( Travels in the South Island of New Zealand, continued; see previous Mussel post, if interested, for a more information about our itinerary.)
Plucked from the ocean seafoods, meats and game (they farm deer as we farm beef), artisan cheeses and yogurts, orchard stacked upon orchard, and top-drawer wines – we haven’t lacked for a delicious meal, whether cooking in or dining out; soothing antidotes following days of hiking, biking & kayaking.
The New Zealand grocery stores we’ve been shopping in are fairly Westernized; less like one of those timeless fresh markets dotting the Mediterranean, and more like one of our Whole Foods crossed with a generic grocery chain.
Much of the New Zealand food basket is now exported to China. The good news is the sheer volume of refrigerated square footage in town groceries given to local fare – and what a plethora of riches is to be had, particularly those Green Lips down Aisle 3.
From my limited observations and particular point of view, Kiwis seems deep into the process of defining a unique culinary tradition reflecting their citizenry and culture.
The Asian, Middle Eastern and Western European countries I’ve travelled have such marvelous signature dishes rooted into their landscape, reflecting centuries of refining and reinventing available foods and spices. And during this time, while all of these delectable recipes were being brought to the table, New Zealand was the sole province of an exotic array of birds – that is until Polynesians (the Maoris) began settling the shores killing off most of the native species.
And then came the Brits, claiming New Zealand as a crown colony towards the middle of the 19th century. Locals have told me the ensuing food served on the South Island was really quite dreadful until the late sixties. Chuckling over the described pub fare, and some of those dishes Mum brought to the table – environmental concerns aside, I imagine the natives with their spitted birds and exotic fruits ate better.
But when more kiwis began traveling abroad, they brought home a new attention to their own horizon’s possibilites. They began re-thinking how they prepared their enviable diversity of produce, grape varietals, fish, lamb and beef in their own backyard – particularly creative juices spent in the Nelson region.
Judging from the excellent restaurants, road-side food carts, food network types of shows, and the glossy culinary magazines I’ve been perusing, it’s clear that New Zealanders are giving serious thought to their own stylized Kiwi brand of cuisine, fusing Indian, Asian and tropical flavors into their rich, abundant local fare.
The British stamp, however, remains entrenched into the landscape – those ubiquitous kiwi suppers (think lamb shank, mashed potatoes and peas drowning in gravy), fish and chips and meat pies are available at every “take-away”. But even their comfort foods are being reinvented with flair and finesse.
As we crawl north up the western coast, my quest for mussels hasn’t dimmed from my last post; in fact, I reached the pinnacle of mussel euphoria in Havelock, closely followed by a plate of beautifully constructed, delicately smoked mussels in the Marlborough Sounds.
But I digress. The following is a simple dinner I made with ingredients purchased at a local store that can be found at any decent USA grocery.
I certainly appreciate being surrounded by granite with a 6-burner Viking and cupboard full of condiments, but when cooking in very basic, minimally stocked “kitchenettes”, I make do with what’s available. I always tote a good olive oil around, but was happy to discover the cottage we were renting had a bit of (low smoke) grape seed oil for searing the chops.
Richard and I had the luck to pick the right winter to escape the Michigan landscape; I worry about friends and kids and all of you traversing the snow & ice, and am relieved to read there’s a warm-up coming soon. Our blessed neighbor has been tending our house and just sent a picture – it looks like an igloo! This is surely a surreal, beautiful landscape to travel, but we’ve been away a long time with crummy WIFI and communication channels; we miss our family, friends and Ann Arbor.
Here are a few additional pics I’ve been snapping during our journey. (Recipe follows.)