Lauraine Jacobs

Food & Wine Writer

27 October 2018

THE 'PAVLOVA' SPONGE CUPCAKES

this recipe is ideal for using up leftover egg yolks after making meringues or pavlova. It's an oldie but a goodie my mother always made.

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 75g flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ tsp pure vanilla essence
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 4 tbsps boiling water
  • 1 lemon, grated rind only

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until very thick and light. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and fold this into the egg and sugar mixture with the vanilla essence. Melt the butter and fold this through with the boiling water and grated lemon rind. Spoon the mixture into paper baking cups. Bake for 15 minutes until risen and golden. Cool and decorate with cream or icing as follows. Makes 7-8 large cupcakes or 16 small cupcakes. Can also be made in a 20cm cake tin. Store for up to three days in an airtight tin.

Pic by Liz Clarkson

30 June 2018

KARENA AND KASEY’S CREATION DINNER

It seemed appropriate as Matariki loomed to accept an invitation from Karena and Kasey Bird to attend their Creation Dinner. This sassy pair of sisters won their way to fame through the Masterchef series, and immediately published a cookbook. I looked through it then, and remember being disappointed that they had not seized the opportunity to turn the heat up on their Māori culture in that book. But they were young, eager and without any culinary experience. Their second book Hungry really impressed me. Two years on they had blossomed and although they still had not really immersed themselves their heritage, they’d tripped around the world, made two television series and were fast developing a unique style.

So this impending dinner was exactly where I wanted to be, to see if they were now where I hoped they would head. And Karena and Kasey did not disappoint. They brought their whole flock of Birds (including Mum and Dad) with them. We arrived at a downtown bar where their younger sister Michaela greeted us. We took a bus to the mystery destination (not an AT bus thank heavens as we’d probably still be in transit.) We headed to the Te Mahurehure Marae near Western Springs and I could see we were in for a treat.

The dinner was based on the Creation story according to Māori lore, and as my husband said, it’s a far better religious story than we’d been brought up with. There were perhaps 30 guests seated at a long candlelit table, and a minimal light show displayed the menu on the ceiling above. The deep booming voice of Scotty Morrison explained the steps of that Creation story as each of the seven meticulously developed courses took us from Dark to Light with the central characters being Rangi and Papa. We were served by some beautiful wahine from the Bird’s home town of Maketu, Michaela was a great emcee, and some well-chosen and appropriate music quietly played in the background.

Those oysters pictured above were the first course. Te Kore (Dark) was represented by a black garlic vinaigrette on the right and a charcoal tempura batter cloaking the oyster to the left. Te Ra (Light) finished the dinner and the Creation story with a light and bright passionfruit and Heilala vanilla pannacotta. In between there were five courses that featured Wakanui beef, Cloudy Bay clams, Ngati Porou crayfish, an incredible miso glazed Kaipara kumara, Origin South lamb and Premium Game wild pork, and “Roimata” – Maketu kawakawa with sago and apple. All indigenous ingredients, all carefully thought through and beautifully presented and all matched to wonderful Aotearoa wines or non-alcoholic drinks. And even better, their mum had been in the kitchen all day helping and had made the rewena bread. It was superb, like everything else we ate.

I am very proud of these young women and it truly was a privilege to be asked to the dinner. Karena and Kasey are taking this feast and the accompanying story (all food has stories) to other centres around the country. Follow them on their Facebook page to find the dates. You will not regret it, in fact like me you may find it will take your breath away.

29 June 2018

RAMEN AT COCORO

The bowl of ramen pictured here doesn’t look very exciting; visually it’s lacking all the extra ingredients that are usually piled into the broth along with the noodles to make this favourite Japanese meal really attractive. But I need to tell you that this bowl of intensely rich porky broth was probably the most comforting food I have eaten ever. To the side, on a small plate, half a boiled egg, a couple of organic free-range pork slices, seaweed and chopped spring onions were there to be added. I didn’t. I simply slurped the broth and devoured the specially imported Australian noodles.

