Unpacking the meaning behind suitcase food
On the kai we travel with, food tv to binge this week, plus a special snack contribution.
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!
For most of my adult life I’ve travelled a lot, but I haven’t left Aotearoa since January 2020. However, today I’m off to Sydney and despite being a relatively non-intrepid six-day trip, this one’s a big deal for me. As much as I love Aotearoa – I have to leave sometimes to keep the spark alive.
And a three-year gap since venturing out of Aotearoa has meant the rituals of travel, once second nature to me – how many hours before the flight to get to the airport, the volume of liquids allowed in my carry-on, whether or not there’s a McDonald’s beyond airport security (there is) – have been lost to the void.
Of course, something that hasn’t changed is that my entire trip is coloured by a long list of 31 places to eat. Whether it be Maltese pastries, a Portuguese restaurant within a tennis club, pierogi lunches or Lebanese pizza, I am making the most of Sydney as a delicious connector to other parts of the world that I long to return to. (On that note, I enjoyed this piece by Alicia Kennedy about the complicated politics of foodie destinations.)
All this contemplation about food and tourism has led me to another thought on destination food: the peculiarities of the food we pack in our suitcase to take to loved ones overseas, and the food we bring home with us on our return to share, or to eat alone. Whether you’re leaving Aotearoa or travelling home, it’s common courtesy to ask “what food do you want”.
On previous trips, I’ve stuffed bags of feijoa lollies from the dairy, bottles of Penfolds shiraz, loaves of kūmara sourdough and Whittaker’s blocks into my bag for homesick friends. Too bad most of the things I really want to bring home on my return would threaten Aotearoa’s fragile biosecurity.
This time, the friend I’m staying with in Sydney requested “fresh seafood”, 1 x Garage Project Hāpi Daze and supermarket coffee beans. I’ve fulfilled her last wish along with a loaf of sourdough baked by her old flatmate who also happens to be my boyfriend. As for me, I’ve already pre-ordered treats that I can’t buy in Aotearoa to be delivered to my friend’s flat: bottles of Ting, a Jamaican grapefruit soda that I drank religiously when I was last in London and Spanish tinned clams – if anyone has a definitive answer as to whether customs will allow these into the country please do get in touch as I’d rather not be forced to gulp them down in the declaration line.
The food that we long for in its absence reveals much about us and our culture. . Sometimes understanding suitcase kai means acknowledging some negative aspects of New Zealand – television programmes like Border Security reveal that the food longings of some groups (namely, non-white immigrants) are treated with far more suspicion than others’.
Part of the bittersweet charm of suitcase kai is that it’s severely limited, the next delivery requires another flight. In this context, food becomes a precious edible treasure rather than something replaceable by a quick dash to the supermarket. Savoured thoughtfully, purposefully and perhaps with a tinge of sorrow. In pandemic times, as travel has been even more restricted, the emotions associated with the food in our suitcases have only been heightened.
It’s a dynamic suitcase economy of cravings. Balms to homesickness or sample flavours of places we dream to visit, transported by way of roller bags and carry on luggage.
Iced coffee season is here. Admittedly we’ve been chugging oat iced lattes all year long, but for those of you still leaning into Mother Nature, this is the PSA you’ve been waiting for. It’s officially iced coffee season. Head to boringmilk.com for your summer supply of New Zealand-made oat milk, straight from the source.
Nearly 1000 schools, and 250,000 students eat free school lunches through the government’s scheme Ka Ora Ka Ako. Since its inception research has shown that the benefits of the programme traverse education, mental and physical health, local employment and food security. And this week, health experts are urging the government to expand the scheme. At the moment, the programme is restricted to schools with the 25 percent of students with the highest socio-economic need, but Health Coalition Aotearoa says that should at least be doubled to meet the needs of 50 percent of students. They say the cost of living crisis and the Auckland floods means more children than ever need the scheme. It throws an everlasting debate into the mix: while some have taken a universal approach to the programme, calling for all schools to have access to free kai, others, like the president of the Secondary Principals’ Association Vaughan Couillault, prefer a targeted approach – telling RNZ that extending the scheme to all schools would result in funding for disadvantaged children being used to feed those who were not.
