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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wellington on a Plate 2010

"We greet you. We greet you."

After my trip last year for the inaugural Wellington on a Plate food festival, I was excited to not only be invited to return, but to visit with fellow food bloggers Billy, John and Peter as well. Hurrah - food loves company.

Bolton Hotel

We've been split up across two hotels - Billy and John in the Holiday Inn; Peter and I at the Bolton Hotel. Our rooms are on the swish side of executive, although I'm most enamoured by the throw at the end of the bed which I discover laster is meant to resemble the feathers of a kiwi, the national bird of New Zealand.

Te Papa

We have a comprehensive itinerary mapped out for our entire weekend, and our first stop is Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand.

Our menu

"Come, you must be hungry, please eat."

Our Te Papa tour host, Rangimoana Taylor, welcomes us with words that are music to the ears of any food blogger. We're ushered to a table in the cafe which is soon laden with dishes incorporating traditional Maori ingredients.

"We cannot leave until everything is eaten," he intones, his eyes twinkling.

Rewena paraoa potato bread

Rewena parao is a potato bread that is a Maori favourite. Made using only flour, water, sugar and potato, the mixture must ferment for at least three days in order to create a starter culture. The bread is dense but soft, and has a sweet flavour.

Kutai mussels

It would be sacrilege to visit New Zealand without sampling one of their most famous exports, mussels. We dig into a bowl of mussels that are so big, they've been cut in half, and still they look large and chunky in their tangy vinaigrette dressing.

[clockwise from left] Mayonnaise with horopito native pepper;
pesto with pikopiko young fern fronds; and manuka honey

We're also introduced to horopito native pepper, used in a mayonnaise here, as well as pikopiko young fern fronds, which have been incorporated into a pesto. The pikopiko, Rangimoana explains, is very bitter, and so the pesto has been tempered in order to be palatable. However we find the pikopiko has been muted so much we find its distinct flavour hard to detect.

Manuka honey is the final condiment, revered worldwide for its natural antibacterial properties. We appreciate its rich flavour on its own, but I take great delight in drizzling it over fat wedges of roasted kumara sweet potato chips.

Kumara sweet potato chips

Kawakawa leaves

Herbal medicines have long featured as part of Maori custom and way of life. Kawakawa leaves are chewed to relieve toothaches, or made into a tea to relieve constipation, asthma or blood pressure problems.

The leaves and bark can also be applied externally to wounds, burns or ulcers. Rangimoana explains that it is only when the leaves have holes eaten in them by insects, that they are ready to use.

Kawakawa tea

The kawakawa tea is surprisingly light and soothing, a bit like a chamomile tea flavoured with ginger, although we are warned that whilst one cup is good and two cups is delicious, three cups will definitely send you running for the bathroom, as its laxative effects make itself known!

Afternoon tea

Rangimoana Taylor

Rangimoana leads us outside to Bush City, a living outdoor display of native New Zealand forest and vegetation. It's a fascinating look at the plants and leaves used, despite the howling winds and freezing temperature. We also learn about interesting Maori traditions and beliefs, including the rule that fishing is only done between December and May, allowing fish stocks to regenerate sufficiently. Many Maori still stick to this, he says, and they only fish for their family, not for the country. Fishing should only be for what you yourself can eat.

Rangimoana showing us kawakawa leaves

Kawakawa leaves

Giant greenstone also known as New Zealand jade or nephrite
- Maori call this pounamu

We move back into the museum for a brief look at the exhibits. The full name of the museum is Te Papa Tongarewa which means "container of treasures".

Here is a boulder of New Zealand jade, rubbed over the years to reveal its dark green hue. There is a six-metre long glass tank is a colossal squid that weighs 495 kilograms. Overhead is a spectacular 20.6m long skeleton of a pygmy blue whale.

The colossal squid

Rangimoana has so much knowledge to share but it's his story about the kiwi that strikes me as most poignant.

The story of the kiwi

The kiwi, short, stumpy and flightless is the national symbol of New Zealand, but Maori storytelling says the kiwi was not always so. It was once a beautiful bird with long legs, spectacular plumage and could glide through the air with ease. One day the world was slowly becoming poisoned by a thick dark mud - the end was nigh unless someone would agree to come down to the swamp and eat the poison, otherwise all animals would die.

