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Turning the croquette into a vessel for culture
On the tiny New Plymouth eatery serving kai Māori with a twist, the debate around GST on food is reignited, plus a cotton candy confection.
Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome to The Boil Up, The Spinoff’s weekly food newsletter. Written by me, Charlotte Muru-Lanning. It’s lovely to have you here!
It had been at least years, and potentially even decades, since I last visited Taranaki. So it was with a lot of excitement that earlier this week I found myself making the five-hour journey from Tāmaki Makaurau to Ngāmotu New Plymouth.
It was to be a relatively fleeting trip (less than 24 hours all up) as part of The Spinoff’s election coverage, but, as I tend to do before crossing beyond the Bombay Hills, I scoured Google and jotted down a list of kai spots worth making an effort to get to. Sustenance is always necessary, after all, even if it might not always be the priority.
Underlined on my fluorescent pink Post It note, scrawled with the names of 10 eateries in town, was George’s, a cafe in Moturoa; a suburb a five-minute drive west of the city centre.
I have a real fondness for any spaces that bridge generational divides in taste, places grandparents can enjoy just as much as their grandchildren. At its heart, this is what George’s is – hearty kai served without pretension. On the varied menu are relatively familiar items like toasties, hot rolls, nachos and eggs on toast. And lolly slice, muffins, pies and club sandwiches populate the cabinet by the front counter. Everything looked delicious, but I’d been lured here by two things in particular: fried bread and boil up croquettes.
George’s is helmed by Landon Elder, who opened the place five years ago after returning from almost two decades overseas. Much of the menu is inspired by the food he grew up with – but all done with a slight zhuzh.
Upon returning home from Melbourne six years ago, Elder noticed that despite the growing recognition of te reo Māori and tikanga, there were few outlets selling kai that felt like home and that spoke to his experiences of growing up in Aotearoa. Feeling that there should be, Elder opened George’s, named after his koro.
It's his koro’s fried bread recipe which he serves too – a recipe passed down by George’s mum, Elder’s great grandmother, Nana Lucy. “She taught all her boys to cook, and my koro spent his whole life in the whare kai, he never left it,” says Elder. “He was always at the hāngī pit, he was always fishing and diving – that's how we were brought up.”
“We didn't have a lot growing up, so there was just always fried bread because that was the thing to fill your puku with,” he says. Regular toppings were jam and cream, golden syrup, creamed pāua, sweetcorn – in essence, “just anything that was in the fridge”.
At George’s there are nine fried bread toppings to choose from – from nostalgic classics like golden syrup and homemade jam to the relatively newfangled, like pesto and tomato or steak and mushrooms (the latter inspired by trips to the Cook Islands).
Then there are the boil up croquettes – a by-product of the boil up served by the bowlful, and an endless favourite among truckies. Yesterday’s boil up remnants are encased in crumbs, deep-fried and served alongside a generously portioned ramekin of watercress aioli.
The concept arose out of catering work. “One of the brides I was catering for wanted boil up at her wedding,” says Elder. “I told her, ‘I can do it but it's a bit hori’.” So, Elder pitched the idea of a more refined and easierier-to-eat form of boil up: inside a croquette. “I’ve done a lot of canape parties in the past, so I know anything can be made into a croquette – a croquette is like a waka, its a transportation kind of thing.”
Since their addition to the menu this evolved version of the boil up – a brew of inexpensive cuts of meat, starchy vegetables and watercress – has become a crowd favourite among both enthusiasts and the uninitiated..“You bite into it and you get that aroma like you're in your nan's kitchen,” says Elder.
George’s has become more than just a place for a coffee and kai. On Tuesday evenings the shop is open for those who are learning te reo Māori, and members of the local hapū Ngāti Te Whiti are regulars. While I sip on my mug of coffee, a kaumātua and regular customer of George’s clutching a takeaway coffee pops by my table to introduce himself and ask whether I’m from out of town – he usually recognises everyone in George's, he tells me. “A lot of people who come in knew my koro too – people come in and you hear stories and there's a lot of hugging and kissing going on in the shop,” says Elder. “It’s cool, it’s not just a cafe.”
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The debate surrounding the removal of GST on food was reignited last week when National’s Nicola Willis claimed the government had plans to announce a policy to remove GST from fruit and vegetables. Prime minister Chris Hipkins told media he wouldn’t comment on the speculation. It’s a policy idea that had previously been criticised by finance minister Grant Robertson, who said in May this year it would be challenging to administer and potentially benefit supermarkets more than consumers. Earlier this year, Te Paati Māori announced a similar policy which would see the 15% tax dropped from all food. For the most part, expert responses to these policy proposals have been lukewarm, with economists and tax specialists arguing that this focused GST slash runs the risk of unnecessarily complicating the tax system for little gain among those dealing with food insecurity.
A roast duck, onion, mushroom and cheese sauce pie took out the top prize at the 25th Bakels NZ Supreme Pie Awards earlier this week, which saw judges tasting 5000 pies from around the country. Bay of Plenty baker Patrick Law, of Patrick’s Pies Gold Star Bakery, was crowned supreme winner at the awards ceremony in Auckland on Tuesday evening. It is the eighth time that Patrick's Pies has taken out the prize over the competition's 25-year history – cementing itself as part of the upper crust of local pie makers.
It seems New Zealanders just can’t get enough of ever-customisable and slurpable plastic cups of bubble tea. Gong Cha, which was started in the home of bubble tea, Taiwan, in 2006, is now the world’s fastest-growing bubble tea brand – with 2000 stores globally across 23 different markets, reports Stuff. And over the last decade, Aotearoa has become one of Gong Cha’s fastest-growing markets, with an increase in local revenue over double that of the global average increase. Now, the company has plans to expand the number of outlets from the current 28 to 40 by 2025.
The hospitality industry, especially over the last five years, has been plagued by challenges – and yet somehow people are still operating restaurants, and even opening new ones. In the latest (extremely chunky) issue of Metro, food writer Kate Underwood writes about restaurant economics and talks to the operators of some of the best restaurants in Tāmaki Makaurau about how, and why, they keep the food and wine flowing.
On the topic of restaurant economics, this piece from Stuff is a handy lay of the land of the country’s hospitality industry by way of a countdown of the most powerful publicly listed hospitality groups. Together, these eight companies which dominate the scene made more than $1 billion in sales over the 2022 and 2023 financial year. A good one to bookmark.
The weekly snack
Sour power straws cotton candy, $3.80 from International Foods: There’s a special place in my heart for the sickly sweet idiosyncrasies of American artificial flavourings. By this I mean the whimsical simulacrums of tastes like pink lemonade (I’ve written about the pink lemonade version of these lollies previously), birthday cake, cookie dough, bubble gum and, perhaps most bewitching of the bunch, cotton candy, which are all commonplace among confectionary found in the land of liberty. Take this packet of baton-shaped lollies in cotton candy flavour: the pink and blue colouring is a visual nod toward the source material you find at fairs, but the actual taste takes on a life of its own – more laboratory than carnival. It’s that codified “cotton candy” flavour – a mix of flavour compounds, ethyl maltol, furanon and vanillin to be exact – which the US seems to be in unspoken agreement on (even if it goes beyond the “real thing”). Fakery aside, this is usually a complete delight in my books. “Usually” being the key word here. While these straws are technically a triumph – perfectly tart and satisfyingly chewy – the slightly caramelised vanilla-esque profile of cotton candy, better enveloped into creamier confections like ice cream or cookies, makes for an unhappy pairing. These might have transcended reality, but they certainly weren’t transcendental. 4.5/10
Talk next week!
Hei kōnā mai, Charlotte