Today, armed my sister, Joey, and our cameras, we tackled my first Auckland Seafood Festival. I always suspected that it would be an expensive exercise that wouldn’t be worthwhile. I was wrong. This festival really celebrates New Zealand seafood and the new location of Wynyard Quarter is perfect. Surrounded by water and boats old and new, the festival was beautifully decorated and it was often hard to figure out what props had been brought in to entertain the sea theme and what were already there.
Greeted by seafood on ice, this was a nice preview of what was to come. If you don’t like seeing eyes on your food, then keep walking.
We made our way around and quickly found something we couldn’t turn down. The Wild Seafood Challenge. There were 6 different items for $2 for each item or $9 for a platter of all 6. This included: kina, prawn killers, turbo shells, sea cucumber, octopus and kina shots.
The freshly opened kina were raw and uncleaned. I’ve only tried kina out of a plastic pottle before, so this was quite intense in comparison and there were a lot of inedible bits that you had to sift out. We overheard someone describe kina as “bitter”. I don’t really think of it as bitter, it’s a rich taste that is slightly savoury, though I guess it is more bitter than sweet. If you don’t like it, don’t even think about what it really is.
The prawn killers were good. They reminded me of mantis prawn tails and came with a generous dollop of aioli.
Turbo shells were much like paua or abalone swimming in a lemony oil. It a bit chewy, but good. I’m pleased I got to try something new. I was worried that there wouldn’t be anything at the festival that I hadn’t already tried before.
The sea cucumber was served Pacific Island style – a coconut cream based ceviche. Is it weird that I had sea cucumber just last week? This was the first time I’ve had raw sea cucumber. It was delicious, but the texture is not for everyone. It was slimy and reminded me of a chunky mushroom soup.
The BBQ octopus had a delicious marinade. It was smokey and sweet and the highlight of the platter. Maybe even the highlight of the day. If you only try one thing at The Wild Seafood stall, make it the octopus. We considered going back for seconds later, but the line was long and we decided to continue trying new dishes.
We saved the kina shot until the end. It was just as you might imagine vodka, tomato and seafood to taste like. Probably not the best thing to have in the morning.
There were lots of stalls, each offering several dishes. Catering company John Oyagawa offered 3 dishes: scallops wrapped in bacon, salt & pepper squid, and coconut prawns – all $6 per dish. We received 5 scallops which was great value.
We tried the Villa Maria Pinot Gris and Arneis (ar-nayz). Similar to the Pinot Gris but less tart. I quite enjoyed it. Something I could drink more than 1 glass of. $7 per glass, plus $2 for the festival glass.
Scampi Street was much anticipated, but when we arrived there, there were only 2 options on offer.
That made it easy to pick: we picked one of each and split our winnings. Each dish was $8 included 2 large scampi. We tried BBQ scampi with organic lemon yoghurt sauce, and a scampi with dry rub and butter. We found the first dish buttery and sweet, but the punch of the Cajun-spiced dry rub overpowered the subtley sweet scampi.
It was a pinot gris day and we tried the Babich Pinot Gris $7 and took our drinks to the Electrolux Auckland Seafood School show. Chef Marco Edwardes showed us a thing or two about preparing a whole salmon. I was impressed by his unflinching handling of sizzling food. He must have fingers made of steel. If it were me, I’d be playing hot potato. I guess that’s why I’m not a chef.
Macadamia Crumbed Scallops were 5 for $10 from Cathedral Cove Macadamias.
Probably the most adorable helper at the festival. Right after I took this photo, he flashed me the brightest smile.
The scallops were a tad undercooked which I didn’t mind, under is better than over in my opinion, but the heavy curry seasoning was a bit much. Seafood should be cooked more simply.
We didn’t get into the crayfish this time, but for those that are that way inclined, they are pretty good value at $30 for a steaming-hot half.
The festival atmosphere was wonderful and apart from a bit of impatience with queues, everyone was in good spirits. There were lots of others photographing their food with Dale, point and shoots and iPhones. This is the age we live in. I adore looking at food and there was plenty of eyeballing other people’s dishes and others asked us about the dishes we were eating too. Maybe we got a little silly by playing tricks on eavesdroppers…If you heard anything about oyster milkshakes with fish flake sprinkles or salmon & wasabi sorbet or Movenpick’s Hoki-pokey icecream or the new cocktail called kina-colada…
I ate all the things I set out to eat plus a few extras. I managed to avoid my old favourites of prawns, salmon and oysters which made room for the rare and new things I wanted to try.
All up, we spent $68 which included 2 platters, 2 lots of scampi (total of 4 scampi), 2 lots of scallops (total of 10 scallops) and 4 glasses of wine. Terrific value.
The festival is on all weekend including Monday and tickets are $20 each. The weather is supposed to continue being gorgeous so treat yourself to a day by the sea eating delicious New Zealand seafood. More info can be found over at their website www.aucklandseafoodfestival.co.nz.