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What makes a dairy beautiful?
On aesthetically pleasing dairies, the knotty world of supermarket promos and a change of heart on banana chips.
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!
If for Aristotle beauty is symmetry, and for Plato some essential and eternal form, what, then, to make of the beautiful dairy? Those everyday New Zealand icons of daily staples, newspapers, ice creams, bags of lollies and pies. Perhaps not often considered at all, in our intermittent and fleeting encounters, as things of beauty; their pervasiveness, especially in high-density areas, means they often go altogether unnoticed. But some of them are complete stunners. Plato and Aristotle probably retired from the philosophy grind before they even had the chance to contemplate these rare gems of human life. But they would most likely agree that some (but not all) dairies are very beautiful. For those enlightened to the wonders of the beautiful dairy, you become loyal to them, even if they’re not the handiest to you. They are the dairies you linger in just a little longer than you thought you would. Stores that bring a sense of occasion to your day. What I know for sure is that some dairies have that je ne sais quoi. What exactly it is that makes them so sublime, though, is less tangible.
In my case, the golden ratio is rather subjective and, admittedly, quite specific. Features that add to their allure include a well-stocked supply of Fresh Up Big Fizz Feijoa Burst in the fridge, a selection of hazardous-looking lollies that even the supermarket duopoly wouldn’t dare sell, dairy-only exclusives like Shasta Tiki Punch or Jack N Jill corn curls, hand-painted signage, knick knacks, fresh flowers for sale and perhaps most vital, familiar faces behind the till. The most beautiful dairies are cluttered, filled with idiosyncrasies and unspoiled by the visual assault of copious corporate branding that has become ever more common in the dairy landscape.
Of course, there are many gorgeous dairies around the country, but I wanted to highlight two of my local favourites: Manohar Dairy on Symonds Street and Burnley Superette on Dominion Road.
Manohar Dairy is on the simplistic end of the beauty spectrum. From the outside, it’s rather unassuming, austere even. Its shop front is simple: old-fashioned black hand-painted lettering on a plain white backdrop. In a land of dairies enveloped by garish green V Energy Drink hoardings or entirely shrouded in Coca-Cola advertising, it’s respite for the eyes to see an exterior so simple. The inside of Manohar Dairy is unusual – narrow, long and high-ceilinged. At the very back, a charming mirrored shelf awaits and the otherwise plain surrounding walls are punctuated by slightly faded posters of treats from the past, like Fruju Pulp Frusion and “Moo-quake” milkshake syrup.
Current owner Kim has been in the shop for 30 years, but reckons the dairy was operating at least 20 years before that – the hand-painted signage and posters on the walls were all there when she took over. And there they remain today. When I ask her why she’s kept them up, despite many of the products being extinct, she says with a shrug, “I like the old”, before pointing with delight at a poster advertising 18 cent ice blocks tucked almost out of sight behind the counter.
A couple of kilometres away is Burnley Superette – where customers are beckoned in by a “open 7 days” sandwich board sign, weathered by decades spent out in the elements. Hot pink gerberas and daffodils spill out onto the footpath from the shop, and upended bouquets of dried roses hang in the front window. This is dairy beauty at its finest. There are all the dairy requisites, but there are also the more unexpected – shower loofahs, wine bottle openers and wasabi. And the space is bursting with memories too.
“Look at the door,” says owner Avami Patel, who took over the dairy in 2013, of the old glass-panelled front door fit with its original letter slot and bell. “People are always like ‘your door’s so nice, can we buy it?’”. Patel is sentimental about the objects in the shop, and like Kim of Manohar Dairy, enjoys the energy these precious artefacts from before her proprietorship bring to her dairy.
Many of the objects are decades old, some much older, explains Sanjay Chhiba, whose parents Natu and Rukhi opened the dairy in the 1970s but sold it in 2013 to Patel. (Chhiba’s family don’t run the dairy anymore but he happened to be making a visit to the dairy on the same day I popped in). Out the front, bespoke trolleys built by Chhiba’s brother to fit the unique shape of the space remain. There’s still a (now inoperable) camera in the front door from an attempt to catch a mysterious newspaper thief. Even less glamorous objects like the pie warmer, the fridges and the no-slip floor mats are legacies from Chhiba’s parents’ tenure. On the top of the facade are decorative concrete Hershey’s kisses-shaped blobs, likely over a century old, which Chhiba and his brother discovered were in fact unattached while exploring the roof as kids. At every nook of the shop he shows me, Chhiba has another anecdote, another memory of how this tiny shop shaped his childhood.