Tanemahuta, the god of the forest, asked the birds to help him. He asked the tui to help, but the tui said he was too scared. He asked the pukeko to eat the poison, but the bird refused, saying he didn't want to get his feet wet. He asked the pipiwharauora, but he said he was too busy building his nest to help.

Only the kiwi stepped forward to volunteer, and although he knew he would lose his plumage, long legs, and ability to fly, the kiwi agreed. You will lose your birdcall, and will only sqwawk, the kiwi was warned. You will forage in the dark, have squat legs, no feathers, and grow whiskers and a long beak to find the poison. The kiwi agreed.

Tanemahuta was so grateful to the kiwi. All animals would now be saved. However he decided to teach the other birds a lesson. To the tui, he said, you said you were too scared I will mark you with two white feathers on your throat as a sign of a coward. The tui is a honeyeater that has dark feathers except for a small white marking on the throat.

To the pukeko, Tanemahuta said you were too worried about getting your feet wet. From now on you live in the swamp. The pukeko is the purple swamp hen.

To the pipiwharauroa, Tanemahuta said you were too busy building your nest to help. From now on you will no longer build nests, but be forced to lay your eggs in the nests of others. The pipiwharauroa is the shining cuckoo.

And to the kiwi, Tanemahuta said we will always be grateful for your sacrifice. You will be known throughout the lands and the most treasured bird of all.


The Marae is the Maori communal meeting place and the one at Te Papa is often used to host official welcomes for visiting ambassadors and international officials.

There are layers of symbolism and meaning behind every design aspect here. It's not until Rangimoana points them out, that we see how each culture around the world has been incorporated into its design, acknowledging and welcoming all peoples as one.

We're instructed to take a seat and Rangimoana quickly asks about our cultural background. Suddenly we're treated to a mihimihi, a ceremonial welcome that is performed first in Maori and then translated in English.

It's hard to describe the intensity of emotion that transpires during the ten minute ceremony. The Maori language is extraordinarily beautiful, a deep and booming swell of calls that seems to call on your most inner soul, spine-tingling in its rawness and musicality. Each of us are thanked for the gifts our own cultures have brought to the Maori people and the people of New Zealand.

One by one, Rangimoana stands before us, looking us in the eye and welcoming us with all the power and magnitude of someone channeling the life force of the entire country. We are welcomed, not to his house, but to our home.

I'm the last one to be welcomed and he acknowledges both my Chinese ancestry as well as my status as the only female in the room. He thanks me as a representative of all women, as nurturer, as comforter, as giver of life.

"Men are the gainers of knowledge, but only women have the power of wisdom," he intones.

"We greet you, we greet you".

Wellington on a Plate runs from August 14-29, 2010.

> BREAKING NEWS: GET IN QUICK for a $29 3-course dinner
Sydneysiders can check out the Wellington pop-up restaurant due to hit Kings Cross in mid-September. Enjoy a 3-course dinner made by visiting Wellington chefs for only $29. Bookings can be made here - walk-ins on the day will be available but extremely limited.

Dates: 14-26 September 2010
Address: 32 Bayswater Road, Kings Cross

EDIT: Enter the Grab Your Fork Freebie Friday competition for your chance to win dinner for two at the pop-up restaurant on Friday September 24, 2010. Details...

Grab Your Fork attended Wellington on a Plate as a guest of Positively Wellington Tourism.

55 Cable Street, Wellington, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (04) 381 7000

Opening hours:
Monday to Sunday 10am-6pm (till 9pm on Thursdays)
Entry is free

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Boulcott Street Bistro
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Devour Gala Dinner
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Fidel's Cafe
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Logan Brown
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Matterhorn
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Osteria Del Toro
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Petone Food Tour
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Te Papa Museum
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Wellington Pop-Up Restaurant
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Wellington Pop-Up Restaurant in Sydney

19 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 8/24/2010 07:12:00 am


  • At 8/24/2010 8:22 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    Helen, if I we were staying at the Bolton I would have seriously swiped that gorgeous throw and stuffed it into my bag. Id' be rolling around in it like a mad man.
    I'm still getting delicious flash backs of those mussels at the Te Papa. I loved how Rangimoana's tone softened when he got to your mihimihi. Very moving.

  • At 8/24/2010 9:17 am, Anonymous Minh said…

    I'm with John, would gleefully roll around on that throw! I love the photos of all the decorations, those mussels look amazing!

