As expats in Spain we NZers used to discuss food all the time. We knew our food was different and we really rather missed it, holding the local ingredients inferior in every way (except for the ham) but we couldn’t quite put our finger on what our food was. After all, missing dumplings or a properly fiery Thai chilli dish (the Spanish have the most boring spice palate in this arm of the galaxy) wasn’t NZ cuisine.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report

  • Paul Brown, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    While I agree the Spanish don't have a wide spice palate and certainly don't embrace other countries cuisines, we had some of the best food experiences of our life in four years there. As for local ingredients being inferior, fruit and vegetables from the local Spanish market were way better than in NZ. the tomatoes in particular were off the lip. You are still able to buy ripe fruit there which is something we no longer can do unless you have access to a local orchard shop.
    I also marvelled at the choice and variety of seafood even though being on the Med, a lot of it had travelled a bit. The other good thing it was all labeled with country of origin and whether farmed or ocean caught. Mind you the Spanish being pretty infamous for pillaging the oceans so I am not sure accurate the labelling was. Having the ability to catch your own fish is something we should hold dear.
    The best meals we had were the simplest with the best ingredients, Anchovies, sardines, calamari (not fried) cheese, peppers and the famous Valencian tomatoes.
    As an old man, when I am asked what the biggest changes I have seen in NZ in my lifetime, my first reply is always food. When you talk about meat and 3 veges, it was overcooked as well! As a young man, I still remember an uncle cooking me cabbage, (which I hated) steaming it and adding lemon juice. Wonderful! Another old neighbour cooking rare steak with garlic, unknown at the time. Both gentlemen were gay.
    We sailed off in 76, in a boat we built and caught lots of fish. We used to steam, salt, and pickle the tuna, because we new nothing about sushi or raw fish. What a waste!

    Piha • Since Nov 2006 • 19 posts Report

  • Tom Semmens, in reply to Paul Brown,

    We will have to agree to disagree about the seafood, our kai moana is a million miles better than the stuff I got around the Med. My views are slightly coloured by disgust at the small size of a lot of what is served, and my knowledge that the Spanish fishing industry is right up there with the Chinese when it comes to raping the sea. NZ seafood at least is sustainable-ish, and if it wasn’t for the crony capitalism and semi-corruption (i.e. it isn’t corrupt only because the government is happy to do what the industry wants without the need for bribes) that typifies so much of our primary production sector it would be totally sustainable.

    My mother was taught to cook on coal ranges by her grandmother, so she was an outstanding Edwardian cook – which is to say her cooking was of that splendid high Anglo-Indian (the classic sausage curry is Anglo-Indian, it is a much older dish than the 1950s) influenced colonial style that typified British cuisine up to WW1, and she missed out on the dramatic collapse in the quality, cooking and presentation of British ingredients and food brought about war and economic privation from 1914-54 and whose baleful influence lingered into the 1990s.

    I had forgotten about Spanish tomatoes, they do indeed knock our tasteless and watery offerings out of the park! Big, rich, and tasty – they could (and often were) be a meal in themselves with some salt and bread.

    One of the big shames of food in NZ is indeed the very poor quality of our supermarket fruit and vegetables. I know for example that supermarkets prefer to put out old fruit from storage than fresh as it comes in (growing up in Hawkes Bay I know my pip fruit and getting a decent apple is near impossible from an NZ supermarket, an extraordinary state of affairs if you think about it). Another problem is the centralisation of purchase of fruit and vege – when I was a youngster I used to go with my dad to the very early morning local fruit and vege auctions which was the central buying point for Hawkes Bay. Now, it is all trucked to Palmerston North for auction and distribution by the big chains, then sent back to Napier. A local lettuce grown within 10km of the local Countdown can easily spent 4 days and 500km in travel since cutting before appearing in said supermarket. Such is the logic and casual lunacy of modern capitalism.

    So upon reflection, when I talk about the superiority of local produce I guess what I am really talking about is how in NZ we still have the ability to source a lot of our food direct from the supplier or harvest it ourselves from the wild. One neighbour has an apple and avocado orchard which we can help ourselves to in return for half a sheep at Xmas. We get unpasteurised full cream milk from another neighbour who keeps a half dozen girls,all with real names! We get our cheese direct from the artisan manufacturer in Clive. We grow and slaughter our own beef, lamb, and pork. Our industrious bees give us delicious honey, our eggs are from our flock of free range hens, we have a very large and productive vege garden and we catch our own fish.

