Māori cuisine is curiously uncommon in our culinary landscape.
Growing up in the Māori wonderland of Rotorua, I enjoyed many hangi as a kid. I just didn’t appreciate or understand how special it was until we moved to Auckland and there were no more hangi.
For those not from around here, hangi is a traditional Māori technique of cooking food underground, using heated rocks and covered baskets. It involves a lot of digging and a lot of time and is thus reserved for special occasions on marae (Māori meeting houses) such as weddings and funerals. For most New Zealanders, Māori cuisine is not an everyday occurrence and even tourists visiting our country will struggle to find Māori cuisine.
Searching “hangi” on Zomato comes up with one result and both “boil up” and “Māori” yield no results. None. I know of one cafe in Auckland serving Rewena bread as part of their menu, but it’s not like I can just go out and enjoy Māori food whenever I want. The industry just doesn’t look like that. Yet.
In contrast, searching “sushi”, “butter chicken”, and “kebab” on Zomato Auckland comes up with over 600 results combined. You can travel all over New Zealand and find sushi, butter chicken and kebabs in every location. However, Māori cuisine is under represented here and there’s something not right about it.
So, when my food blogging friend Bri from Bri DiMattina got me excited about a Māori pop up inside of Merediths, I jumped at the chance. But by the time I went to book, the 6pm seating was already sold out! No matter, we were still keen for the 9pm seating. Tickets booked over a month out and Miss A (my friend who has eaten a few hangi and boil ups in her time) and I were excited.
Hiakai means “hungry”
Hiakai means “hungry” in Māori and is the tale of two young, gifted Māori chefs, Kane Bambery and Monique Fiso, telling a story of traditional Māori cuisine using today’s frame of reference. Both have traveled and cooked overseas and are now back to make a mark on our landscape. Hiakai is a series of pop up dinners at select venues around the country and each event expresses a different theme. The theme for the Auckland event was Winter Gardens and unfolded over 5 courses with matching wines. The wines by Sileni were incredible pairings that elevated both the wine and dishes to new heights. There so much on the menu that was familiar with new approach and other dishes that were just outrageous. In a good way.
Starting with bread and butter, rewena is a Māori potato-based sourdough. Simple. Fresh. Delicious. Photographing these took more time than eating them. Do I need to remind you it was after 9pm? I suppose it was fitting that we were hiakai.
Hapuka is a firm-fleshed fish found in NZ waters. I love hapuka but it’s rare to see on restaurant menus and this was the first time I’d eaten it raw. This was paired with a citrusy Sileni Advocate Albarino 2015.
The Hapuka tartare with horopito, zest aioli, and seaweed was euphoric. Easily the best dish of the night.
After the fist tiny bite, we took many more tiny mouthfuls, savouring each morsel and mourning when it was all gone. We wanted seconds. And thirds.
The next dish was an interpretation on the humble Māori boil up. A generous portion served in a clay pot, this hearty winter dish was completed with shredded pork, pork bone, watercress, cubes of kumara, doughboys.
Many of the world’s cuisines have versions of the boil up. In Chinese cuisine (my frame of reference), it’s simply called “tong” and it’s eaten daily. Meaty bones and your choice of vegetables, boiled for hours…The cool kids these days call it bone broth.
Hiakai’s take on the hangi is a dish I could eat all day, every day. I admit was super excited about a fresh take on hangi. A Māori hangi of meat and vegetables is traditionally slow cooked in the earth and while Hiakai’s hangi-inspired dish was cooked above ground, in a kitchen, the chefs transported as much soil and wood as they could carry into the kitchen to cook this dish. I would love to have witnessed that mess!
Chef Monique came table side to introduce the dish and poured the sauce over each diner’s meal. Nice touch. The process of hangi can dilute flavours but this wasn’t the case here. The chicken was beautifully seasoned with a tasty herb stuffing and the cabbage and puree rounded out the dish. I wanted to lick my plate clean. Really.
The final two courses were dessert courses, both featuring organic, locally grown vegetables. Both fiercely original interpretations of the theme Winter Gardens.
Spinach sorbet. Using native spinach this sorbet was refreshingly tart and tasted bright. A palette cleanser of a dish. I don’t know how to explain how good this was because there’s nothing I can compare spinach sorbet to. It was unlike anything I’d had before and I think anyone would have a hard time promoting spinach sorbet. You just have to take my word for it. Served with poached rhubarb and rhubarb foam, this dish was as pretty as it was clever. I loved how this dish reflected the Winter Gardens theme beautifully.
A trio of root vegetable ice creams on top of a bed of mint and fruit soil finished off the Winter Gardens meal. Sunchoke, pumpkin and yacon ice creams are not things I had ever considered before. These were not typical ice creams, instead of sweet, they were creamy and earthy. The sweetness lacking in the dessert was found in the Sileni Pourriture Noble 2014 for a bold hit of fruit and honey.
We left feeling rosy cheeked and proper full. Hiakai pop up was an absolute delight and I look forward to seeing what Chef Monique and Chef Kane come up with next. If Hiakai are popping up near you, I recommend you book tickets immediately! And get the matched wines. It’s a very nice bonus and well worth it.
At $75 for 5 courses plus $45 for matched wines this event was a special treat. For all the new and interesting things we tried, good value. Carefully considered, fiercely seasonal Māori cuisine is not your everyday dining experience. Though I sincerely hope that someday it will be.
This post is part of Our Growing Edge, a monthly blogging event to encourage bloggers to try new food related things.
This month’s host is Sophie from Cooking Trips and the theme this month is TRAVEL.
If you have a blog and you are eating or cooking something new this month, click below to join. More information here.