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Pacific food in the big smoke
2013-04-26

WHEN I was asked to define New Zealand and Australian food, I balked. I may be a Kiwi, but beyond the Antipodes' love of fish 'n chips, barbecues and beer, I was somewhat at a loss.

I was at a loss, because, unlike many other nations, New Zealand and Australia have only been countries for a short while, and have not had much time to develop distinctive cuisines of their own.

Both only became countries in the 19th and 20th centuries, although Australia was inhabited for at least 40,000 years by Aboriginal tribes, and New Zealand was first settled around 750 years ago by Maori explorers from Polynesia.

As a result, New Zealanders and Australians are just as likely to eat traditional British fare like meat pies, roast dinners and pavlova, a meringue-based dessert, as they are to eat pasta, sushi and curries.

Robert Oliver, who was the former consulting chef to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise in China and who writes for a number of publications including New Western Cuisine and Huffington Post, says New Zealand food is defined by its focus on fresh, good-quality ingredients and connection with nature.

"Most people want food defined by signature dishes or a cuisine," he says. "But I think to me, New Zealand food is defined by the way we pick our food and the relationship to the earth. The cuisine is the final expression of that."

Julie Donohoe, executive chef behind Char at Indigo Shanghai on the Bund, agrees that New Zealand and Australian cuisine is defined by fresh, quality foods rather than dishes.

"I would have to define Australian food on the products we can get here," she says. "So I can get great steak, great scampi, great fish."

So when it comes to distinctive New Zealand dishes, Oliver is hesitant to pick one. "It would be easy to say 'pavlova'," he says. But he thinks that, if one looks at New Zealand restaurants, they're not dominated by pavlova - they're dominated by global influences, artisanal ingredients and a relationship to fishermen and farmers.

New Zealand food is also influenced by Polynesia - both from Maori and from Polynesian immigrants. Most New Zealanders have tried a hangi, a traditional Maori way of cooking meat, potato, pumpkin and kumara with embers in the ground. Maori cuisine also includes eel, pipi shells, whitebait, paua shells, crayfish and mutton-birds, depending on the area.

Although there is a worldwide trend toward localvore - eating locally grown food - Oliver says this movement has always existed in New Zealand by default. "New Zealand's not been big enough to be anything but localvore," he says. "We basically revere farmers."

Both New Zealand and Australian food is often fusion, combining immigrant influences from Asia, America, the Pacific Islands and Europe. Donohoe describes it as: "Quality product, cooked simply, seasoned well, with nice bold flavors to go with it."

"It's Pacific-rim fusion," Donohoe says. But it's still important to keep it simple. "We don't like complicating a dish too much." The dishes at her café in Indigo hotel are typical Australian café fare, ranging from noodles, to pumpkin and feta salad.

Australians and New Zealanders may bicker over who invented the pavlova, and which out of vegemite and marmite - their favored yeast-based spreads - are better. But the main difference, says Donohoe, is the different produce that's available. New Zealand, for instance, has better scampi, while Australia has kangaroo and crocodile.

So is it easy to get Australian and New Zealand food in Shanghai? Both Donohoe and Oliver think it's not easy. Oliver rates Char, which he thinks is as close to simple, quality Kiwi food as you can get in Shanghai, despite being Australian. Donohoe thinks any place with an Australian chef is a good representation of Australian cuisine.

But if you don't make it to a restaurant, eat good quality produce cooked in a simple style, and you'll at least be halfway there.

A piece of the Antipodes in Shanghai

New Zealand and Australian food is difficult to find in Shanghai, but there are a few choice places that offer a taste of Down Under.

Restaurants and bars

*Mr Willis - A restaurant with fusion Asian/European fare. Plenty of fresh seafood, including oysters, clams, snapper.

Address: 195 Anfu Rd (5404-0200)

*Char - Australian-run grill featuring fusion dishes, including king prawn cocktail, Australian wagyu beef, and slow roasted lamb rack.

Address: 29/F, Hotel Indigo, 585 Zhongshan Rd E2 (3302-9995)

*Little Huia - Brunch or lunch restaurant with Kiwi classics, such as clam chowder, shepherds pie, sirloin steak and pavlova.

Address: 403 Dagu Rd (5375-0600)

*M on the Bund - Established by Australians 13 years ago, M offers contemporary dining with a great view.

Address: 7/F, 20 Guangdong Rd (6350-9988)

*The Camel - An Australian sports bar popular with Australians, Kiwis and British people who want to watch a game over a pint of beer.

Address: 1 Yueyang Rd (6437-9446); 116 Weifang Rd, Pudong (5879-5892)

Cafes

*Wagas - Australian-owned coffee chain serving café-style food, including sandwiches, pasta and curry. There are multiple locations in the city.

*Baker and Spice - Australian owned bakery offering a wide selection of breads, pastries, cakes, sandwiches, and coffee. Multiple locations.

Supplies

*Yasmine's Butchery - Fresh Australian beef and New Zealand lamb to cook in the comfort of your own home.

Address: 93 Xiangyang Rd (6418-6899)

Anzac biscuits are one of the few distinctly Australian foods - and one that Australia and New Zealand can agree they both share.

The oaty biscuit was named for the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought in Gallipoli, Turkey, during WWI. Most people eat them only on or around Anzac Day, on April 25.

Originally, the crispy biscuits were sent by wives to their husbands on the frontline - they're made without eggs, so they keep and travel well.

These days, Anzac biscuits aren't just for the men in the trenches - in fact, they can be bought at any supermarket in Australia or New Zealand.

The final product is not overly sweet, and is excellent with a glass of milk, or a cup of milky tea or coffee.

All the ingredients can be found at City Shop, Marks & Spencer, or at Avocado Lady (274 Wulumuqi Rd, near Wuyuan Rd).

This is my Gran's recipe for 20 people, which she took from the Edmond's cookbook - another New Zealand and Australian stalwart.

It takes 10 minutes assembling and 15 minutes cooking.

Ingredients:

Half cup of flour

One-third cup of sugar

Two-thirds cup of dessicated coconut

Three-quarters cup of rolled oats

50 grams of butter

1 tablespoon of golden syrup

Half teaspoon of baking soda

2 tablespoons of boiling water

Preparations:

1. Set oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Mix flour, sugar, coconut and rolled oats.

2. Melt the butter and golden syrup in a saucepan.

3. Dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water and add to the butter and golden syrup. Stir the butter mixture into the dry ingredients.

4. Line a baking tray with baking paper and grease with butter. Place spoonfuls of the mixture onto the tray, and flatten the balls of mixture with a fork.

5. Bake the biscuits for 15 minutes or until golden.

Written by Julia Hollingsworth

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