    Now I am hungry.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report

  • Nik Mavromatis, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Hi Russell,
    just enjoyed reading your curry story ( im sure many NZ people share this including the UK part !)
    You should do one on the history of the sausage curry ! I remember getting the one with apples and sultanas in it- with precooked sausages. I also remember having to cook "Chinese Mince" at manual classes - this included sultanas, soy sauce etc. These sort of dishes certainly seem to have more of a South African bent than anything resembling China or India
    Cheers Nik

    Waipara • Since Dec 2017 • 5 posts Report

  • Nik Mavromatis, in reply to Paul Brown,

    Thanks Paul,
    I remember going to Horotane Valley ( just outside of Christchurch ) as a child and queuing to get ripe tomatoes,apricots, peaches etc. As food options have increased and time poverty rises we seem to have slipped into accepting whatever vegetables and fruit are available rather than what tastes good.
    In my one and only trip to Spain i marvelled at the beautiful fruit and vegetables- although would say that our meat and seafood are better ( we just need to handle them as well as the Spanish ).
    However as I try to point out in the article - it is the immigrants here that offer us such an array of flavours and our culture is open to embrace them . I remember going to a restaurant in Turin that served Chinese,Japanese, Thai and Indian cuisine (none of them done well).
    There is no way the average Spaniard, Italian, French or Greek person etc would be open to the idea of trying a curry for the first time. Same would apply in India im sure to trying a Japanese dish. We are each a product of our food culture.
    What we do need to do here is to embrace what is uniquely from New Zealand and incorporate that into our melting pot cuisine
    Cheers Nik

    Waipara • Since Dec 2017 • 5 posts Report

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Nik Mavromatis,

    What we do need to do here is to embrace what is uniquely from New Zealand and incorporate that into our melting pot cuisine

    Those Black Robin egg omelettes are gonna be pricey!!
    :-- )

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report

  • Gareth,

    One observation on curries in New Zealand: when we arrived here 21 years ago, there were very few Indian restaurants in ChCh. The best we found was run by a Fijian Indian family, and to someone accustomed to the standard British curry menu (which is rooted in Bangladesh, cf Rick Stein's India), their food was... odd. Delicious, but odd. They told me that most Indian chefs of the time were from Fiji.

    Over the next 10 years, there was an explosion in the number of Indian restaurants, but this time the chefs actually came from India. Again, the food was often delicious - and arguably more authentic than Brit curry - but it didn't take them long to work out that a good proportion of their customers were either UK expats or NZrs who cut their curry teeth in Britain, and so their menus evolved more towards the British/Bangladeshi norm.

    One dish that never made the trip was the one I ate the most in my earlier life: chicken dhansak. This - in its Brit curry form - is basically tarka dhall with chicken, sweetened and soured a bit. Proper sub-continental dhansak is a lot more complex, but you know, you likes what you know, and I'm pleased to report that the chef at the Curry'n'Kebabs in Amberley is now producing a rather good off-menu version. You'll have to try it, Nik... ;-)

    Bucolic in the backblocks… • Since Jan 2008 • 269 posts Report

  • Gareth, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    Re Spain: I had the best seafood meal of my life at Rafa's in Roses (on the Med coast north of Gerona) last year. I have never had the equal in NZ. Our seafood is generally of high quality, I'll agree, but nowhere can you find the sheer range of fish and shellfish served so fresh and so simply as at that place. Simple grilled fish is all he does. A bit of lemon and a salad (the latter only if you ask nicely) to go with it. Lots of good wine. Rafa's idea of dessert its to bring out a tray of oysters. He serves only what has been landed in the harbour that day.

    Our fish has to go through an approved processing chain before we can buy it. The only way you can match that freshness here is to go out on a boat and catch your own - or eat at a restaurant which has good suppliers.

    What sets the Spanish/Med apart from our food culture is that local markets (rather than supermarkets) are very important. Educated consumers who expect the best, and by and large get it. We need more of that here.

    Bucolic in the backblocks… • Since Jan 2008 • 269 posts Report

  • Nik Mavromatis, in reply to Gareth,

    Sheesh Gareth ! Cant believe you bothered to read my journalistic scratchings ! It was incredibly hard to fit everything i wanted to in that chapter length. I wanted to do pages on my experiences eating Chinese food in New Zealand. Going to Chans International Diner in Lyttelton in 1984 and getting buttered white bread cut into triangles with everything... Buying salted black beans from Hop Yick Cheong ( with illicit fireworks )....
    Maybe i should do a book - think i can hear editor Emma screaming somewhere !

    Waipara • Since Dec 2017 • 5 posts Report

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Nik Mavromatis,

    Hop Yick Cheong

    A nice image from a vanished time.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report

  • Bart Janssen,

    Lovely article and a very good teaser to a book that I'm sure will find it's way onto our shelves.

    We interact with overseas scientists a lot, many of whom are foodies like us. We often get asked what is New Zealand's cuisine, the answer of course is that we don't have one but we have them all - blended fantastically. For example in two weeks we'll be taking a colleague from Florida to a peruvian/japanese restaurant and we were tossing up between that and Indian or modern kiwi (whatever that is).

    I love the fact that chefs will take influences from all over the world and let their own skill guide them in creating great dishes, the result is there are some truly fantastic meals to be had here at all price ranges.

