From left, Christy Tennent, Mike Hona, Taniko Ngamotu and Grayson Goffe, with Tiare Turetahi at front, outside Open Cafe with their boil-up (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

Nourishing community, nurturing culture: Why boil-up is so much more than a feed

Each week, two Tāmaki Makaurau community groups share a K Road cafe’s kitchen to support the local homeless community, and bring urban Māori together, through a simple, nourishing bowl of boil-up. 

Tangata whenua have always innovated within a changing environment. So, when Pākehā arrived in Aotearoa with new foods like pork, potatoes, pumpkin and flour, along with iron cooking pots, Māori got creative and invented the boil-up.

Made with inexpensive cuts of meat, starchy vegetables and leafy greens, the perfect boil-up differs depending on who you talk to. Some need slices of white bread and margarine on the side, some add tomato sauce. If you’re like me, you add onion. Everyone’s got a preference for the size of their dough boys. Most agree, however, that a boil-up should always be accompanied by kapu tī.

As Māori began moving to urban areas after the Second World War, the boil-up took on new importance. While many traditional foods were difficult to find in cities, the key ingredients for boil-up were readily available and the dish became an accessible connection to home. The shared enjoyment of boil-up has become an important symbol of Māori identity in the city. 

In many ways, boil-up is a dish of resilience. Both affordable and flexible, any particular boil-up will tell a story of connection to family, hapū, iwi or marae. For urban Māori it is one of the easiest ways to tap into the comfort of cultural connection. 

Boil-up being served up at Open Cafe (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

“The thing about boil-up is that although it’s more of a contemporary kai, it’s significant because it’s nostalgic, that smell is an identifier, and we all have a story around it.” says Grayson Goffe, leader of Whakamanatia, a kaupapa Māori community group based in Auckland. 

Every week, Open Cafe on Auckland’s Karangahape Road shares its kitchen with Whakamanatia and another community group, Awhina Mai Tatou Katoa, which was founded in 2015 by the homeless to offer help and advocacy to their street whānau. The two groups come together to “nourish the community through nurturing culture”, says Goffe. For them, kai is nourishment in a much stronger sense than just filling tummies. The point is to celebrate being Māori through the preparation and eating of boil-up – it’s a form of activism.

Boil-up is the perfect vehicle through which Whakamanatia and Awhina Mai Tatou Katoa can empower urban Māori, because unlike many other traditional foods, boil-up has specific links to urban Māori history.

The inspiration to sell boil-up came from an integral member of their street whānau, Hono Tamihana, who died earlier this year. “When the bro passed away we wanted to carry on his vision”, says Tiare Turetahi, another member of the boil-up-making team.

Many in the cooking team have lived experience of homelessness and the preparation of boil-up “reminds people of their strengths, where they belong, who they are, what we’re about as Māori”, says Goffe.

Diners enjoying boil-up at Open Cafe (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

The collaboration, which takes place every Wednesday, feeds eager customers the iconic Māori dish. From early in the morning you’ll find Goffe alongside a team of organisers cooking up a hearty combination of mānuka-cured bacon bones, carrots, pumpkin, rīwai, kūmara, pūhā, pearled with delicious chewy dough boys. It’s $10 for the boil-up, or $15 to add fry bread or rēwena and a drink, and you can order through Facebook or Instagram.

They’ve been doing it for two months and usually sell around 20 bowls. Anything left over goes to the homeless, and sometimes even to activists protesting the removal of native trees on Canal Road in Avondale. Nothing is wasted. Those who order a bowl can also choose to pay it forward, which means that a member of the homeless community can have a bowlful too. 

Christy Tennent, the owner of Open Cafe, wants to continue to support groups like these. “It doesn’t have to be this ego-driven, masculine, profit-only space,” Tennent says.

They’re looking to the future too, with ambitions for electric bike boil-up deliveries, a food truck, and to begin sourcing ingredients from community gardens.

Through this evolving initiative, Goffe and the team are contributing to the restoration and strengthening of Māori community and identity in central Auckland.

“Where do we draw our sense of belonging from if our maunga are quarried, if our oceans are polluted – what can we turn to?” Goffe asks. Fortunately, we have boil-up.

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