  • At 8/24/2010 10:42 am, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    Onn I think my hunger had me stoping at the mussels and kumara chips! Yum Yum! Kind of excited about my trip to NZ in December now! =)

  • At 8/24/2010 10:45 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Looove your blog! And thanks for doing a great writeup of Wellington (home city but am now in Sydney).
    Looking forward to more lovely food and photos!

  • At 8/24/2010 10:51 am, Anonymous billy@atablefortwo said…

    Wow what an informative post, Helen! That throw on the bed at Bolton sure looks shexy. ;) Imagine lying on the bed with that furry throw at Bolton, listening to Michael Bolton....

    How am I supposed to live with youuuuuu..... ROFL!

  • At 8/24/2010 12:16 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Love the story of the kiwi, and this post reminds me of how much I want to go back and explore New Zealand *not* on a Year 7 Band trip! I'd happily eat those mussels for dinner every night that I was visiting...

  • At 8/24/2010 12:27 pm, Anonymous Jacq said…

    The intricate design of the Marae is just amazing! And I loved the story of the kiwi, thanks for sharing!

  • At 8/24/2010 6:16 pm, Anonymous Anna Johnston said…

    What a wonderful story of the Kiwi & ceremony. Great read & those mussels - fabulous!

  • At 8/24/2010 7:33 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I can't take my eyes off the furry throw!

  • At 8/24/2010 7:38 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    i too want to roll around on the furry throw lol

  • At 8/25/2010 5:15 am, Anonymous Maria @ ScandiFoodie said…

    Great photos Helen! Everything looks & sounds so interesting!

  • At 8/25/2010 12:06 pm, Anonymous KatieandWags said…

    What an incredible greeting, and I love the story of the Kiwi. Sounds like you are having a wonderful time.

  • At 8/25/2010 4:50 pm, Blogger Iron Chef Shellie said…

    I love the look of that throw at the end of the bed... looks so luxurious! And those mussels look soooo good!! I can almost taste the tangy in my mouth... damn I wish I could lick my screen :P

  • At 8/25/2010 8:31 pm, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    Helen, it was a pleasure travelling with you to Wellington and getting a chance to eat with you around the region. Rangimoana's greeting is still something I talk about now! Love the write up!

  • At 8/26/2010 12:23 pm, Blogger Brenda said…

    What a wonderful experience! New Zealanders are such beautiful people!

  • At 8/29/2010 5:28 pm, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    The welcome sounds wonderful, and it's great to hear about the native plants and the story of the kiwi. Kumara chips and honey sounds lovely too!

  • At 8/29/2010 5:51 pm, Blogger shaz said…

    LOve this post Helen, and the story of your welcome, I would have been bawling by then - it sounded full of emotion.

    The mussels look fabulous.

    By the way, having trouble viewing the latest post on your blog, not sure why.


  • At 9/02/2010 12:28 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi John - *visions of you rolling on that throw* lol!

    And yes, the mihimihi was such a memorable part of the trip. I will never forget how emotive it was - such a lucky experience.

    Hi Minh - lol. I'm so glad I wasn't the only one obsessed with the throw!

    Hi Angie - You will have so much fun. Can't wait to read about your trip (and your eats!)

    Hi Anon - Thanks so much. Wellington is a fab city. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Hi Billy - Haha at Michael Bolton. I think I prefer Barry White. lol

    Hi Hannah - You got to go to NZ on a yr 7 band trip? Now I'm jealous! lol

    Hi Jacq - The marae was exquisite and now I have so much love for the kiwi!

    Hi Anna Johnston - Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the post. So many things we learnt during our tour!

    Hi Ellie - lol. I kept running my fingers through it at night.

  • At 9/02/2010 12:33 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi chocolatesuze - lol. It's a throw party!

    Hi Maria - Thank you. We had much fun and learnt so much!

    Hi KatieandWags - We had a ball, and the kiwi story is great isn't it?

    Hi Iron Chef Shellie - haha, food blogs are dangerous. The mussels were so plump and tasty.

    Hi Peter G - I think I will always remember that mihimihi. It was so hard to describe how impressive it was.

    Hi Brenda - I agree. It's a wonderful country with incredible people.

    Hi Arwen - I'm a sucker for sweet things, but glad that John agreed with me too!

    Hi Shaz - It was a very emotional greeting, quite unlike anything I'd ever experienced.

    And oh dear, not sure why. I hope that everything is okay now?


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