Christchurch Otautahi was shaken, not stirred by its quakes and New Zealand’s ‘Garden City’ earned itself a hipper nickname after the earthquake’s devastation and there were T-shirts proclaiming ‘Christchurch – The City That Rocks!’ – I wonder if they are still around?
Christchurch thrives not just on pretty gardens and quake humour, but on sport too. Locals are often described as ‘one-eyed’ by fellow Kiwis, due to the unshakeable belief that the Crusaders rugby team is the best in the land if not the world!
Canterbury considers its lamb the best in New Zealand and so, the world. Make up your own mind about the food on your Christchurch holiday and join local foodies at the many places that showcase local, seasonal food and well as all the ethnic food restaurants in the city.
You could also head over-the-hill to sample fruity wines in the vineyards of the volcanic Banks Peninsula. While there, try the crumbly cheddar, Havarti and Gouda from 19th-century Barry’s Bay Cheese Factory which I’ve frequented since I was a child – many of my ancestors settled on the peninsula in the mid-1800s.
Sweet-toothed people can head to She Chocolat restaurant in Governors Bay where even the main courses are laced with the lovely brown stuff.
Enterprising Māori traded produce with early English settlers in Christchurch and their culture continues to make its mark on the city. Check out vibrant poi and haka performance and feast on a traditional hangi dinner at Ko Tane, a ‘living Maori village’ at Willowbank.
You don’t have to be a super-sleuth to find the old timber home of our local whodunit writer Dame Ngaio Marsh – it’s nestled in the lower Cashmere Hills and is well signposted for those wanting a tour.
I’m in my hometown for the next ten days so follow me on Instagram (kiwitravelwriter) for photos and, of course, more blogs will follow soon.
My first few days I will be staying at the fabulous Classic Villa– opposite the Arts Centre.
Coffee is apparently the most legally traded commodity in the world: The World Bank estimates there are some 500 million people who are involved with the coffee trade and I help support that trade!
New Zealand, until about 1940, was largely a tea drinking nation. However, the first coffee shop in Christchurch was called the Coffee Palace and was in Market Square (now Victoria Square) in the mid-1800s. Sadly, I can’t find the photo I once saw of it, beside the animal pound and a women’s prison in the early city beginings.
I knew I was going to have a long affair with coffee by the time I was 8 years old. Staying with an auntie, while my father was in hospital, I was impressed with not only her shiny pink and black tile bathroom, but the smell of the liquid coffee and chicory that she brewed. That’s when I fell in love – and have remained in love-with fabulous coffee. And, like most New Zealanders (kiwis) I only drink in locally owned cafes with our regular double-shot drinks – not international or chain shops.
Chicory was grown for coffee in the Christchurch area from about the 1870s. I was surprised to find instant coffee – which many Kiwi still drink -was started in Invercargill, New Zealand, when David Strang applied for a patent for his soluble coffee powder in 1889.
In the early 1960s, I frequented places such as the Swiss Chalet which was downstairs in Tramway Lane off Cathedral Square and also a coffee shop in Chancery Arcade, which was rumoured to serve, not only coffee but Irish coffee too! In those days I drank espresso with a little hot milk and cinnamon sprinkled on top. I not only thought but also knew, I was so sophisticated 😊 😊
With my first pay from Christchurch hospital – I worked in the pharmacy – I bought a coffee grinder. Until then our family had bought ground coffee every week. Now I knew we would have even better coffee as it would be ground as we needed it for our percolator. We bought our coffee on Cashel Street and I loved browsing and smelling, the bean bins every week to choose the coffee beans to take home. Trevor Smith, the owner started roasting beans in the 1940s and I believe his son Bernard Smith still roasts coffee beans for cafés under the name Vivace Espresso.
Some coffee history
In the early 1500s, Yemen created or found a new drink – made from the fruit of an Ethiopian plant. It was quickly popular and by the 17th century in England, France and Holland the citizens loved it. The first English coffee houses opened in Oxford in 1651 and London in 1652
Interestingly Charles 2nd thought the coffee houses were dangerous to his reign and he sent spies to hear what was being said and, in 1675 he proclaimed coffee houses to have evil and dangerous effects and tried to suppress them.
In Paris (1689) the new Café de Procope made drinking coffee more popular there and in London, the Lloyds Coffee House became the powerful, international, insurance underwriter.
Apparently, over 800 different chemical ingredients have been identified, however, the basic principal of roasting raw green beans in a rotating drum over heat has remained consistent for a couple of hundred years.
