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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Ally Gimbel | When kiwis fly

Over the past few months living in New Zealand, I have learned that the best way to consume the local culture is to, well, eat it. As mom always told me, "You never know until you taste it."

So, I've dedicated a great deal of time (and a large portion of my bank account) to getting to know New Zealand through a wide variety of its culinary offerings. This includes traditional Maori meals, classic Kiwi foodstuffs and, of course, lots and lots of lamb.

I began my gastro-journey while attending a powhiri, a traditional Maori welcoming ritual. The ceremony always ends with kai (food), a meal specially known as a hangi (pronounced hung-ee). A large hole is dug in the ground, which is then lined with red-hot stones. Chicken, pork, lamb, potatoes, kumara and other vegetables are then placed in the pit and covered with vegetation. The hole is then filled with dirt and the food steams for several hours.

While the process may seem primitive, the food is actually quite tasty … even though the smoky chicken had been literally dug out of the ground moments earlier. A hangi is clearly no dinner at The Ivy, but the earthy flavors and simple, customary cooking process are easily appreciated.

Jumping forward about 800 years into the world of restaurants, packaged goods and fast food (here known as take-aways), today's Kiwi kai is considerably average in comparison to other ethnic cuisine. But hey, a square meal is still a meal.

Now, no Sunday afternoon would be complete without a slab of fried fish and a scoop of chips in the belly. Fish 'n' chips can be purchased at your local corner dairy or even a Malaysian take-away grease pit, and, no matter where you get it, its deliciousness is guaranteed. Eaten with your fingers of course, deep fried fish is best enjoyed slathered in Wattie's Tomato Sauce during a beachside picnic.

Or you can opt for pie, another staple in the Kiwi menu of meals-to-go. Unlike your standard American apple pie, these little bundles of savory deliciousness come in a variety of flavors (usually of the meat persuasion) and are contained in a crumbly pastry crust.

And then there are kebabs (rhymes with cabs), which are more akin to what we call a gyro and come in the form of wraps, rather than meat served on sticks. Kebabs are the crème-de-la-crap of New Zealand fast food, where for only six to eight dollars you can sink your teeth into a large portion of greasy goodness. Added bonus: You can get one at almost all hours of the night.

This is because it is a universal truth that a night on the town must end with a "kebab/cab combo." This is exactly what it sounds like — satisfy your drunchies with a combination of processed beef and lamb scraps smothered in tahini sauce and hop in a cab home to digest.

And what about Kiwi dessert? Clearly that is a major point of interest. We'll start with pavlova. An iconic New Zealand dish, pavlova is just an extremely sugary and spongy meringue cake. Garnished with a layer of kiwifruit slices, pavlova reaches its peak when served with hokey pokey ice cream (chunks of honey comb mixed in with vanilla flavored ice cream).

In the end, there is never enough that one can say about a country's food. No matter where you are in the world, you are bound to taste some very unique cuisine. You'll come across culturally traditional meals, exceptional fast food, gross condiments (three words: Marmite yeast spread) and mouth-watering desserts.

And you have to try everything. As the ultimate travel-foodie guru, Anthony Bourdain says: "Eat without fear." If you don't, you'll completely miss out the local flavor.

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Ally Gimbel is a junior majoring in English. She can be reached at Allyson.Gimbel@tufts.edu.


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