We started this week with the upsetting news that a fire at one of the country’s largest egg producers has killed around 50,000 hens. In the midst of an egg shortage, the fire sparked concerns that it could worsen the scarcity. The blaze broke out last Tuesday morning at Zeagold farms in the Waikato and the owners say they remain puzzled by what started the fire that ripped through two of the farm’s twelve sheds. Twelve workers who were on site were unharmed. A spokesperson told Stuff they “had an avian vet on site as soon as we were able to get people back on the farm yesterday. He has gone through with our people on the farm and looked at the birds. They seemed to be doing pretty well yesterday." Globally, barn fires have caused millions of animal deaths. It was reported yesterday that MPI was investigating the fire and that an animal welfare inspector would be visiting the site. Similar instances of fires that have killed livestock overseas have sparked outrage over animal cruelty and seen lawmakers consider legislative changes to barn conditions.
In an effort to decompress after last week’s literal and psychological deluge, I’ve settled into (binged) the recently released Netflix series The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House. The show, which is adapted from a popular Japanese manga, tells the story of two best friends who leave their home town for Kyoto to pursue their dream of becoming maiko, or apprentice geishas. With unhurried scenes of the main characters carefully selecting kelp for an udon broth or spontaneously baking a secret early-morning pudding, it will hardly be surprising that the main allure for me is that food plays a starring role. In fact, kai becomes integral to the pair adjusting to their changing lives as they build new bonds and maintain those to each other and with home. Meal by meal, the show builds upon its gentleness, not in a multi-task-scrolling-Instagram-ambient-television kind of way but in a cosy way.
I also thoroughly recommend the new docuseries, Sik Fan Lah! which premieres this Sunday on TVNZ. In short, it’s about how Chinese identity is forged through food in contemporary Aotearoa – in all its delicious complexity. The series’ revolving door of hosts include Masterchef winner Sam Low; Wellington coffee entrepreneurs Natalie and Stephanie Chin; Black Fern Tyla Nathan-Wong; Dunedin’s Royal Albatross Centre educator Janice Chi Fen Huang; meme queen Abigail Masengi and playwright Nathan Joe. Along the way you’re taken to a fish and chip shop with an opulent secret menu or to watch Chinese seafood dishes cooked in the geothermal waters of Ngāraratuatara in Rotorua. A foraged banquet is prepared and shared by the moana and claypot rice is cooked in the windy Otago goldfields. These are both shows you want to watch during or after dinner, certainly not before.
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The weekly snack
This week, a snack contribution from Shanti Mathias who edits The Weekend.
Boy Bawang Cornick Adobo Flavor, $2.5 from the Filipino Hub: Sometimes even the most committed, long-term vegetarian (me) longs for something with the umami of meat. I found it in these fried corn snacks I picked up at the Filipino Hub in Mount Albert. Boy Bawang Cornick comes in several flavours, but the adobo one appealed to me most, a chance to taste a (meat free) simulacrum of the renowned marinated pork dish. The crunch is excellent, the flavour intense -- so much umami you can only just make out the corn beneath it. Perfect for absentmindedly eating while reading, then licking the dust off your fingers -- but it was slightly too salty, the depth of flavour dissolving quickly. I'd try it again for the texture, though. 8.5/10 – SM
The Spinoff and Boring Oat Milk with support from Coffee Supreme proudly present Boring BreakfastA new series of morning sessions tackling crucial questions facing the Aotearoa kai and hospitality sectors. Hosted by Sophie Gilmour, the first instalment of Boring Breakfast will welcome guests Morgan Maw (Boring Oat Milk) and Tom Hishon (Orphans Kitchen, kingi, Daily Bread, Withwild) for a kōrero around sustainability in our food and hospitality sectors. We’ll touch on everything from environmentally friendly sourcing to sustainable product packaging, asking ultimately whether our current approaches will do enough in the long run, or if more radical ideas are required.We have 25 tickets to give away to Boil Up subscribers! First in, first served. RSVP at email@example.com.
Talk next week!
Hei kōnā mai, Charlotte