Population: 4.8 million
Geography: A widely varied landscape of forest, mountain, and plain.
Language: English, Maori
Signature flavours: Lamb, seafood, potato, coconut
The first thing I thought of when I was assigned New Zealand (after Lord of the Rings) was meat pies. I looked around for quite a while for one that jumped out at me. Since I would be using veggie beef instead of real beef or lamb, I wanted to make sure the seasonings would carry the dish, and not the protein alone. I found one I liked and began to look for a savoury accompaniment. I kept seeing something called whitebait: the fry of small fishes like sardines and smelts. These are a delicacy in New Zealand, and since I love seafood, I decided to incorporate a traditional whitebait dish. I like to have a bit of green with every meal, but find that the most traditional foods from European-based cuisines are rarely green, so to round off the meal, I chose a sweet.
Mince and Cheese Pie: A puff pastry filled with beer- and garlic-seasoned beef, cheese, and onion. I found these hard only because pastry is so fiddly!
Prep and cooking time: 2 hours
West Coast Whitebait Patties: Fried savoury pancakes with whitebait mixed into the batter.
Prep and cooking time: 30 minutes
ANZAC Biscuits: Crunchy oat, flour, and brown sugar cookies. During the world wars, New Zealand families would send these cookies to their soldiers overseas. Because they contain neither eggs nor milk, they have a very long shelf life and made an ideal care package inclusion.
Prep and cooking time: 25 minutes
The Shopping List
Whitebait is not sold in any Toronto seafood shops that I could find. A couple of proprietors told me that whitebait that does make it here gets sold in fishing shops as bait. Finally, an Australian coworker urged me to check out Asian supermarket T&T for frozen whitebait. They sold it there along in the frozen seafood section, and my search ended at last.
For me, the whitebait patties were the biggest question mark. I admit, seeing those tiny fish, eyeballs and all, got me a little squeamish. Pancake-izing them was not necessarily the most appetizing idea to my mind, but they are regularly enjoyed in New Zealand, so I had to give them a shot. In the end, the fish had a very mild flavour and their texture was hardly discernible in the pancake. Eggy-ness was the prominent taste, and the patties went down well with a little ketchup and mayo.
The pies were an enormous success. The beer- and broth-seasoned veggie beef was moist and flavourful, the puff pastry buttery and flaky. Eric proclaimed them as good as the pies he had eaten from New Zealand pie vendors in Toronto.
The ANZAC biscuits had a really good crunch to them, and a lovely flavour that went well with tea after dinner. They were oat-y and brown sugar-y, and we have plenty left to enjoy at breakfast tomorrow.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.