Ken and I are food tourists, and so one of our goals in New Zealand was to go to the best restaurants we could find. We did quite well, too. The bigger cities have a surprisingly sophisticated cuisine, borrowing heavily from European traditions but adapting it a bit, in particular highlighting seafood in simple preparation. We had excellent dinners in Wellington and Queenstown. Particularly Queenstown, where the tourist industry supports world class restaurants like Wai and The Bunker.

I complained earlier about restaurants in New Zealand. That's not really fair; we had a lot of great dinners. Alas, NZ lacks a long tradition of upscale dining, so sometimes you find good food with poor service, or mediocre food masquerading as a fine restaurant.

I love ordinary food, too, just eating at fine restaurants would be tiresome. The Kiwi take on the hamburger is good. A serious sandwich where the meat is secondary to the stacks of crisp tomatoes, lettuce, salad dressing, and a surprisingly good addition: beets. I also really appreciated the humble meat pie, a simple snack turned into something special with good pastry and flavourful gravy. And NZ has my new favourite coffee drink, the flat white, sort of like a cappucino but with rich cream instead of milk foam.

Finally, New Zealand's serious farm business means that local ingredients are excellent. Terrific fish, of course, although not a lot of variety. Nice tiny Nelson bay scallops, served with the roe. Local specialties like golden kumara, a mild flavourful sweet potato; feijoa, a funky fruit; manuka honey, tasty as well as medicinal; and muttonbird (titi), an oily fishy bird no one seems to actually eat. But the most impressive foodstuff was the best lamb I've ever had. Tasty juicy baby sheep.

  2004-12-13 16:52 Z