A taste of the future in Kirikiriroa
On the abundance of excellent kai in Hamilton, depleted scallop populations and 3D-printed cake.
Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome to The Boil Up, The Spinoff’s weekly food newsletter produced in partnership with Boring Oat Milk. Written by me, Charlotte Muru-Lanning. It’s lovely to have you here!
It’s little wonder that the original name for the city of the future, Kirikiriroa, can be translated to “fertile strip of land” – a reference to the bountiful productivity of the gardens along the Waikato River.
Kirikiriroa, far too often derided, remains noteworthy for its bountiful kai, even if that kai looks a little different now. In fact, near-equal with Ōtautahi, I’d consider it one of the most unsung culinary destinations in the country. The appeal of the food here is less about the quantity of eateries than how really quite good what’s on offer is. After all, you can only eat so much in a day anyway.
For this reason and a few more, I lap up any opportunity to head to Hamilton. Last weekend I did just that. And delicious kai filled the gaps between doing absolutely nothing, a visit to Vetro (an impressive Mediterranean supermarket) and excursions to (their far superior) opshops, where I bought a vintage Tupperware bowl container, an adorable snow globe-like “pod” to store lemon halves in the fridge and a copy of 2005 Italian cookbook Maria Pia, written by the owner of the famed, but now closed, Wellington trattoria of the same name. A fabulous haul in my opinion.
Here are four things I ate in Kirikiriroa that I reckon deserve special mention.
An absurdly good pao bhaji at Desi Food Club in Frankton: We snuck into this little corner spot just before last orders, and thank goodness for that. For obvious reasons, we thought the soup was a good place to start: a generously portioned Indo-Chinese-style hot and sour vegetable broth with, and I’m not exaggerating, the best garlic bread I’ve ever eaten. Then there was a plate of dahi puri – six tiny globes jammed, just as they should be, with textures galore in a kaleidoscope of tangy, sweet and spicy. Somehow we managed to fit in the pao bhaji too – a fragrant vegetable gravy with the squishiest bread rolls. Owners Janesh and Bhawna have run the place for five years, and they make their own ice cream too – inspired by Janesh’s grandmother’s recipes – which they sell on site in various sized tubs and on sticks. Of course we had to try one – closing the meal with a paan (betel leaf and rose petal) ice cream stick.
A rainbow-flecked blondie from Cream Eatery in Hamilton Central: Most everything in the counter at this central city cafe looked delightful. So, despite still being stuffed from breakfast, we opted for two little cakes to take away for later: an elevated piece of lolly cake and a chunk of blondie suspended with hundreds and thousands and crowned with whorls of soft meringue. Paired with a cup of tea and a movie on the couch that evening, they were perfection.
A delightful breakfast from Kurdish Naan Bread in Fairfield: Flanked by a dairy and a Christian community centre, on a quiet suburban street, this family-run bakery churns out boxes and brown paper bags of piping hot made-to-order Kurdish breads and stacks of bagged naan ready to go. By the time we got there, still relatively early in the morning, they had already sold out of their cakes and after a 20-minute wander around the sleepy street we collected our oily boxes of fresh-from-the-oven breads: kalana, a spring onion fried bread and fatayr, a pizza-like kind blanketed in a mince and tomato mix that was heady with za'atar and plenty of cheese. Upon opening our packages, we realised that we’d accidentally ordered too many breads and managed to ask for cheese on all of them: both happy mistakes.
A bowl of handmade udon at Waikato Udon in Hamilton East: Waikato Udon’s menu offers a comprehensive array of udon noodles, and so I was frazzled by the task of having to make a decision. Tar toriten was the first on the menu, the option I landed on and honestly quite revelatory. It came as a tangle of their bouncy, freshly made noodles topped with tempura chicken, greens, a generous blob of homemade tartar sauce and a carafe of concentrated broth – all at once piquant, fatty and extremely umami.
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Te Pāti Māori has reiterated its call for GST to be scrapped on all kai – including “junk food” – in response to the cost of living crisis. “It would bring the cost of food and the cost of living down,” co-leader Debbie Ngārewa Packer told Jack Tame on this week’s episode of Q+A. Food prices rose at an annual rate of 12% last month, the highest annual increase since September 1989. Fruit and vegetable prices increased by 23% compared to February 2022. Questioned by Tame about why the party’s policy wouldn’t just apply to healthy foods, Ngārewa Packer responded, "We have had a culture of our people being told what is good and what is not good for them. At the moment what they need to do is to be able to afford to live… right now we need to be able to give them a choice to eat." The issue of GST on food is a contentious one, with some arguing that excluding some items would only create a tax system that is more complex and costly, as the definition of “food” isn’t quite as simple as it might seem. Meanwhile, the majority of food in Australian and US supermarkets is tax-free.
It’s deja vu for choc-heads as Whittaker’s announces an increase in the price of its chocolate blocks. Yes, again. After a rise in October last year, the company announced another price hike on its blocks last week on social media, citing mounting costs. A Stuff article noted that the price of a 250 gram block from New World had increased from $4.79 on Friday, to $6.29 on Monday – a 31% increase, and more than double the overall food inflation rate.
I have a very foggy childhood memory of copious piles of local scallops or tipa at the seafood counter inside our local Foodtown. Back then, in the early 2000s, they were a mainstay; which might be part of the reason they’re far rarer on our menus and dining tables these days. In 2023, we’re dealing with the legacy of that commercial abundance: New Zealand’s scallop beds have been ravaged by overfishing and depleted to dire levels. In fact, because of sustainability concerns in 2021, most of the Coromandel scallop fishery and all of the Northland scallop fishery were closed. Then, in December last year, new information led to a temporary emergency closure of the two remaining open areas to the north of the Coromandel Peninsula, one around Little Barrier Island and one in Colville Channel. Now, the under-pressure Coromandel scallop fishery has been entirely and indefinitely closed to commercial and recreational fishing to allow it to recover. Waatea News explained that “the closure will not affect the relatively small customary allowance, but iwi strongly support the recovery of the fishery and issuing of customary fishing permits has been limited if not completely stopped”.
Mechanical engineers at Columbia University in New York have created a 3D printer that makes cake. The group have been experimenting with “food printers” and laser cooking of food since 2005 and until now, most 3D-printed foods have been made with uncooked ingredients, the researchers say. But in research published Tuesday, the engineers describe how their 3D printer made a cheesecake from seven ingredients: graham cracker, peanut butter, Nutella, banana puree, strawberry jam, cherry drizzle and frosting. It’s part of a project to demonstrate the potential of 3D printing – a technology used for models and machine parts – in the kitchen, and has potential applications in defence and in space travel. Perhaps we’re closer to the Spy Kids instant-food microwave than we thought?
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Talk next week!
Hei kōnā mai, Charlotte