I have an obsession with whole roasted animals. Hangis, spits, pits... they all fascinate me in their celebration of meat. I was keen to try traditional Maori food when I was in Wellington, New Zealand but unfortunately Wellington ain't so close to Rotorua, where most hangis are offered (primarily catered for the tourist market, admittedly).
But some online research did uncover a Maori restaurant in Wellington called Kai in the City.
Paraoa Maori bread
It's a small and humble restaurant that sits practically opposite Cafe Bastille. The plain wooden tables are simple and nestled together, with a glimpse of the chef's mise-en-place possible in the semi-open kitchen.
After placing my order, I'm served a basket of complimentary paraoa Maori bread to accompany my drink (feijoa juice, of course). The cubes of bread are like a cross between a brioche and a Vienna loaf: soft, dense and fluffy with a hint of Manuka honey sweetness.
Tangaroa platter $40.00
The tangaroa platter seems like the best way to try a little bit of everything. A large square plate is laden with assorted seafood nibbles including kuku (mussel), kuku and kina kohere (mussel and sea egg fritter), piripiri prawns, tio repe (oysters), hupa kaimoana (seafood soup), pikopiko (young fern shoot) dip, smoked eel pate, creme fraiche and piripiri oil with more paraoa (Maori bread).
The oysters are fresh and fragrant, the mussels are plump and tender. I develop quite an liking for the smoked eel pate and the pikopiko fern shoot dip too. The soup is thick and hearty, each shot glass packed with chunks of scallop, mussel and prawn. The mussel fritter is a bit like eating a mussel pancake, and though the prawns are sweet, they're not as fiery as I thought they'd be.
The main meals are plated elegantly with a reasonable portion size. This is the only modern Maori restaurant in the world, I'm told almost conspiratorially by the friendly diner sitting next to me.
Do you eat here often? I ask, and he smiles in response. Five minutes later he gets up, chats to the kitchen and then grabs a guitar. He's the restaurant songman, and soon he has the entire dining room singing Pokarekare Ana, a traditional Maori song with lyric cheat sheets for everyone.
It's a warm and friendly atmosphere and each table has to perform a solo. But everyone joins in and as each table leaves for the evening there's a cheerful flurry of farewells at the door.
Everyone waves back with smiles all around.
Kai in the City
21 Majorbanks Street, Wellington, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (04) 801 5006
Tuesday to Sunday 5pm till late
Closed on Mondays
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Wellington, NZ - Kai in the City
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9/14/2007 11:59:00 pm