Not Exactly Kesté
OK. What would you guess this was? Really take a look at it for a second. See how many individual foods you can pick out. You probably caught the canned spaghetti right away. But what about the jalapenos? The green olives? The salami? The tomato sauce made with garlic and, inexplicably, soy sauce? Can you see the faint glint of Moroccan seasoning sauce splashed across the top? Try to imagine what it would taste like if you actually took a bite out of this thing.
Got it? OK, good. Because now I will tell you that this is a typical Kiwi pizza, as demonstrated by my friend Sarah (who thought my desire to document her dinner was very odd). Sarah is what we’d call “Kiwi as”* here, so I thought she’d be a great representative of the typical Kiwi pizza-enthusiast. Because from what I’ve seen, you can’t call anything “pizza” here unless it’s weighed down with a minimum of 23 distinct ingredients, preferably from tin cans, and ideally with clashing flavor profiles. God love ‘em, but Kiwis will put literally anything on a bread base and chow it down. At work, my new morning job while the bakery is slow has been making the “pizzas” we stock in the corner of the display case: half a bread roll topped with tomato paste, spaghetti-O’s, onions, cheese, ham, salami, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, herbs, more onions, and – wait for it – barbeque sauce. Josh, the manager of the lodge where I work, hit the nail on the head when he told me the other day: “It looks like something concocted by the school lunch lady.”
We sell at least a dozen a day.
My grandmother was off-the-boat British. Sometimes, as in the case of Sunday night Yorkshire pudding and afternoon tea with chocolate biscuits, this meant I got to indulge in some awesome food-related traditions growing up. And sometimes, it meant the opposite. I have a very clear memory of seeing my granny and my uncle, also British, sitting at the kitchen table of my cousins’ house one day, drinking tea and eating toast with what I thought was jam. Being what I thought was a very sophisticated six or so years old, I asked if I could join them.
“Jessie, darling, I don’t think you’d like this jam,” my grandma warned.
But I insisted otherwise – either determined to impress them with my highly developed palate or, more likely, being just plain stubborn – and, after a few minutes, convinced them to let me have a taste. The jam, of course, turned out to be Marmite, and I’m pretty sure I spent the next ten minutes trying to scrape the taste off my tongue with a paper napkin.
Ever since, I’ve maintained a vehement belief that Marmite is the sludge of the earth. Which is why it befuddles me that the shutdown of the local Marmite factory is counted among the many national “crises” that have come out of the recent Christchurch earthquakes. There are countrywide commercials asking consumers to be patient. There are high-strung news stories nearly every evening. And, oh yes, there are signs at the grocery store.
In New Zealand, it’s perfectly acceptable to just not wear shoes. On the street, around the workplace – even in the grocery store. These guys were not the only ones going barefoot in the huge supermarket Hayley and I trekked out to in Frankton the other night. They’re just the only ones I managed to snap a picture of before they scurried off on feet unencumbered by canvass and rubber.
Hot Cross Buns
I started playing the violin in the fourth grade, which meant that, for a solid month or so, my entire family was subjected to endless hours of me squeaking out a song called “hot cross buns.” It’s been over 20 years since then and yet, if you mention the words “hot cross buns” to my sister today, she’ll instantly break out the air-violin and making rusty-door-hinge sounds. The point is, for all those years of being aware that there were such things as hot cross buns, she and I never had any idea what they actually were. Which I now know is a crime.
See, people go mad for these things around Easter down here and, working in a Kiwi bakery, I now do, too. Turns out they’re spiced bread rolls studded with raisins, currants, and some sort of preserved citrus peel, criss-crossed with icing, and glazed with – what’s the culinary term I’m looking for here? – sugary, shiny, food-grade liquid crack. Last night, coming home from work with a bag of leftover buns, I yelled out to Hayley: “I scored a free six-pack!” It was only later I realized that just months ago, I would only have applied that sentence – and the enthusiasm I gave it – to beer.
*In New Zealand you can stick the word “as” on the end of anything and the presence of an actual, grammar-satisfying noun is just kind of implied. At least it is in my mind. I’m sure I’m the only one who’s ever thought about twisting this vernacular to conform to anything resembling grammatical rules – because I’m a lunatic – but I like to think of it sort of like unspoken Mad Libs: “She’s Kiwi as (hell),” “New Zealand is sweet as (pie),” “It’s cold as (balls) today.”