Posted by: thezedword | October 12, 2008

Kiwi cuisine

First and foremost, the best thing about the food here is that there’s no tipping. You walk up to a counter or bar, order, they serve you there and bring you your food. If the menu says seven bucks, the food is seven bucks. It’s easy on the finances and mathematically challenged.

Moving on.

Yummy!

Yummy!

True to stereotype, lamb is very popular here. There’s something like ten times the number of lamb as people. So, it’s no surprise that Subway serves lamb subs as one of its “Kiwi Favourites”. Turkey is altogether absent here and in its place on the shelves of New World, the Publix of New Zealand, you’ll find lamb roast, lamp chops, rack of lamb and many, many more cuts. They even use the testicles as pizza toppings.

I’m not sure if they have mince, or ground, lamb. Mince beef and chicken is available and a popular dish is mince pie. It’s a ground beef pie and if you buy a frozen one at New World, DO NOT follow the directions on the box and put egg on the top. It will come out looking like the ugliest, least appetizing pie on either side of the world.

Down the street from the Wellington’s larger New World on Wakefield Street, a red-and-white Circa Theatre overlooks the harbor. You can stop in there for a show, a cuppa, or a light snack, usually in the form of a tasty pastry or a slice of chicken and mushroom pie. Our first Sunday, Stacy and I stopped in for some coffee. The girl at the front desk asked me what kind of coffee we wanted and, unsure of what the names for everything here are, I just kind of stared at her blankly.

“I’ll just make you an Americano,” she said.

“Is that what you call the bad coffee?”

“Well, people usually just order a flat white. It’s just your basic coffee without any foam,” she said.

That day, we settled with Americanos. (I failed the coffee test a few days later when I tried to sound like a local and ordered a “white flat”.) We went to the back room and looked out at the harbor, enjoyed the spring-like weather (it was still winter for a few more days). On many of the tables here at coffee houses, they have little metal jars that you open with raw sugar inside. Sometimes there’s little sugar packets with refined sugar, never any sweetener. Kiwis don’t mess with that stuff. There is an art to coffee here, though. The foam isn’t just poured on the top all willy nilly like at Starbucks. Instead, baristas take care to make designs in the foam that look like leaves or that boob-looking-thing a flashlight makes when you shine it on the ceiling.

The Mr. Bun's on Cuba Mall. There are Mr. Buns all around. And for some reason they're only staffed by Asians.

Mr. Bun's on Cuba Street. There are plenty around town, some of which only specialize in fried chicken. For some reason, their staff is completely and solely Asians.

Walk into any of the numerous Wholly Bagels around town before 11 in the morning and you can get a bagel and coffee for $5. Stacy and I go to the one on Willis Street, just around the corner from our flat Wednesdays because not only can we get the bagel deal, we can also snatch the job section that runs each week on that day. Despite the NZ dollar being weaker than the American, lots of things, including food, are adjusted to take this into account. Over at Mr. Buns on Courtenay Place, French toast topped with bananas and big, fat, round  bacon costs $10.50 a plate. Get two of those and a fresh squeezed O.J, breakfast will run you $24.50. Needless to say, a $5 breakfast is awfully enticing, especially when Wholly Bagel offers bagels made from a “New York recipe.” They do not taste like bagels from New York. Also, the cream cheese is a little less creamier and a little more cheesier, unless you get the low-fat kind, which is more like Philadelphia Cream Cheese (available at New World).

On Cuba Street, an outdoor mall, there’s Murphy’s, an Irish bar that opens early, closes late, and also serves a $5 breakfast. Eggs, bread and sausages. They also do not taste like bagels from New York. Their $10 lunch menu is a little larger, if not slightly more confusing. One of the items on it is a minute steak, which is topped with an egg and comes with chips, or French fries. When I ordered this, I wasn’t sure if it was minute, as in 60 seconds, or minute, as in tiny. While we waited for our food to come, I decided it was the latter, because it took much longer than a minute. When we walked in, a tough-looking bouncer had sent a wasted guy home and then smiled at Wasted Guy as Sober Friends tried to hold him back from charging the bouncer, which only pissed off Wasted Guy more. It was 2:45 in the afternoon. Anyways, the bouncer seemed like a bad ass — shaved head, tattoos, Irish —  and a mulitasker, because he also was a waiter. He came out and gave us our food and correctly predicted that I ordered the steak and Stacy ordered the chicken salad. He then sat down with the manager at the table behind us and had a conversation. I think it was in English, but they spoke with thick Irish accents so it sounded mostly like Drunk.

