Which cuisine has its origins in New Zealand

Appetite for Māori Cuisine - A Culinary New Zealand Trip

An appetite for Māori cuisine - a culinary trip to New Zealand

Well, she doesn't wear rubber boots either! It is my first thought when I see Chef Monique Fiso. In view of the rainy weather that has almost turned the forest path here in the “Puketoki Reserve” in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty into a swamp in the last few days, your black sports shoes are a brave choice. But Tawhirimatea, the mighty weather god in Māori mythology, seems to suit us.

The rain pauses, and now and then the sun even squints out from between the clouds. Perfect weather to look for edible ferns, berries, mushrooms and herbs in the forest together with Monique Fiso. For around two years now, the 30-year-old has been trying to process traditional ingredients such as mamaku, kieki, piko-piko, koromiko or karamu berries - as they are called in Te reo Māori (indigenous language) - into gourmet dishes.

From New York to the rainforest

Three years ago Fiso could not have imagined that she would lead a group of 20 interested people through the wilderness in search of something to eat. At that time, the New Zealander with half Māori, half Samoan roots was a sous chef in the best kitchens in New York - like “The Musket Room” or “PUBLIC Restaurant” - and dreamed of cooking up a Michelin star like some of her superiors. Life had other plans. After seven years in New York's gourmet scene, Monique returned to Aotearoa (land of the long, white cloud) in 2016 and found herself in a changed society. "When I was a child, we tried to adapt to the Pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent) lifestyle," explains the entrepreneur, who grew up in the 1990s. Today it is different: "Nowadays in New Zealand you cannot avoid a basic knowledge of the Māori culture."

Resurrection of the Māoridom

It is true that the Māori filmmaker and artist Taika Waititi recently made headlines with his statement "New Zealand is racist as f ...", and a disproportionately large number of Māori end up in prison, while they are underrepresented in leadership roles. Regardless of this, Monique Fiso is right about one thing: After both te reo Māori and, along with the language, the culture of the indigenous peoples had a shadowy existence for a long time, protests in the 1970s and 1980s led to a new self-image. Since then, the Aotearoan government has been trying more or less successfully to integrate the cultural wealth of the first immigrants into everyday life. The principles of the "Waitangi Treaty", which was supposed to regulate the coexistence between Māori and Pakehas since 1840, were recognized as legally binding and made enforceable, and in the mid-1980s Te reo Māori was reintroduced as a language. It is now being taught in schools, comes over the airwaves via Māori radio and TV stations, and expressions such as the greeting “Kia ora” have become an indispensable part of the New Zealand language. Practiced traditions such as “karakia”, a blessing prayer at the beginning of negotiations or projects, are evidence of the rebirth of the “Māoridom”.

Hiakai

Only one area seems to have benefited little from this revival: the Māori kitchen. That piqued Monique's curiosity. She began scouring the internet and devouring whatever indigenous plant books she could find. “The most difficult thing for me was to find out something about the ingredients,” says Fiso, who is currently working on a book on Māori cuisine herself, describing the arduous undertaking, “on the one hand, the knowledge is spread over 20 to 30 works. On the other hand, it is mostly the medicinal properties of the plants that are treated, not their culinary facets. ”After the Māori know-how is traditionally passed on orally, she asked anyone who had even come close to dealing with the subject:“ How does the plant taste? What was it traditionally used for? ”That was the outcome of her work, which in June 2016 led to the establishment of the pop-up restaurant series“ Hiakai ”(Māori for hungry or having a taste). It is a challenge to convince people that Māori cuisine can taste just as exquisite as French dishes - especially because gourmet critics like the “Michelin Guide” do not have distant New Zealand on their radar. As if that weren't enough, Māori cuisine doesn't have a good reputation among the locals.

Hangi tastes better than its reputation

“A lot of people say: I don't like Hangi, it always tastes the same”, Fiso wanted to face the challenge, “but as a cook, it's up to me to get better at my technique and to make the dishes tastier. So instead of throwing the meat into the hangi, I have to season and salt it so it doesn't get dry. ”Easier said than done. While digging the earth pit, transporting the hot stones and working for hours over hot steam make the hangi physically strenuous, even dangerous, that was Fiso's least problem. “I tried to get the ingredients for the planned dishes, but couldn't buy them anywhere,” said the ambitious cook, “then I realized that the lack of Māori restaurants may be due to the need to set up a supply chain first got to. If you want to open a Māori restaurant, you have to go out yourself and collect everything in the wilderness. How inefficient is that? ”Two years, endless efforts, national and international successes later, the answer to this rhetorical question is still: Pretty inefficient. “You definitely have to plan more,” admits Fiso, who opens her first fine dining restaurant in Wellington in September.

A nose asked

Our wilderness walk in the Puketoki Reserve gives an idea of ​​how exhausting it is to find edible and cookable ingredients, especially in the necessary quantities. We are lucky right at the beginning: “This is Supplejack”, Monique Fiso jumps into the muddy bushes and reaches for a flexible vine. “The tip is edible and tastes like asparagus,” explains the delicate dark-haired woman, breaking it off and handing it around. The first bite rather skeptically into the brown handle. Indeed, the earthy taste is reminiscent of a delicate mixture of asparagus and peas. Whether it's Supplejack, Koromiko, the tea leaves of which help with digestive problems, the tiny orange-colored Karamu berries that were previously used for coloring and are made into bittersweet desserts by Fiso, or the brown “Wood Ear” mushroom, which is dried as a “kind of natural flavor enhancer “Is used for broths and sauces - again and again the New Zealander walks into the thicket, lets her gaze sometimes glide into the treetops, sometimes to her feet and impressively proves her nose.

Tikanga Māori

The nose is not the only important thing: following the rules and customs (tikanga) is as much a part of Fiso's understanding of Māori cuisine as the “third level”, as is the use of endemic plants and traditional cooking methods. She would like to pass all three on to others: "I believe that ignorance has often led to misunderstandings in the past," she says thoughtfully, "this has led to prejudices against Māori." did not go to harvest after a rain. Rather, it corresponds to the Tikanga to give the plant time to regenerate, it also gives the mixed group in the Puketoki Reserve on the way.

Not a missionary

As strictly as she adheres to the tikanga, her approach to everything else is as creative and flexible: “It starts with a general idea,” she describes her work, “but then things should be able to develop freely.” That turns Kawakawa into leaves , which are usually made into hearty dishes, a light sorbet. And when she feeds 300 people over four days at a festival in Hobart, Australia or cooks up the “Times Food Bowl” series in Los Angeles, she finds alternative ingredients for traditional hangi. Typically Māori, one might think that the New Zealand natives have shown their ability to innovate and adapt since their arrival from the Polynesian islands. However, Fiso does not see herself as a “Māori missionary”. “For me, it's about finding answers to questions. I want to learn as much as possible, catalog and develop my findings. ”Above all, she wants to whet the appetite of other chefs to bring the diversity of New Zealand to their plates and to give Māori cuisine its well-deserved place in the culinary arts. And maybe the Michelin star she dreamed of in New York when she was in her mid-twenties will eventually find its way to New Zealand ...