Saturday, December 3, 2011

Eating My Way Across New Zealand

When I visit other countries, I love to look at their grocery stores or small markets. The way other places package food is always intriguing:

The putting-together of flavors that one might not expect:

Even the names of things differs ("caster" sugar is what we call "superfine" here in the United States):

But the best part, by far, is eating in foreign countries! I love getting a sense for what's different, what's comfortingly the same. Haute cuisine or street food, it's all wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that I came back from New Zealand with five extra pounds on me! The extra baggage was worth it, because the food and wine were terrific.

Here are some of my favorite food and beverage highlights:

Sheep outnumber people in New Zealand by about 7-to-1, or 9-to-1, depending on the source you consult. So, naturally, lamb dishes abound. We enjoyed lamb in a Thai salad:
...on a Ciabatta-like bread with excellent French Fries:

...and in succulent chops:

With so much coastline, the country also excels in fish dishes. We had salmon:

Ahi tuna:

Sea bass, I think?:

I don't eat shellfish, but my table mates did:
This was my appetizer one night--a perfectly cooked piece of Blue Cod. (I picked off the one shrimp and handed it to a friend):
I apologize for the unappetizing colors of this photo, below--it was shot in very low light next to a crackling fire. The fish was a new one to me--"gurnard"--deliciously mild and firm. The yummy sauce for it was served in a cleaned-out mussel shell. The sauce was so good, I asked for seconds!
New Zealand's food has many British references. In a little food emporium, we were swept away by the intoxicating aroma of chutney being jarred in the tiny kitchen:

Brit-style chops and wonderful roast chicken are easy to find:
Luckily for a greens-loving L.A. gal like me, Kiwi restaurants have lots of salads, filled with a variety of fresh, lively ingredients:

I encountered excellent vegetarian quiches:
And many sweet potato dishes, from soups... these unusual sweet-potato balls, served as an appetizer. "Kumara," which is the Maori word for "sweet potato," pops up a lot in New Zealand cuisine.

Of course, the British influence in Kiwi cuisine shows up in the ever-present tea. Thank goodness for afternoon tea! I enjoyed it in a girly-girly tea shop, served with Devon cream, scones, and jam:
I found things for tea every place we stayed, from posh resort to the humblest of motels. Even in the New Zealand version of Motel 6, upon checking in, we were asked if we wanted a little bottle of "full" or "trim" milk to take back to our room:
High in a mountain pass, our hiking group slogged through the rain, and we were delighted when we were ushered into a tidy little two-room shack and introduced to "Gumboot Tea"--strong, black tea served straight up. Marvelous for chasing away the chills:

We had tea on the beach while waiting for penguins to show up:

And I had tea all by myself in the beautiful Lake Moeraki Lodge overlooking a river, where my company was two gorgeous white-quartz stones I picked up from a beach:
One night The Hubby and I ate at a very swanky restaurant in Blenheim--you know the kind, with dramatic lighting, sweeping glass windows, and verrrry modern furnishings? I was tickled to see that off in an alcove was a trove of grandmothery teacups and saucers:
Because they do tea every afternoon. Adorable.

Kiwis are awful at one thing: drip coffee. Seriously, I don't think I got a single good cup of drip coffee the whole time I was there--not in the cities or the country, not from a fancy hotel or from a snack bar.

But they do barrista-style drinks beautifully! Almost every restaurant--from sandwich shop to steak house--has a machine like this behind the counter, churning out delicious coffee drinks:
I learned to order a "Flat White," which is basically a latte with less foam than usual:

For some reason, almost every town of any size--and certainly every city--has a sweets shop selling fudge and something hideous-looking called "Lolly Cake." It seems to be a log of fudge studded with colored marshmallows, then cut in slices:
We stayed clear of that and confined ourselves to one small square of Creme Brulee-flavored fudge, which was spectacular:
New Zealand is famous for its wines, especially its white wines. We had fun doing several wine tastings:
In the middle of one wine area was a small chocolate factory and gift shop. The chocolates were made entirely by hand, and they looked so beautiful through the viewing window:

Interestingly enough, they'd never heard of Salted Caramels. The ladies in the gift shop were intrigued; maybe they'll get the word to the chef to add them to the lineup?
Several times we encountered "Hokey Pokey." It seems to be Kiwi for "caramel," but I'm not sure....

In all but the very swankiest restaurants, our silverware was rolled tightly in a paper napkin, like this:

And water was put down without our asking for it (yay!), usually out of a glass bottle, like these:

 At one winery, we were served the most attractive food of the entire trip. The dish was called something like "the winery platter," and it had the most intriguing, colorful, varied bits of yumminess all crowded together on a big, white china platter. One platter fed two people:

There were pickled vegetables and herbed almonds:

Cold, marinated carrots:

Goat cheese with Balsamic reduction. Sun-dried tomatoes. Fresh dill. Cold, poached salmon:

Black olives, Kalamata olives, pickled onions, cornichons, and that black thing in the middle is--believe it or not--a whole, pickled walnut. I was skeptical, but it was delicious! Tender and moist, it tasted a bit like a black olive:

Of course the best part of a meal for me is dessert, and here are some of my favorites from the trip. Fresh, hot muffins baked in folded papers, from a little train station in Springfield:

Quenelles of vanilla cream alongside a cake in a pool of caramel:
 Several versions of Sticky Toffee Pudding:

The most magnificent strawberries and cream I've ever eaten:

A simple dish of vanilla ice cream, enhanced by a delicate rectangle of praline, thin as glass:

This was a mashup of several nights' desserts, creatively reinvented by the chef of the hotel where we stayed near Fox Glacier. He/she took leftover brownies and layered them together with raspberry jelly, whipped cream, and vanilla ice cream to make a sinful Trifle:

A chocolate mousse:

Out on the trail, dessert was often just a humble bar cookie. But oh! were they good. This one featured coconut flakes, chopped bits of dried apricot, and sunflower seeds:

And at the end of a long, hard hike, this is a beautiful sight:
There's nothing quite like watching a turquoise river tumble past green meadows dotted with happy cows while nursing a cold drink...
...with your toes in the cool water:

Because when this is your backdrop...

...everything tastes unbelievably wonderful.

1 comment:

  1. I'm almost speechless--except I seldom am, so let me just say WOW! I'm surprised you only gained five pounds (thanks goodness for all that hiking). I think I gained five pounds just looking at your pictures. So enjoying your trip!




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