Green coffee can be stored for ages, but roasted, it immediately begins to lose its flavour – the sooner after roasting and grinding it’s drunk the better -that’s why I drink an espresso. Black coffee delivers the kick I like and the satisfying after-taste – the result of the crema – the mixture of gas oils, waters and fine grounds that sits on the top of an espresso. There is nowhere for a barista to hide any lack of skills with my ‘long black’.
The top coffee producers are Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia, Mexico, Indonesia, and the Ivory Coast while the top consumers (by tonnes) are USA, Brazil, Germany, Japan, France, and Italy. I think per capita New Zealand would rank highly!
Sadly, Charles 2nd was right, as poverty, violence, exploitation, environmental devastation, political oppression, and corruption have all been linked to coffee – and still are. Thinking about my time in cafés, I guess they still can be hotbeds of gossip and intrigue.
‘Stir faster’ I’m told – it seems Indian cooking is not for sissies. Jacob, my tutor, said he’s not a good cook which didn’t sound promising, but then went on to say he’s a great teacher which was encouraging.
This hands-on cooking course takes one to ten days and there is no standing back and watching – it is a learn-by-doing course. I’m here for 3 days and a real asset is having Madhu in the kitchen. He is a great cook – he is also an expert in preparing everything we need: chopping, measuring, slicing, dicing, peeling, blitzing, and blending the ingredients. Even better, he cleans up after we’ve done the cooking and taken the glory!
But before the reflected glory, I’m still ‘stirring faster’ and now expect my right bicep to have developed centimetres and strength before I leave Kerala.
Jacob had introduced me to all the ingredients for my first vegetarian curry – and that’s a trick I’m taking home – this way nothing is left out of the dish.
All the ingredients are lined up in order of use – each container with the exact amount needed. This happens every time we cook – we know the name of the recipe, the ingredients, and how to cook it before starting. In keeping with the learn-by-doing method, we’re not given the written recipe until the dish is complete.
A lawyer for some twelve years, Jacob returned to this family land where, as a solo dad, and with his widowed mother, he farmed Haritha Farm for a while and, impressed by Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, Jacob stopped using pesticides. ‘I’m not an ecocentric or big crusader’ he tells me, ‘I’m human first and just thinking about the next generation.’
The 6.5 acres of land had been in rubber for some ten years and he has slowly ‘. . . turned back the clock. I’m recreating the old Kerala – a small holding which is self-sufficient, plus some to sell’. The land is now producing many fruits, vegetable, and spices, including coffee, coconut, ginger, banana, papaya, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, and of course jackfruit, a regional, carbohydrate staple. It’s also growing mahogany and bamboo. The bamboo is good for holding water and land as well as a cash crop for scaffolding. He calls it ‘do nothing farming’ and it seems to be working well.
Part of his self-sufficiency and diversified income stream, are four stand-alone bungalows set on the hill behind the main house which he built as homestay accommodation. Sitting on the patio up among the mature trees, birds and squirrels, I realise this is a different type of Indian tourism, eco-agro-cultural. Most cooking classes are show-and-tell, this is a dive-in-and-do-it course.
Over the three days I’m reminded to ‘cook slowly’, to ‘stir constantly’ and, to ‘always have a smile on your face.’ A pressure cooker is essential in an Indian kitchen and I’m also told, ‘cook for one whistle’, or two, or three, depending on the dish.
Evidently Kerala cooking is very much like the state – a fusion state he called it. Over thousands of years trading and the mixing of diverse cultures – Egyptians, Romans, Arabs, and Chinese – all who bought their religions and food. Coconut, originally from the Pacific, is an absolute staple in Kerala, while rice, another primary food was rarely grown here. Of course, the various churches, mosques and synagogues alongside Hindu temples also show its chequered past as a spice trader.
Pimenta Homestay is about 1 ½ hours inland from Cochin but a thousand miles away in atmosphere. Starting the day with freshly ground coffee, grown and roasted there, Jacob ensures his guests have an authentic experience of the culture and flavours of Kerala.
In between eating and cooking guests are taken to various places and saw activities in the area: this of course changes with the seasons. As well visiting farms and food markets, I also saw rubber bands being made in the middle of a rubber plantation; clay pots being made by hand; and the dying art of cotton-weaving. I especially loved watching men decorate trucks with a riot of bright floral motifs, miniature landscapes and messages such as, Save Oil Save India; Prayer is Power; and the common, noise inviting, Horn Okay or Horn Please.
Unlike many tourists’ tours around the world these day trips are personal with nothing for tourists to buy – just great interaction with locals who are rightly proud of their crafts. Well done Jacob, you exude generosity and warm hospitality along with the mouth-watering food lessons.