Ryo Yamazaki, a ramen master, had flown from his hometown of Saga in Japan to cook for this very special meal. Makoto Tokuyama, the chef and part owner of the revered Cocoro in Brown St Ponsonby also hails from Saga and it has always been one of his dreams to cook with his friend. Ryo Yamazaki arrived in Auckland on Saturday and the pork broth for the ramen was started the minute he walked into the restaurant kitchen. It simmered away for three whole days. Five days later that intense taste remains with me.

The evening was superbly orchestrated. All the ingredients that might have been in the ramen broth were served as a series of small tastes. A little slice of wagyu tataki, alongside kurabuto pork slices and Leigh snapper sashimi started the feast, followed by gyoza dumplings, a Marlborough storm clam with wild vegetables, chawan mushi with Hokkaido scallop, and some insanely good chunks of crayfish meat were served before the crescendo of that rich ramen broth. Absolute perfection. And a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a meal unmatched in the short history of Authentic Japanese dining in Auckland.

And the very next morning Ryo Yamazaki flew out on his return journey home. Such dedication and a privilege for me to be there to experience such mastery.

15 May 2018

MAJORCA

Which is more tourist driven? The jam-packed high-rise sprawling Costa del Sol around Malaga, or the beautiful Mediterranean island of Majorca? We left the very crammed raffish Malaga airport to arrive in Majorca (equally raffish) to a sign proudly proclaiming 23 million passengers arrive each year and only 5% are locals. Oh dear. My heart sank.

Disclosure: We were in Majorca as my clever husband Murray had won a place in the Porsche World Cup golf finals. He’s not a great golfer, just lucky, so it was easy to grin quietly and give myself over to four days of generosity, hospitality and the sheer luxury provided by the German Porsche team. And that involved splendid dinners, staying in a luxury hotel, Castillo Son Vida, being driven around in brand new Porsches (they had shipped about thirty or forty brand new cars from Stuttgart for the event) If someone needed to accept playing companion during the tournament, I was happy to do that. Thanks Porsche!

But we did arrive a few days early to have our own exploratory adventures. It is indeed a beautiful island – we stayed in the centre of the main town, Palma, overlooking the ritzy marinas where the wealthy of Europe moor their palatial vessels, and enjoyed great views across to the magnificent cathedral, Le Seu, that dominates the waterfront. The local folk are as friendly as all the other Spanish we’d met on our travels and English is spoken everywhere. There’s great eating – tapas bars, markets, cafes and restaurants, and local fare and artisan food products are proudly embraced everywhere.

Palma has an elegant old centre, the Old Town, with narrow cobbled streets, some splendid shopping (I hate shopping actually) and comes alive at nights. It’s worth making the effort to venture out and explore the mountainous region that surrounds Palma to the north and west as the volcanic peaks and the roads carved through them are magnificent. Beware the roads are very narrow and winding, and filled with cyclists (the serious kind who wear lycra and cruise at such dangerous speeds that we were often overtaken, even while driving in a fancy little Porsche Boxter.)

And if you play golf, this is a great destination of golf courses, groomed to international standards. Towns not to miss visiting are the quaint Valldemossa village where Chopin famously lived with George Sand in a monk’s cell – it has a beautiful garden, Deia which is a small village in the most mountainous part, Soller and its port, which I would head back to in a heartbeat and stay at the Hotel Esplendido for a week, another western port, Adriano, and be sure to do lunch at the Porsche family owned Alcanar golf course at the most northern tip of Majorca, where you can overlook the pines and the old lighthouse.

Eating out tips: Quita Penas, Valldemossa was the closest thing I have experienced to passionate dedication to a local artisan driven menu. The place only seated eight people, served only a platter (that’s it in the pic)and for drinks offered a tumbler of refreshing red or white local wine, or water. That is all and that is perfect. And if you’re in Valldemossa pop into a bakery, Ca’n Molinas for their famous coca de patata.