    Oh and as a side note your number on the Dutch immigrants is wrong. My mother came over on a flying boat very early to work in the embassy helping the new immigrants settle, sadly I don't think she remembers any of that any more. 1951-54 saw 10000 dutch arrive and about 30000 came in that post war period. But I can't say with much confidence that they improved the cuisine here :).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report

  • poffa,


    Shan food. Not really on topic but this was so delicious and easy I want to share. The long egg plant slowly bbqed whole till it bursts open, served on the skin with a bit of oil, chillie flakes and coriander.

    auckland • Since Jun 2007 • 31 posts Report

  • mark taslov,

    Very interesting article. I was reminded of my fruitless 10 year+ long search for chicken (teriyaki) sushi in China, I'd assumed it would be standard fare having developed a taste for it here.

    Google hasn’t been very helpful wrt its origin, other imported varieties such as Boston and California rolls were popular enough there – I’ve never visited Japan so I’ve no idea about whether it’s a Chinese omission or western fusion or… (?) I’m curious to find out, if anyone can shed light.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report

  • Soon Lee, in reply to mark taslov,

    Given that teriyaki & sushi are Japanese, it doesn't much surprise me that you didn't have much luck finding chicken teriyaki sushi in China...

    (Or is this some joke I'm not getting?)

    Auckland • Since Apr 2013 • 145 posts Report

  • mark taslov,

    Sorry if that was unclear Soon Lee, it’s no joke. Metropolitan centres tend to have a number of sushi bars/ Japanese restaurants. Japanese cuisine is the most popular foreign food among Chinese consumers, just no chicken sushi.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report

  • Soon Lee,

    I enjoyed reading this. Thanks Nik.

    I think that the identifying marker of New Zealand cuisine is its relative lack of tradition. Even the (relatively few) foods that people name when asked to provide examples of Kiwi Cuisine aren't exactly novel. Meat & three veg, bacon buttie, fish & chips, pavlova all have foreign origins (well, maybe not pavlova). Hangi might be the closest thing we have to Kiwi Cuisine?

    The newness is both a strength & weakness: we can (and do) freely borrow/steal from every other cuisine to make it our own. Before the 1990s sushi was almost unheard of but today, it has become ubiquitous. But it can also take us down some less desirable paths, like slathering sweet chilli sauce on and declaring whatever the resulting plate of food is to be a "fusion" dish. *shudders*

    We are not much (if at all) restrained by culinary traditions so have the freedom to innovate, producing e.g. Kiwified versions of Spanish or Italian classics no self-respecting Spanish or Italian cook would accept as "the real thing" yet still tastes pretty good. So long as they are not sold as "authentic" I'm not too fussed.

    The early Chinese settlers may not have served up authentic Chinese food to their customers, but that didn't stop them exporting exotic ingredients such as woodear back to China from as early as the 1870s exporting exotic ingredients such as woodear back to China from as early as the 1870.

    One of the features of your article that I am curious about: given we have significant numbers of Kiwis with Greek heritage, why is it so hard to find a proper Greek restaurant in Auckland?

    Auckland • Since Apr 2013 • 145 posts Report

  • Soon Lee, in reply to mark taslov,

    Ah, ok. The Wikipedia article suggests that it's mostly fish that is given the teriyaki treatment in Japan, and other meats like chicken is more a western thing. So if sushi found its way into China via Japan rather than from a western country, that could be an explanation?

    Auckland • Since Apr 2013 • 145 posts Report

  • mark taslov, in reply to Soon Lee,

    That’s been my assumption. The localisation of other western variants indicates there’s been some adoption from beyond Asia, but they could also have come via Japan. I was wondering if Linger might have any idea.

    I should apologise to Nik, I didn’t intend to derail the topic from NZ. I’m intrigued about the origin story of chicken sushi, given its popularity – and role as cross-cultural icebreaker (mentioned in the Herald article above), I guess also because that’s the first sushi I tried.

    That wood-ear history is fascinating, I’d likewise like to know about the lack of availability of Greek food here.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report

  • linger, in reply to mark taslov,

    Egg-based sushi dishes are commonplace, so it shouldn’t really be that much of an extension, but still I haven’t seen chicken sushi in Japan at all. With the striking exception of the aforementioned egg dish, the entire point of sushi is for the fish to be fresh and raw, which is maybe not the strongest marketing point for chicken or pork dishes (hence yakitori, yakiton instead).

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    But I can't say with much confidence that they improved the cuisine here :).

    Does Gouda cheese count?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5446 posts Report

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Soon Lee,

    The newness is both a strength & weakness: we can (and do) freely borrow/steal from every other cuisine to make it our own. Before the 1990s sushi was almost unheard of but today, it has become ubiquitous. But it can also take us down some less desirable paths, like slathering sweet chilli sauce on and declaring whatever the resulting plate of food is to be a "fusion" dish. *shudders*

    Mind you, the Aussies have asked themselves the same "culinary cringe" questions from time to time.




    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5446 posts Report

  • Soon Lee, in reply to linger,

    Apparently torisashi a.k.a. chicken sashimi is a thing in Japan. That's a nope from me.

    Auckland • Since Apr 2013 • 145 posts Report

  • mark taslov,

    nope from me also.

    Thanks for that info Linger.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report

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