The day started for me at 4 o’clock in the morning when I went down to the Wellington waterfront to watch a hangi being prepared on the edge of Whairepo (stingray Lagoon, in front of the Wharewaka.
However, for the men cooking the hangi it had started at 2 a.m. I hadn’t been there very long when to the dismay of all , the automatic sprinkler system to water the lawns began pumping out litres of water – not good when you have a fire going.
The fire of course is essential for cooking the food and it became scramble to protect the flames which were heating, not volcanic stones as my husband used, but pieces of iron which are also great heat conductors.
Of course a great hangi master saved the fire and the food emerged after 3 hours – a great 10am breakfast for me.
Here are my photos which tell the story from my arrival until I had the food at about 10 a.m.
Some background about this building
Wharewaka o Poneke opened on Waitangi Day 2011 – and I was there – and during the dawn opening, Wellington’s Mayor, Celia Wade-Brown, said
“It’s a building you couldn’t see anywhere else in the world. Taranaki Whanui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika have delivered Wellington a wonderful asset that reminds us all of their place in the city – their history on the waterfront and their future as well.”
Here are some photos I took at the opening – just a few months after I moved to Wellington, NZ
Sir Ngatata Love, chairman of the Wharewaka o Poneke Charitable Trust, said he was excited to see the Wharewaka open. “This has been planned since the 1990s and I’m delighted we’re now able to bring waka culture to Wellington’s waterfront.”
The outside of the building is based on a korowai (cloak), which symbolises mana and prestige, and mirrors the traditional sails of the waka fleet.
Finally, those of you who follow me on social know the wharewaka and lagoon is where my U3A group meets for our Monday morning walks.
At the beginning of 2018 I’m taking a cooking class in the foothills of the Western Ghats, Kerala, India. I’m really interested in the growing of spices and herbs in the region, and it seems by staying at the PimentaI will be able to see that, and learn to cook authentic dishes!
Many years ago, I attended one of the very first cooking classes in Thailand – of course now they’re everywhere there, and it seems that the Pimenta (the name for allspice) was also the leader in homestay and cooking classes.
I’d not really considered a cooking class, but a response from them on one of my social media posts about going to Kerala had put me in touch with them and, as they say, ‘everything else is history.’
So, watch my blogs, and of course Facebook and Instagram to see my photos, and find out more about my stay at one of the four bungalows at the farm.
In the meantime, check out their website and feel excited for me! 🙂
While in Ulaanbaatar recently, and before checking into our hotel (after staying at a cheap, cheerful and comfortable hostel for a few days) my friend and I ate at Modern Nomads – a Mongolian restaurant chain – just a few doors down the road from the Tuushin.
Three or four days later we discovered a different side to the Modern Nomads: the Black Burger Factory right beside our hotel and which had opened only a couple of months ago.
It seems black burgers are the newest trend in many parts of the world. “Burger King Japan” first unveiled the “Kuro Burger”—which translates as “black burger”, which features a dark black bun, a slice of black cheese, and the onion-garlic sauce, made with squid ink.
We were thrilled to find it and try their chicken burger: they also have Black Burgers with double beef for meat lovers, Brown Burger for dieters and a Steak Burger for chilli lovers.
‘So what’ I hear you say, well, we voted their chicken burger ‘the best burger in the world’ – and, as my friend lives right opposite one of Los Angeles top burger places, and where I’ve also eaten, our best-in-the-world title is high praise indeed!
So why is a great? It is great because it was delicious, tender, juicy, and because of all those juices, black gloves are provided with each burger to save your hands from the sauce that covers your fingers and runs down your chin and wrists 🙂
While I don’t approve of the waste from the plastic gloves, unless everyone recycles them of course, I understand the need for them – I almost needed a baby’s bib as well.
So, while this is not ‘traditional; Mongolian food, it needs to be on your to-do list while in Ulaanbaatar. Luckily for you it’s only moments from Chinggis Khan Square, an area all tourists will no doubt visit.
Sadly, my photos of Judy, with black gloves on of course, enjoying all the deliciousness of her black bun chicken burger, are not available – as those of you who read my blog will know, However, here is a photo (found on Trip Advisor) of a young woman savouring her burger.
It’s only one week until I leave on my next big adventure to Mongolia and Malaysian Borneo! (and the mainland too) I have written a short blog about Mongolia, (see here) a country I’ve never been to, and I plan on posting a photo a day on my kiwi travel writer Instagram and Facebook pages – so #follow me. My blogs will follow once I return to New Zealand after my 5 weeks exploring.