Not yummy.

Not yummy.

Walk a little further up Cuba Street and on the block past the end of the mall, there’s Munchen Burgers, or Munchener Burgers, depending on which sign you read. (I know this is an obscure reference, but they also serve borscht there and I wanted to ask the lady to change the name to Burger and Borscht when Watchmen comes out next spring.) We walked in one day, lured in by the desire for a burger and the low price of $10.50 for a patty, a fried egg, cheese and a piece of ham on a bun. I’m not sure if Eastern Europeans don’t know how to make hamburgers or if it’s a Kiwi thing, but do yourself a favor and stay away if you’re ever in Wellington. The consistency of the meat is like Spam and it’s not all that tasty. To try to improve the meal, we asked the lady at the register for ketchup. She looked around confused and said in an Eastern European accent, “Tomato Sauce, chili sauce, mayonnaise.” We suffered through it.

Ketchup has been replaced with the sweet, watery, terrible tomato sauce. You can get the good stuff at New World, McDonald’s, Burger King and a few other places. Another popular topping is aioli sauce. Don’t know what that is? Neither did I. In some places, they try to clarify by calling it garlic aioli sauce. That’s kind of redundant because aioli is garlic mayonnaise, so it might as well be called garlic garlic mayonnaise. Abra kebabra, a Iraqi kebab place on Manners Mall, will serve garlic yoghurt on its kebabs. I haven’t figured out the ingredients of that yet, but it’s probably in the same phylum as that stuff I eat for breakfast.

Manners Malls is another outdoor mall that runs perpendicular to Cuba Street. Across from Abra kebabra, there’s one of two Crepes a Go-Gos. It’s staffed by a rotating crew of three people and my favorite server is a lanky, friendly little French man. With his young face and gray hair (obviously my source of affinity for the guy), he’s very delicate and careful when he makes Crepes, handling his utensils like they’re surgical knives, and you can practically watch him translate words in his head after you speak and before he does.

The Crepe Maker

The Crepe Maker

On Bond Street, around the corner from our regular Wholly Bagel, is a Vietnamese restaurant that serves fish and chips. Our friend Mable told Stacy that the only really Kiwi dish, other than lamb, is fish and chips. Oddly, it’s only served at ethnic restaurants. The recipe is simple. They put breaded fish and French fries into a little basket, drop it into a fryer, wait a few minutes, dump it out on white paper, smother it in salt, then wrap it up. It’s appropriate fish and chips is wrapped in white paper, because, like the white-labeled mystery flavor Airheads, you don’t really know what you’re getting; the fish is just whatever they want to serve that day.

Also in the unhealthy food department is pizza. At this point, I’d just about kill for a normal New York style cheese pizza. Unfortunately, all they seem to make in these parts is meat lovers and Hawaiian. At Pizza King on Taranaki Street, they have more options, but still no regular cheese pizza. They’re BBQ Chicken is tasty though. Tangentially connected to this is the appropriately named tasty cheese. It’s cheddar.

And, if you’re looking for dessert in New Zealand, you’ll probably encounter ice cream with Hokey Pokey in it. As far as I can tell, Hokey Pokey is the same as Butterfingers. When we first had it, Stacy asked someone what Hokey Pokey was. She tried to explain, then, flabbergasted, said, “It’s Hokey Pokey… it’s a Kiwi thing.” It’s probably how I would explain Butterfingers.

Finally, a popular Kiwi candy is Pineapple Lumps. It’s just chocolate covered pineapple. It does not taste like New York-style bagels.

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Responses

  1. ZACH AND STACYYY!! I’m loving the blog!! Zach, I bet you could blog for a living…. !! Love and miss you both!! =)


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