In Palma eat at Ca’n Manolo for fish – a lovely neighbourhood restaurant that is simple and really friendly. Or go to Forn de St Joan in the Old Town for an eclectic menu of local specialties with some rather modern presentation. When your meals over pop into a lounge bar nearby, Abaco for a cocktail - you will swear you have arrived on set of a Fellini movie – the displays of fruit and decorations are completely over the top.

And best of all in Palma is a restaurant found in the hub of the Old Town and the shopping district, La Bodeguilla. I had the best croquetas to be found on my entire Spanish adventures and ate an absolutely stunning lunch of potatoes and octopus, followed by roast baby lamb with (more) potatoes and the freshest petite salade I have had in my entire life.

I am going to miss Spain.

12 May 2018

MALAGA

Often overlooked, Malaga is a truly lovely city in the south of the Spanish Mediterranean coast, probably only on many folk’s itineraries for the airport which is the gateway to the Costa del Sol. We drove on the Mediterranean Highway to reach the city from Granada and it was a notable drive. Notable for the spectacular tunnels and viaducts that were carved into and over the landscape, and even more notable for the sheer number of hideous highrise apartment blocks erected far from the sea. (We do not know how lucky we are in NZ!)

We stayed at the Parador de Golf Malaga, a 20 euro taxi trip from the city centre, and relaxed in sunshine, hail and fresh air (we were under the approach path to the airport but got used to that quickly.) The parador was almost halfway between Torremolinos and Malaga and it is an easy walk along the beachfront to some quaint fish restaurants and cafes on the beach. The golf course was excellent, as was the hotel restaurant.

Spanish hotel breakfasts are magnificent – everywhere hotel we stayed in had an extensive buffet of local specialities including jamon, cheeses, fruits, sausage and hot food, along with a huge selection of breads and the usual breakfast suspects like muesli and yogurt.

To explore Malaga, we took another Devour Spain walking tour. We met our guide, the knowledgeable Hannie, in the central Plaza Constitution and had her to ourselves for the Best of Malaga Foodie Feast & Cultural Tour. There was also a ‘free tour’ starting there with at least 100 people who had shown up for. Forget that! Like other Southern Spanish cities the buildings and culture dates back centuries with Romans, Moors and Christians successively stamping their mark on everything from architecture to food. Malaga however owes a lot to the Phoenicians who as far back as 800BC mined metal in the region, preserved fish in salt and brought grapes to plant here from Asia. The Romans brought the wine barrels and the Moors brought the almonds (yum), citrus fruits and spices that still predominate today.

Places to check out: Café Central where tourists eat outside and locals eat in. Great coffee and snacks. Don’t miss the Mercado Ataranzas where you can feast all day on wine, tapas and local specialties and buy all sorts of food from fish to vegies and spices. Pop into Antigua Casa de Guardia for a couple of glasses of wine served straight from the barrel and eat at Meson Mariano. The food is fabulous, no surprise as Mariano selects his ingredients daily at the market. If you like cars, don’t miss the Automotive Museum, (Museo Automovilistico) which combines some of the most collectible historic cars from 1900 to the eighties with fashion of those times.

Make sure you eat local specialties like the Moorish influenced albondigas in an almond and saffron sauce, and the fried custard (leche frito) with turo icecream.) I cannot emphasise enough how worthwhile and excellent those Devour Spain walking tours are. I learned so much about local food. The company was cofounded by James Blick, a kiwi who went to Law School in Auckland with my son. The tours are offered in San Sebastien, Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Granada and Malaga. They are all culture and are very food-based and you must arrive hungry as they are truly generous.

www.devourtours.com

8 May 2018

GRANADA

If there's a city in the South of Spain not to be missed it's Granada.