While I have been to many parts of Malaysian Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak) and I’m looking forward to revisiting the Rainforest World Music Festival and Bako National Park, I also expect to discover new things in Kuching – including the fishing village of Kampong Buntal – and which is very close to where I’m staying at Damai Beach Resort during the festival. So, watch this space!
I’m of course hoping to see orangutans, proboscis monkeys, wild pigs, and possibly a crocodile or two. My must-eat food list is too long – and once again I’m hopeful my bathroom scales do not show a huge upward number when I return home. Malaysia has such wonderful food and Malaysians are all foodies, and who will always entice you to try this and that and yet another thing.
I’m spending about five days in Penang, which is considered the food capital of Malaysia, and as it’s been a long time since I was there I’m wondering if some of my favourite places will still exist. Feel free to give me advice about your favourites in the comments at the end of this blog.
In Sabah, the northern region of Malaysian Borneo, I will be snorkelling in new areas -Mabul island, and also Gaya island where I will visit the Marine eco-research Centre. Another new place will be the Sabah Tea garden after a short hike and Kinabalu Park – one of Malaysia’s world heritage sites.
Check out blogs I have already written about Malaysia (use the search button on this blog site) and make sure you follow me for five weeks of daily photos – as many of you will know, Malaysia is my favourite Asian country – and who knows, Mongolia – which is a blank canvas for me – could end up on my favourites list too.
Sarawak .. music and orang-utans for me next month!
Sarawak Laksa has local pepper in it!
Damai Beach Resort beside the Sarawak Cultural Village and the RWMF
Despite having a wee kitchen, the size of a yacht galley, I love food. And, living alone, I whip up few culinary delights – even though I attended one of the first cooking schools in Thailand; managed a café in Athens for couple of months’ mid-season, and even worked as a sous chef in Wales – in an Italian restaurant, under a French Chef. I’m like the Guardian’s Jay Rayner, ‘a greedy’ eater, and like him, I love smelly foods like blue cheese and durian.
When I was a vegetarian it was difficult to be sure no chicken had sat in the soup water despite having learnt to say I don’t eat meat in a dozen different languages. “Vegetarian meal? No problem, here is chicken, fish or pork.” As long as it has no red meat some assumed it was vegetarian. “No – no meat, no chicken no pork. Rice please. No, no soup on it” I’d say as they carefully scooped some liquid and left the chicken pieces floating in the fatty cauldron.
Some countries are easier to travel in when you don’t eat meat however even some Buddhists eat meat. During those vegetarian days, the best place I found for vegetarian meals was a small suburb in Georgetown, Penang (Malaysia) If you are going there, write out these directions – I hope they’re still there as I’m going back in a few months.
Go to the reclining Buddha (walk or bus from town) then cross the road to visit the peaceful Buddhist temple and when you have finished looking, go out the front gate – turn left, walk a kilometre down the road to a T-intersection, turn left and stop at any food shop. I guarantee it will be fantastic.
I also know you will ask, as I did, “Are you sure this is vegetarian? No meat?” They were amused. Yes, no meat. They have developed creative and tasty ways of using tofu in its many forms – I forget what ethnicity they were.
After a few years, I gave up being vegetarian and would join locals and try their cultural delicacies such as crocodile, haggis, and in Cairo, pigeon stuffed with green rice. My stomach still continues its cast-iron behaviour of allowing me to eat everything put in front of me.
However, for many, apart from tummy problems there is a down side to travel: you’ll be destined to be rich in many ways but will be cash poor. You could be infected with a disease to which there is no known antidote; the travel bug.
Travel also gives you, a new way of thinking. Long held “truths” no longer seem true when viewed from a different culture, a different perspective.
A simple example is eating. Most New Zealanders are taught to eat with a knife and a fork. Knife, in the right hand, for cutting and the fork, in the left, for hold the food then placing it in our mouth – in other words the “right” way.
Of course, in other countries this is not the ‘right’ way. In the USA, the fork is in the left hand; in Thailand food is cut to bite-sized pieces during the preparation process and a spoon is used to eat, other Asian cultures use chop sticks, another country, their right hand. To each culture their way of eating is the ‘truth’. But what about other ‘truths’.
Travel is intensified living, nothing can be taken for granted. It’s like having a new pair of glasses, we see often things, and ourselves, more clearly. Nothing is familiar, we are constantly aware of, or curious about, what is happening around us. We watch the interaction between people and try to decipher it. Body language is different from place to place and our previous knowledge of the rules of interaction no longer apply. And that’s one of the reasons why we travellers love travel.
