Madeleine Chapman spent a day learning about Christchurch through its most famous dishes.
What is there do with with a day in Christchurch? Thanks to the inexplicably early check-out times at hotels all over the world and a 7pm flight back to Auckland, I had a full day to wander the great Garden City. What is quintessentially Christchurch that I could do? Eat, apparently. I asked my colleagues for ideas and every single response was to eat something. So I did. I ate Christchurch.
10am – Grizzly Baked Goods
Number one on the call sheet, Grizzly Baked Goods appears on Instagram every time someone I know happens to be in Christchurch. The hole-in-the-wall bakery is first on every food list, and for good reason. Their morning buns (essentially a brioche crossed with a croissant) have made them a Christchurch staple.
I was told there would be a Milo morning bun. As an adult whose hot drink of choice is still Milo, it sounded like my dream come true. In reality, I was lied to. “We stopped selling the Milo buns this week,” said the otherwise very friendly woman behind the counter. As my world collapsed around me, I heard myself asking instead for a lemon poppy morning bun and a chocolate croissant (you cannot make me call it a pain au chocolat). Grizzly Baker has clocked it – by having no seats, they don’t get loser customers like me hanging around. I walked down the road to the nearest park and ate my morning bun while looking at the saddest playground in the world.
It was delicious. I’m not generally a fan of poppy seeds but the fluffy pastry and touch of lemon more than made up for it. I saved the chocolate croissant for later. This would be a marathon, not a sprint.
11am – Fermentist
Having a beer at 11am wasn’t on my agenda but I needed to sit down and I needed to pee. Fermentist, a brewery/workspace/vegan cafe, opened last June and was my haven. Their mission is in sustainability and not destroying the planet in the name of a few cold ones.
I had their Kiwi Pale Ale, New Zealand’s first CarbonZero beer, meaning they offset carbon emissions at each step of the brewing process and used carbon credits to support native forest restoration in the Hinewai Reserve on the Banks Peninsula. The beer tasted fine, I can’t really tell the difference between beers. But it made me feel good in the same way donating some coins to a charity collector on the street makes you feel good.
12pm – Dumplings
Two dollar rice. Three words that have become synonymous with growing up in Christchurch. Dumplings, a family-owned restaurant, has had many homes since it opened almost three decades ago but currently lives in Riccarton. If you grew up in a household where asking for seconds meant being told to “get more rice”, Dumplings will be your heaven. Or your hell, if eating rice with every meal as a child weirdly put you off for life.
The $2 rice special is exactly that. A plate of rice with special sauce for $2. Metro Cheap Eats? Child’s play. This is by far the best value for money in the country. The sauce’s recipe is top secret, with co-owner Peter Wah saying this year that he wouldn’t sell it for anything less than $200,000.
The sauce induced nostalgia. It’s hard to tell what exactly was in it. There was a bit of barbecue, a bit of sweetness, a bit of thickener. It tasted like a really good version of when dinner was a meat and rice combo but there was only rice left, so you’d scrape the random bits of chicken stuck to the bottom of the dish, then scoop the juices/broth onto the rice. The last remains of the chicken juice on rice is underrated. The $2 rice at Dumplings is perfectly rated. Everyone loves it. I, a fool, got greedy and paid extra to have meat on top. I didn’t believe that I could get a lunch for $2 so I paid $11 to be humbled into overeating. Learn from my mistakes, please.
1pm to 3pm – sleeping at the mall
I fell asleep on a comfy chair at the Westfield shopping mall.
4:30pm – Dimitri’s Greek Food
It was too soon to be eating another large meal but duty called. A souvlaki from Dimitri’s, I was told, was imperative to my food journey. I’d had souvlaki once before, from a food market in Melbourne. It was nice but this, this was something else. I ordered a lamb single (size options were single, double, triple) thinking it would be a snack option. It wasn’t.
Is there a correct method for eating a souvlaki? Someone please teach me because I made a mess and wasted some perfectly cooked lamb chunks. A woman behind the counter was teaching a younger woman how to prepare each order. As they went through the processes the young woman knew all the answers except one, asked as I was leaving.
“And what happens if they say they’re vegan?”
I never got to hear the answer.
5:30pm – jam wrap
Once again I wanted to fall asleep. The thought of eating anything else was making me feel a little bit sick but I only had one more stop. I was told any fish and chip shop would do, and there was one 20 metres from Dimitri’s so I stumbled over and asked for a foreign object I’d never heard of before.
“One jam wrap please.”
I felt like maybe I’d been lied to again. How was there a fried food I’d never heard of before? And with an advertised price of $2.50(?!), I felt cheated. $2.50? In this climate? I expected to receive one half of a donut with a dollop of jam on top. But this was Christchurch. I was presented with a full five inch sub drowning in sugar and cinnamon.
I carried it around for an hour and took it to the airport with me, hoping I’d be hungry enough to eat it before my flight. I wasn’t, and I ate it on a full stomach, cursing myself for my inability to leave food on any plate. A jam wrap is like a long cream donut, but swapping out the cream for more jam. And fried. It was dense and delicious and sat in my bloated stomach like a brick. It’s the ones we love that hurt us the most.
I trudged onto the plane and fell immediately to sleep, waking only for a beer and some cheese and crackers. It was koru hour, what else was I to do? When I got home I unpacked my bag and found crumbs. I’d forgotten about the chocolate croissant. It was squashed and the chocolate had melted then hardened again but it was still good.
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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