This October my adventures took me to the picturesque and isolated island nation of New Zealand. I spent most of my time in the North Island region of the Coromandel Coast, and I came acorss many delicious and fresh dishes I can't wait to share with you.
I was spoiled with fresh ingredients in home-cooked dishes from the South Pacific. New Zealand has a unique climate that allows for almost anything and everything to grow year round. That is what makes New Zealand food so hard to beat: food that is home grown, and handpicked from the garden, forests and the sea.
When I first arrived in New Zealand I came with little knowledge of their food or culture. I expected Hobbit country, Middle Earth and lamb. That’s it. But my eyes were opened to the wide world of fresh seafood and British inspired Australasian delicacies that can’t be found anywhere else.
I stayed with long lost relatives, Sue and Michael who introduced me to many a traditional New Zealand dish. My first taste of New Zealand came at the airport. I arrived just in time for breakfast, a Long Black, a shot of espresso and mince on toast. This is a typical and popular breakfast for people in the area known as Kiwis.
Later that day at tea, we had some delicious ham slices, pineapple and cheese toasties, with a glass of New Zealand red of course.
For dinner we took advantage of the beautiful, quiet spring climate at the beach and had a picnic of fresh fruits, veggies and fish. The majority of which are New Zealand grown and some within Sue and Michael's own garden.
We had many a beach picnic site, forestland other natural and cultural sites to ourselves which made the experience even more magical. With empty beaches and coastal forests, this beautiful land would be swarmed by tourists in America or Europe. I guess that’s why New Zealand is known as “God’s Zone”. The serene and majestic beauty of the natural and protected landscape calls for a sparsely popoulated region of the kind of people who respect and understand the land and the sea.
Where the forrest meets the coast, that's what New Zealand is known for.
Off to set up our beach picnic
Our view during our picnic
Whangamata (pronounced: Fangamata) Beach provided a ton of mussels, oysters, cockles and other shellfish ripe for the cooking. But, where there’s fish, there are birds, lots of them! We had our work cut out for us, but shared and shared alike with the local seagulls, and the endangered dotterals who make their home here in Whangamata.
While we ate our fair share of fresh fish, we also took part in some much anticipated lamb roast dinners as a family. With braised and baked onions, swede, cauliflowers and broccoli in cheese sauce, and of course mint jelly and gravy for the lamb. These flavors reminded me of all those comforting Sunday roasts at my grandmother's house in Britain.
Guy Fawkes night, November 5, is a widely celebrated holiday amongst British and Colonial cultures. In New Zealand it is celebrated with a classic beach BBQ of lamb koftas, sauagses, chicken, and veggies. We made ourselves comfortable on the scenic coast and settled in for an evening of this delicious food and fireworks.
While we ate many home cooked meals, we did have a favorite local restaurant - the Lincoln known for their fresh seafood dinners and chocolate mousses. The Lazy Lizard across the street does a pretty mean brunch as well, their salmon eggs benedict was superb.
The British food influence continued to rear it head in yet another excursion and a trip to Hobbition, the setting for the Lord of the Rings movies. This trip resulted in the best steak and ale pies that we had ever tasted and a fresh pint of locally brewed ale at the Green Dragon pub.
As my journey came to a close and I made my way back to the hustle and bustle of New York City, I couldn’t help but daydream about the magical sound of Tui birds chirping, waves crashing, breakfast sizzling, and no traffic, people, or other industrial noises that we New Yorkers hear on a daily basis.
Now that I am back in “civilization” I find myself journeying to my happy place, my God’s Zone, where a person can be self-sufficient and where nature is endless. This magical island holds no predators and invites you to traverse with great awe and respect, for you know that this pristine land is the rarest on earth and can never be recreated.
The Maoris and local Kiwis know how lucky they are and show the land they call home undying respect through their culture, laws and sustainably caught and gathered food. Upon visiting and observing the island's beauty, I quickly learned to do the same. I hope to return someday very soon and eat my way down the South Island next time. Until then here is a local mussel fritter recipe I plan to eat any time I want to be transported back.
Michael's Homemade New Zealand Mussel Fritters
1lb cleaned, de-bearded mussels
1 stick of butter
4 tbsp flour
1/2 chopped onion
1/2 tsp of salt and pepper
- Chop the mussels into small chunks (or pulse finely in a food processor). Place the chopped mussels in a medium bowl and add the onion, salt and pepper then stir.
- Add the flour to the mussel mixture one tbsp at a time and add 4 tbsp of softened butter one at a time as well.
- Add the eggs and mix the ingredients together until a cake-batter consistency forms.
- Once mixed, make palm sized individual cakes.
- Heat a frying pan on medium-high heat. Place the remaining butter into the frying pan until melted.
- Add the cakes to the frying pan one at a time, do not over-crowd the pan.
- Let the cakes cook about 2-3 minutes per side or until golden brown all around.
- Serve with tartar sauce, cocktail sauce and enjoy with an ice cold beer.