Why travel? Why not! Traveller or tourist, armchair or plane, life is richer not poorer, enriched not impoverished, colourful and, certainly never dull.
But, knowing all that, and knowing to always use a spoon in Thailand – and not to put a fork in my mouth while there – or lick a knife in New Zealand, why oh why do I get so uptight when I don’t get a soup spoon to eat soup?
Guess those old ‘rules’ that I was raised on are right there, just waiting to be used. Nevertheless, however I’m eating, I assume that somewhere in the world it is the correct way to eat, the ‘proper’ etiquette – I may just be misplaced at times.
You don’t expect to hear this about members of a religion which eschews electricity and bans driving. But in Florida, a state loved by the rich, the retirees, and the snowbirds, an unusual flock is living and holidaying there, and it’s there I hear the phrase.
Staying on the edge of Sarasota, alongside a nature reserve and golf course, I find I’m also beside an Amish and Mennonite neighbourhood: Pinecraft. ‘Plain people’ as they call themselves, have been on Florida’s Gulf Coast since the 1920s and, over recent years, their friends and relatives have become snowbirds. It’s those snowbirds, escaping the northern winters, who use the phrase about Pinecraft – words usually attached to sports teams or friends off on a wild weekend, not conservative Christian folk.
The streets have traditional Amish and Mennonite names such as Yoder, Graber and Schrock and the local population have their roots in different Midwestern settlements, each with slightly different styles of clothing, religious beliefs, and customs.
One thing that stays the same are quilts which are something of a cultural icon. They are beautiful as well as functional and seem to create togetherness for the Amish women who stitch and talk as they make them. I visit Alma Sue’s Quilts and talked with a woman working at a huge quilting frame. Her needle kept going in and out of the material as she talked: telling me she’s eighty-four, quilts daily from ten until four, was originally from Indiana, and has been making quilts since she was a child. When I comment about her long day she said the woman she shares a house with, picks her up at four, takes her home and ‘she tells me to put my feet up’. She continued, ‘she is older than me and cooks all our meals, so I’m very lucky.’
No doubt her house is small – most of the Amish bungalows appear to be about fifty or sixty square metres while the neighbourhood seems to be about one square kilometre. The closest I got to visit a home was when my host bought material at the Sewing Nook, a little shop at the back of a home. The woman said her business was mostly only open during the ‘season’ and she was really busy then – we’d followed the directions at her letterbox to ‘knock on the front door’ and she’d open the shop. She tells us the snowbird visitors like her variety of material which ‘is different’ to choices they have in the mid-west.
Horses and buggies, thought of as essentially Amish transport, don’t travel these Floridian streets; here they use three-wheeled bikes, pedal-powered buggies. I saw church members in traditional, plain clothing, the men with long beards and the women with their hair covered with caps, all pedalling their substitute buggies along the road and footpaths. Letterboxes often have biblical messages or homilies on them and many yards have bird boxes, although I didn’t see any doves, or other birds, in residence.
Walking to the Pinecraft Post Office, we pass their popular shuffleboard courts, complete with stands for watching the players from, and arrive at the world’s only Amish-operated post office. Some years ago, when it was under threat of closure, and valuing letters, the Amish purchased the small building and postal contract. With no computers or debit card machine the office woman uses a calculator, and receipts are hand-written and stamped. Outside, a well-used notice board advertises jobs and community events and I overhear a couple of ‘English’ (as the Amish call us others) say how much they valued having the post office close by.
Big Olaf’s provides us a huge ice cream, then after walking past a diorama of traditional Amish country and the only horse and buggy in town, I visit Yoder’s Fresh Market to browse the shelves with its great variety of foods, including many interesting homemade pickles.
I’m taken out for dinner, five minutes’ walk away, at one of the Amish restaurants in the area. These Pennsylvania-Dutch style restaurants are popular among Sarasota’s 50,000 locals, Amish snowbird tourists, as well as the local Plain population. This is a Sarasota ‘must-do’ for your bucket-list – take an empty stomach for favourites such as fried mush, butter noodles, meatloaf, fried okra, and shoofly pie – their mashed potato was the creamiest I’ve ever eaten, and the oven-fried buttermilk chicken, divine.
This area was first settled by an Amish man, who tried, unsuccessfully, to farm celery. He was followed by other Amish who also grew produce and, as homes multiplied, Pinecraft developed into this fully-fledged neighbourhood. The Pinecraft tourist season runs from November to April and sees the Amish population swell with older snowbirds, youth there for seasonal work, and newlyweds on their honeymoon, who all stay in their own holiday home, a rented house, or at one of the trailer-parks.