Image: Tina Tiller

What we ate on our holidays

From the deep south to the top of the north, The Spinoffers spread our culinary wings to sample regional delights galore over the summer break. Here’s what we can’t stop thinking about. 

FAR NORTH: PIE TIME

‘Twas a morning of a good ol’ wake and bake in the fa far north where my squad and I set off for adventures… but that’s for another time, this is PIE TIME.

Outside she was golden like my sun-kissed summer glow, with a crisp and flaky coat – the perfect-looking pie imho. The first bite was a light and buttery surprise that melted away like an ice cream cone on a hot summer’s day. She was filled to the brim with a delish salty gravy that was more clear than brown, accompanied by some sort of meat that could have been corned beef but I ain’t mad at that. She had the pastry of a croissant but the taste of a dirty tank-bread-pie, the kind that brings you back from the depths of hangover hell. (For more information on tank-bread-pie see your nearest bakery.)

You too can experience this fa far north delicacy for the small price of five bux sold on the side of the road in a shipping container next to the real fruit ice cream just up from Houhora – you can’t miss it. / Tina Tiller

NORTHLAND: ROB’S VEGAN CHEESECAKE

For my first Christmas eating a plant-based diet, my dad decided to go all out. His best cheesecake recipe used to be one of my favourites, but the obvious inclusion of cheese, as well as plenty of cream and probably chocolate, meant I thought I’d have to go without. 

Three weeks before Christmas dinner, he started to practise, refusing to look at any of the hundreds of recipes that already exist online for vegan cheesecake. He tried homemade cashew cheese, scoured the Countdown shelves for a vegan bikkie for the base, tested various dairy-free white chocolates, and texted me daily updates. 

The result was the most delicious cheesecake I’ve ever eaten. At Christmas dinner at Maungakaramea outside of Whangārei, it was a hit with everyone. Even my grandma – who didn’t really understand the whole “vegan” thing and tried to cook me a turkey because she knew I didn’t eat lamb – loved it. 

The presentation was impeccable. Not only was there a pile of fresh blueberries and some cherries on top, but a delicately homemade raspberry coral(!!!) and some raspberry twirls that were perfectly tart to balance out all the rest. I’m drooling. / Alice Webb-Liddall

Rob’s vegan cheesecake and the Aotea focaccia (Photos: Alice Webb-Liddall; Harry Cundy)

GREAT BARRIER ISLAND: HEAVENLY FOCACCIA

Aotea/Great Barrier Island doesn’t technically count as outside Auckland, it is part of the super city (fun fact: it’s in the Grammar zone) but its isolation and rough, rural splendour feels as far from the city as you can get. The island’s three main general stores are plenty stocked with what you need, albeit slightly pricier than the mainland, but one thing it does lack is freshly baked goods. I do have to shout out My Fat Puku café in Claris, where I ordered my coffee in te reo Māori and had a very good egg sammie.

But needs must: in our island retreat sequestered high on a hill with sweeping 180° views of the South Pacific, with nothing more pressing at hand than to lazily sip a beer and open another book, some breads were made from scratch. The most notable was Samir Nosrat’s (author of Salt Fat Acid Heat and charismatic star of the subsequent Netflix series) Ligurian focaccia. What sets this fluffy, crispy delight apart is the penultimate step – after the dough (simply flour, honey, yeast, sea salt and olive oil) has been left to prove for 12-14 hours, it’s covered in a saltwater brine for its second proof. This both imbues it with tasty, salty goodness and steams the bread while it bakes.

The result is light, golden and utterly namunamuā (this onomatopoeic kupu Māori is the only apt description – “delicious” just doesn’t do it justice). It’s no understatement to say that choirs of angels sang and I understood true, fleeting happiness as I ate the spoils. If anything else I eat in 2020 can top this, it’ll be a bloody good year. / Leonie Hayden

WAIKATO: FREAKY GOOD SHAKE

Even before I was vegan I was allergic to dairy so I have never, ever, not once in my life had a “freakshake”. I hate the name and sweets but I hate not being part of Instagram culture even more. I have muted “shake” on every platform. The longest what in town? The Harlem what? Fuck you.

Then I did a day trip to Hamilton. I cannot explain nor defend this, save to say Punnet cafe is almost worth driving down the endless strip of used car stores that I assume makes up this entire “city”. At long last, a freakshake was available to me.