While so much of our everyday life has been captured by a “cool” self-aware kind of beauty, dairies have the ability to shine so brightly because of their unconceitedness. Instead, beauty in dairy form looks like relics that evoke the past, exteriors that resist dullness and peculiarities that reveal something about the people behind the till – all with the practicality of bottles of milk, loaves of bread and perhaps an ice block to eat on the way home.
If you have a dairy you believe to be one of the country’s belles, please let me know. I’d love to extend my coverage of gorgeous dairies. Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.
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Budget documents have shown that treasury is doubtful the government’s free school lunch programme, Ka Ora, Ka Ako, is worth the cost, reports RNZ. In the documents, evaluations showed that while the scheme improved nutrition intake and contributed to happier students, it had limited effect on attendance and provided little benefit to Māori students. Education minister Jan Tinetti had been keen to make it a permanent fixture but Treasury officials recommended extending funding for two years only – with permanent funding dependent on proof the scheme was effective for Māori. In the end, the government set aside more than $300 million in the budget to continue the scheme until the end of 2024. But advocates of the scheme have rejected the treasury's assessment, with some questioning officials’ measurements for success and raising concerns about the potential implications of dropping the policy. A recent study into Ka Ora, Ka Ako by Health Coalition Aotearoa found the programme had significant health benefits, helped reduce the pressure from rising food costs, and removed barriers to learning.
We all love a bargain. And when everything on the supermarket shelves seems ridiculously expensive, a bag of chips advertised as being “on special” under a bright yellow banner, or a tin of tomatoes that will cost 20 cents less if you scan your club card at the till, are even more attractive. But what does it take to get your product in these prime spots in the supermarket, how much does it cost a supplier for their product to be included as a “Club Deal” or “Super Saver”, and who bears the cost of items being put on “special” or discounted? Liv Sisson investigates the murky world of supermarket promos and what it means for suppliers, on The Spinoff.
The owners of Auckland Indian restaurant behemoth Paradise are selling two of its local eateries as part of plans to expand the business beyond its current home in Sandringham. It’s hard to overstate the phenomenon that is Paradise. Over the last decade, it has cemented itself as a formidable presence in the central suburb with a growing and devoted fan base hungry for made-to-order curries, Indo-Chinese specialties, biryani and, for a brief period, pizza. While they’ve made past ventures into baking, an all-you-can-eat buffet and the aforementioned fusion pizza, now just three remaining branches of the brand remain in Auckland: a takeaway operation, “Party House” and a dine-in restaurant – the later two of which are for sale. The owners told NZ Herald they planned to open more branches in central Auckland and Hamilton, along with further afield – in Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
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The weekly snack
Kemchho banana chips masala, $4.99 online from Bombay Bazaar (I bought this packet from Smartdeal Bazaar in Sandringham): When I think about banana chips, my mind sets sail to the emphatically boring kind that fill the self-serve bins at the supermarket: far too sweet and the worst textural fusion of tough and stodgy. Because of previous experience, coupled with the alarmingly hefty weight of this bag, I was reluctant about committing to it all alone. So I brought them along to a dinner party over the weekend… a dinner party which happened to be populated by other banana chip-hesitant people. Who knew banana chips had so many foes? And yet, we practically inhaled this bag. Rather than sweet, these chips were coated in a pungent mix that was tangy (from the dried mango powder), savoury (from the cumin) and ever-so-slightly sulphuric (thanks to the black salt). The one thing missing, and this is likely simply down to differing chip culture expectations, was a little more saltiness – nothing a few generous pinches of salt dumped into the bowl couldn’t fix though. And we all agreed that the mouthfeel was far more pleasant than we were used to. Banana chips are thought to have originated in the southern states of India, so it makes a lot of sense that this bag (from India) has figured out how to make this unpopular style of chip good. We shouldn’t paint all banana chips with the same brush. 8.5/10
Talk next week!
Hei kōnā mai, Charlotte