One thing about being an expat, especially someone who has lived in multiple different cities and countries, is that there’s always something to miss. People, places, languages, culture, but most importantly, food. Depending where I am and my mood, I might be missing the delicious raspberry financiers from my favourite bakery in Tours, Galaxy Counters from the UK, chocolates from Belgium, and a whole host of things from New Zealand. Wandering the aisles of any large supermarket in Europe, you can generally come across at least some of the home treats you’re craving, with the sad exception of anything particularly New Zealandish, which is not big enough of a player to feature in a Brussels supermarket. Hence I came to New Zealand armed with a long (mental) list of things I had to cram in my belly before we left again, a list that just seems to get longer every time I walk into a supermarket or café.
But… and here’s the rub - what percentage of the longings is mere nostalgia, and what is based on sheer deliciousness? On a podcast I listen to sometimes, comedian Richard Herring asks “Kettle chips used to taste a lot better - have I changed, or have they?” This is a question I have had occasion to ask myself over the past few days.
If you don’t care about New Zealand classic cuisine of my youth, which you probably don’t, you can bail now. Or, if you’re curious, join me on a journey of culinary (re)discovery. And try not to judge.
|"Blow before you bite"|
Ah, Georgie Pie. Back in the heady days of the 80s and 90s (and 70s, apparently, but I wasn’t around to see it), New Zealand had its own brave fleet of meat pie-based fast food restaurants. It was cruelly crushed by McDonalds, who bought the chain out and closed all its branches. In my absence, McDonalds has brought back the brand, only as a menu item at its normal outlets. I went for a standard mince and cheese, my pie of choice in all circumstances (and one, weirdly enough, they seem not to have in the UK). The crust and oozing yellow liquid cheese were much as I remembered, but the “meat” filling had a disturbing texture, or to be precise, lack of texture, as if someone had pre-chewed the filling and spat it back into the pastry shell. It didn’t taste too bad, but the texture ruined this one for me.
Now here is an unqualified success. I had thought that Buzz Bars were no more, since I had asked my mum to bring some over to Europe for me and she told me they weren’t making them anymore. Lies, foul lies and deception! This delicious, thin marshmallow bar covered with honey and a chocolate coating is still going strong and is just as good as I remember. Jules is also now lamentably addicted.
I’m not a huge eater of biscuits, but I’ll always find a little corner for this Kiwi baking classic. Afghans are made with crushed cornflakes and no rising agent, so they have a slightly crunchy, grainy texture which remind me a bit of a French sablon, except way better, obviously. I tried to make a batch one year for Anzac Day, but as with all my attempts at baking in Europe using NZ recipes, it failed, spreading into one giant, crispy burnt mess. Apparently the grade of flour used in Europe is different, or I just suck.
|My sad attempt|
Jules (and my Mum - strike two) insisted afghans have the texture of cardboard, but they are wrong.
Another Kiwi dessert treat that did not go down too well with Jules. Basically just a square of sponge cake covered in a mysterious layer of chocolate or raspberry then rolled in coconut (and sometimes filled with whipped cream and a blob of jam). They can be dry, as with all sponge cakes, but the mini one I had was a goodie. According to Wikipedia, they are also popular in Cleveland, where they are called coconut bars, which seems odd. Can anyone confirm?
Fish and chips
|(Greasy) fish and chips on the beach at Tairua|
NZ fish and chips are the best in the world. Forget that greasy, weirdly battered junk you get in the UK and come to NZ for the good stuff. So far we’ve had snapper and terakihi, which were both firm and flakey and white, just as they should be, covered in a batter which it’s hard to describe without sounding gross, so you’ll just have to believe me that a crispy outside hiding a thick layer of creamy white fat is the only way to go. And delicious fluffy chips, as good as any I’ve had in Belgium. (Did you see Angela Merkel at the famous Brussels friterie Maison Antoine last week? Better than those.)
I’m aware this list is full of horrible junk food, just bear in mind what I said about not judging, and also that it’s the first time in over 6 years I’ve had most of this stuff. Cadbury also has a large presence in New Zealand, with more varieties available than in its UK home, but Whitakers is the true local player. When I was a kid, they only made the deliciously chunky bars of Peanut Slab and Almond Gold, but they now make a full range of chocolate blocks. We’ve only had Coconut Rough so far, but we’ll be back for more. Definitely on the “still good” list.
Jelly Tip icecream
I’ll admit to being biased here. I had already read complaints online that Jelly Tip - literally a tip of raspberry jelly (Jello) on a vanilla icecream, covered with chocolate, wasn’t what it used to be. So I was perhaps primed to be disappointed. But I found the jelly a pallid imitation of what it used to be, colour-wise, and also not as flavourful as I remembered. The crisp chocolate shell still had the weird mouthfeel of compound chocolate, which I like, but which probably is a nostalgia thing.
Lisa’s hummus (etc.)
At home, I normally make my own hummus, but here the Lisa’s range is hard to beat, especially because she has such a wide range of delicious hummus (beetroot! basil! caramelised onion!) and other dips (the aubergine and cashew and spinach and feta are especially to die for). These on toast have been my regular breakfast food so far. Definitely in the good list.
This was one of the treats at our family BBQ on the weekend. Take a can of reduced cream (like the stuff you see in Europe, but unsweetened, which I can never find), mix in a packet of dry onion soup mix, and chill. I think you maybe do this in the US too, but for me it’s always been a quintessentially Kiwi party food. Dangerously addictive.
Oh, Marmite, you dark seductress. It shouldn’t really be on this list, since I have some in the cupboard back in Brussels, and I haven’t actually eaten any here yet (I bought six large jars to ship home though), but I couldn’t write about New Zealand food without including everyone’s favourite yeast extract. Salty and delicious, and nothing like the abominations of English Marmite or horrible Australian Vegemite. My one true love.