Insiders Guide - Thomas Te Awa
The Cheeky Pipi Kai Hakari, 7pm, August 16 and 23.
What defines traditional Maori cuisine and how does it differ from the usual meat and three veggies?
Maori kai is mainly food we gather and harvest ourselves right from Mother Nature. The way the food is preserved for later consumption – the processes involved in drying, fermenting and burying to store – make it unique.
How has traditional Maori kai been influenced by other cuisines?
It isn’t changed when we have events like a Kai Hakari or cooking on a marae. We strictly stick with traditional cooking styles handed down from our ancestors.
What are the traditional spices or flavours used?
Horopito and kawakawa are both pepper trees, though the leaves of the horopito are more citrusy-tasting. The bark dust of manuka is used for smoking, hangis, and flavouring. There are many varieties of puha, which is a thistle. It’s like a European spinach and can be a little bitter. To prepare it you rub it to get the sourness out and then cook it, usually with salty meats. Kowhitiwhiti is like watercress and tastes mustardy. It’s similar to sorrel.
Is it easy to source traditional Maori ingredients in Wellington? Where do you go?
Wellington has proven quite sufficient. We mainly purchase our Maori vegetables through Auntie’s Garden, where we can get organic and fresh vegetables like Maori potato, kumukumu, along with traditional herbs and spices.
Is there any particular traditional food or ingredients unavailable today that you wish you could get your hands on?
Eels aren’t as abundant as they were, nor are pigeons, weka, and wild birds. No one can go free-will hunting anymore like our ancestors did. The emphasis is on conservation and controlled protection.
Is there any traditional kai that Pakeha find hard to swallow?
A lot of fermented foods, like dried shark, fermented corn and potatoes, mussels and puha – food mainly eaten on the marae. However, we sell lots of Rewena bread at The Cheeky Pipi, which is made from fermented potatoes and quite sweet.
What is your favourite Maori kai and how best is it cooked?
Kai moana of all sorts, but mainly kina and paua. My favourite is silver bellied eel. I prefer it smoked or hung in the tree and dried.