Kaikoura Cuisine

22nd February, 2012.

Archaeological remains in Kaikoura, on the eastern side of Aotearoa’s South Island, indicate that Moa Hunters inhabited the peninsula 900 years ago. whoa Moa!!!…..Check out the drumstick on this one!  Jetsetvagabond and Sofia meet a friendly local.

In Māori legend, Maui placed his foot on the Kaikoura peninsula to steady himself while he ‘fished-up’ the North Island. The indigenous name of Kaikoura translates in the Māori language to ‘meal of crayfish’ (Kai – food, koura – crayfish), and it is crayfish for which the region has traditionally been famous. The area’s abundant food sources attracted Māori settlement, and the remains of several pa (fortified villages) sites can still be seen on the peninsula to this day.

We had chosen Kaikoura as our first port of call after landing in Christchurch specifically for its rich marine life…..……and spent one adrenalin filled morning watching orcas and albatross and swimming with dolphins.

Kaikoura’s peninsular is spectacular not only for its wildlife, many of whom were totally unimpressed by our presence…..…but also for its detail….Seaweeds, small and large, thrive in the nutrient-rich waters of the Kaikoura coastline.  Collectively called rimu or rimurimu in the Māori language the bull kelp or (Durvillaea antarctica) is of special significance to the Māori. Traditionally, and still to this day, southern Māori used the wide blades of the bull kelp as storage bags or poha titi to store mutton birds (Shearwaters) in their own fat. The blades of the kelp were inflated and blown up like natural balloons, and strengthened externally with totara bark.

Below right is a Poha Titi or bull kelp bag.  South island tribes used the poha titi as a unique way of preserving and storing titi (muttonbirds). This poha has been made from a kelp bag that has been covered with strips of totara bark and placed inside a woven kete (basket).  (Sample from the Te Papa Museum, Wellington). Maurice, a  Māori workshop leader from the National Outdoors Leadership School, demonstrates how to prepare seafood prior to cooking in bull kelp pouches on a Kaikoura beach. (Photo: Alice Hill)

A fascinating contemporary interpretation of this technique is employed by Al Brown (of Logan-Brown fame) in his latest book Stoked: cooking with fire.  One must assume he is unaware of the Māori tradition of bull kelp pouches for cooking seafood, as he doesn’t mention this in his chapter on cooking crayfish on an open fire.Al Brown opens up the bull kelp, slicing through the honeycomb structure and separates it to take the whole crayfish……..…the end of the package is rolled closed, and the whole thing placed amongst the hot coals.  The kelp acts like shrink wrap, keeping the moisture in until it dries and chars away.

At Kaikoura, there appears to be a culture of food caravans that serve up some pretty unique products, one of the most iconic being Nin’s Bin….Like Nin’s Bin, Kairkoura cuisine often means dining al fresco, which on the day we had lunch, was bracing! Battered scallops and green lipped mussels with a nice wee drop of Pinot Gris from the east coast Martinborough in the Wairarapa region – an area that we were to visit later on in the trip.The girls in the wild boar caravan were absolutely delightful, and every other phrase was good as gold which translates as ‘not a problem’!  Maybe a leftover from the gold mining days of the 1800s?The wild pork and apple burger was a beauty and we all had to compete with the sea gulls for our chips.  The pig was freshly caught by the girl’s boss, who is a hunter.

The whole prospect of hunting and collecting was a theme that seemed to dominate the culinary scene in Aotearoa – that and a quaint indulgence for home style baking…….

….more on that later.


3 Responses to “Kaikoura Cuisine”

  1. Beautiful pictures. Essence of coast.

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