The Alhambra! Magnificent in every way. Don't even think of wandering around without taking a guide, complete with commentary on history, art and gob-smacking treasure after treasure of architecture and design. Here is where every architect worth his salt must visit and so must every traveller. And those gardens - exquisitely tended to by a small army of gardeners. We visited on the 1st of May but my advice is to go about 3 to 4 weeks later in late May for viewing the most incredible planting of standard roses imaginable. We only saw healthy buds sprouting everywhere. Grrr.

Tours take about 3 to 4 hours and there's lots of walking.

At first glance the city is disappointing - endless blocks of nondescript apartment blocks but scratch away and you will find culinary delights and plenty of culture.

We attended a concert - in the Auditorio Manuel de Falla. Piano and violin with contemporary Spanish composition. So contemporary that we were completely baffled but good to experience the direction of Spanish music right now. I am not sure what Chopin would make of it. I did not buy the CD!

Afterward we visited composer Manuel de Falla's house perched high above the city. A tiny place immaculately preserved, right down to his piano, his bed and even the packets of cigarettes and the syringes for his drugs. He'd regularly held court with such folk as Picasso and Dali and some of their sketches and works hang on the walls.

This is a city to eat tapas and if you can find a truly local bar in the old city (such as BodegaCastanera or Bodega La Mancha) you will be given little plates of delicious tapas such as stewed mushrooms with ham or a plate of cheese to go with your drink. Otherwise head with all the city's visitors to Calle Navas and the surrounding streets for wall to wall tapas. The Taberna de Jam is the best bar I have found to enjoy a jamon tasting from Serrano through to Pate Negra jamon.

And if you're after a great neighbourhood bar and restaurant serving fish, you cannot go past Puesto 43. The meal there was so good we returned the next night for another dinner.

Many thanks to the gastronomic expert Pablo Amate for his guidance and generosity.

8 May 2018

SEVILLE

It’s essential to find a hotel in the old part of Seville. (The same could be said about almost every southern Spanish city.) Narrow winding streets were built to keep the hot summer sun out and to protect folk in the chills of winter, and they make for intrigue, ease of walking and prevent any traffic apart and scooters. Seville’s heart heaves with bars, restaurants and spacious elegant squares and all the attractions you will want to see are close by.

Essentials on the tourist trail are the magnificent cathedral, which tells the tale of the successive domination of the city by Romans, Moors and Christians, and is worth queuing to visit. Near the cathedral is the Alcazar, an exquisite historic building where all the merchants and seafarers passed through on their way in and out of Spain. A word of advice: if you’re planning a circuit or journey through the south, try to go to Seville before Granada as the beauty of the Alcazar is somewhat overshadowed by the grandeur of Granada’s Alhambra.

Also not to be missed is the Metropole Parasol, the largest wooden building in the world. It is constructed over two blocks and from the top you get a stunning view over the old city. (Pic above)

And of course the Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza is worth a visit and you may even be lucky enough to score tickets to a bull fight in this oldest of bullrings in all of Spain.

But most importantly, Seville has a great tradition of flamenco. We took Devour Spain’s Tapas and Flamenco Tour and it was top rate. I had no idea that this traditional passionate dance arrived with gypsies who had traversed eastern Europe and had originated in India. That explains the very important hand movements of flamenco. We went to an intimate theatre and were transfixed or an hour. No tacky ‘get up and dance’ in this intense show performed by to dancers, a vocalist and a guitarist.

Maestro Marcelino was where our guide introduced us to vermut classic – it’s now my new favourite drink. Artisan red vermouth from the barrel, poured over plenty of ice with a slice of orange. That drink and platters of typical tasting tapas – cheese, chorizo and other cured meats, a generous montadito (sandwich) with pork loin. Nearby is the Ines Rosales store where you can buy the crisp thin orange flavoured wafer rounds that are one of the most moreish snacks to have in the pantry. Also look for Bar las Teresas and spot the concise collection of ham carving knives on display that have been worn thin over the past two decades. Perhaps the best of all is a taxi ride from the old city centre to Eslava, a modern tapas bar where you will queue but will be richly rewarded by the most amazing modern tapas imaginable.