The height, the condensation, the syrup-smothered glass, the fresh strawberries topped with a cloud of candy floss – the presentation was everything I’d dreamed of. But it was the most simple part of the dish that made me weep: I ate whipped cream for the first time in a decade. It’s really nice. I am ruined. Every day I’m not spooning pure fat into my mouth is a day wasted. This post was not sponsored by Punnet. / Josie Adams

Polvo aka wheke aka octopus gettin’ grilled (Photo: Getty Images)

HAWKE’S BAY: POLVO DO NOVA ZELÂNDIA

In Europe octopuses are all over the show, yet they barely pop up on menus over here despite our seas churning with them. Thankfully chef James Beck has a bloody delicious octopus terrine on the slate at his restaurant Bistronomy in Napier (the tomato gnocchi is tasty as, too). Soft to chew and rich in the taste of the sea, it’s a must order. 

So if you haul up an octopus or two on your next fishing trip, don’t throw ’em back. Instead drag them home and cook ’em up, ya galah. However, you can’t just whack them in the microwave, they need some TLC if you’re to avoid producing a dish that’s as tough as Lee Marvin in The Dirty Dozen. Here’s octopus the Mum Barbosa way:

LEIGH BARBOSA’S OCTOPUS

Take one octopus. If frozen, thaw, and if it hasn’t already been cleaned, clean the head cavity and remove the beak. 

Place in a pot of water (no salt) to cover by at least 2 inches and bring to the boil. Boil gently until cooked. This could take as long as 1½ hours depending on size.  

Check it’s cooked by inserting a sharp knife into the thickest part of a tentacle. It should feel soft when inserting the knife. Remove from the heat and let it rest in the water until you are ready to use.

Grill on a barbecue with a sprinkling of salt and olive oil. Once grilled, add crushed garlic to hot olive oil (make sure not to burn the garlic), add parsley and drizzle over the grilled octopus. / José Barbosa

KĀPITI: MARY BERRY’S YULE LOG

I’d never eaten a chocolate log that wasn’t bought from a supermarket and what a revelation this was. Not to dismiss the supermarket logs, they’re up there as far as brightly lit packaged baking goes. But this chocolate log, it was something else. My cousin Lita made it (shout out Lita) and it was her first attempt. Still shocked by dessert time, she explained to everyone eating it that there were basically only four ingredients in the whole thing. Eggs, sugar, flour, cocoa. Bit of icing on top, bit of cream in the middle, and you have yourself a hit. The log itself looked a bit messy but the sponge was fluffy and the cream was fresh and it tasted so much better than the Cheesecake Factory purchase that was also available. Sometimes the simplest things bring the greatest joy. And on the first day of 2020, a homemade Mary Berry chocolate log was such a thing. / Madeleine Chapman

This is what your 2020 should look like (Photo: Alex Casey)

CANTERBURY: BE BOLD!

OK so I didn’t actually eat this burger but I did look at a photo of it very hard and digest its meaning for a very long time. This enthusiastic sign sits on the side of the Mobil in St Martins, and remains one of the most enigmatic and powerful pieces of public art I have ever seen. Every time we head back to my partner’s house in Christchurch, I like to pay my respects to it. Where to start? Well, the burger itself looks bloody good – perfectly delicate circular slice of bacon, golden fried chicken, crisp lettuce and that little tease of melted cheese, languishing seductively over the bottom bun. But it’s the message that really gets my tastebuds going, especially over the New Year period. BE BOLD! Capital letters! Exclamation marks! No explanation whatsoever! Next to a clothing bin but who cares! This is what your 2020 should look like. I also ate a very juicy peach in Whiritoa. / Alex Casey

SOUTHLAND: THE PERFECT CHEESE SCONE 

For reasons well beyond my capacity for understanding, the humble cheese scone is a somewhat controversial baked good at The Spinoff HQ. Because I am a man of open mind and discerning palate, however, I can appreciate that while the discipline can often feel crowded with disappointingly doughy, over-crumbly or soda-dominant efforts, there is no heaven like the one held warm and unctuous within the golden crust of a truly great scone. 

It’s with enormous excitement, then, that I must announce that the best thing I ate on my summer holiday – and maybe the best cheese scone I’ve eaten in my entire LIFE – came from a lovely lil café by the name of The Batch, just a couple blocks off the main drag in Invercargill. Perfectly baked, cheesy enough that it barely needed butter, and with a respectful kick imparted by the inclusion of finely chopped jalapeños, it was an unimpeachable monument to the virtue of simplicity. A pure joy. A moreish treat. A perfect scone. / Matthew McAuley


The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.


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