2 May 2018

MADRID MAGNIFICENT

Madrid is exciting – a sophisticated, friendly city where everyone from elegant elderly folk to young families meet at cafes, hotel and bars for drinks, chatter, meals and relaxation. It’s vast yet the city centre is compact and walking is easy. You will find traditional fare, cutting edge cuisine and see that like everywhere else hamburgers are being replaced by bao (Asian buns.)

Here’s a brief outline of suggestions based on a three day experience:

• Visit the Mercado de la Paz to check out the fresh food and get a bead on Spanish fare. In that market do not miss the Casa Dani cafeteria within the market for the best tortilla de patatas you will find in Spain – light, fluffy, yet thick and tasty. The other market not to miss is Mercado de San Miguel, magnificently recently restored and offering snacks and tapas. (pic - quick fix of chorizo in a cone in the market)

• Nearby visit Lavinia, a superb wine shop that stocks stunning Spanish wines, offers tastings, wine tutorials and has an excellent tapas menu to relax over.

• If you want to buy Spanish cult wines, go to Latintoreria in Calle Gurtubay – a wine cave that sells to top oenophiles.

• For dinner try Atlantico for Gallician seafood specialties and fine wine. Or the superb Castelados, where the bar decorations are amazing and the food totally delicious in a modern but approachable style. Or push the boundaries and eat Angel Leon’s plankton cuisine at Glass – the décor is so over the top modern and edgy it almost spoils the equally edgy food.

• Go into the older area of the city near the Royal Palace, into the winding backstreets and find a modern sourdough bakery café with preserved city ruins are incorporated into the clever décor. Santa Eulalia serves wine, excellent coffee, juices, cakes and their magnificent sourdoughs.

• Bars. Essential in Madrid if you are going to get to know the city. El Mollete is in Calle de la Bola is tiny and friendly and can’t be too bad if it is Francis Ford Coppola’s haunt when he’s in Madrid. La Venencia is an ancient sherry bar where the Socialists hung out and plotted. And you absolutely have to go to Casa Labra which has been serving tapas and beer or wine since 1860. Only three tapas are served, battered bacalao, croquetas, and preserved tuna topped with tomato. Perfect with the small glasses of beer most locals seem to order.

With thanks to Gabriela Llamas, and Mark Godden for some of their local expertise.

19 March 2018

THE RYOKAN EXPERIENCE - JAPAN

No cuisine on this planet exhibits as much careful design, attention to detail, focus on the seasons and the finest ingredients as Japanese restaurant cuisine.

The chance to explore the food and eat around Tokyo with 12 clever chefs, the 2017 finalists and ambassadors from USA, Australia and New Zealand was not to be missed. There were myriad meals, lots of delicious Ōra King salmon, fun outings, a little exercise (mostly of the karaoke variety) and one hell of a lot of rain. I never stepped out without an umbrella over my head the whole week.

But the ultimate experience for me came at the end of the trip when our bus arrived at Mikawaya Ryokan in the misty mountainous Hakone region, after a lengthy journey from Tokyo via an exceptional visit to an organic soy, miso, tofu and pickle manufacturer Yamaki Jozo in Saitama where we were treated to an outstanding vegetable lunch with everything local.

Here’s the thing about Japan. There is so much history and culture, and every single person is highly respectful and embraces that with passion. No-one should ever visit Japan without staying in a ryokan for at least one night for an immersion into this exceptionally unique cultural experience. And like many other traditional ryokans, Mikawaya is at least 130 years old with a long history of genuine hospitality.

On arrival at the entrance, shoes are removed and given to the welcoming staff, generally older women who have trained all their life to look after the ryokan guests. Little slippers are handed out, travellers are greeted with a refreshing drink and the customs, rules and expectations of the ryokan explained. It’s then off to the rooms, along dark mysterious corridors, where those slippers are left at the door for guests must never step onto the tatami mats with footwear. Beds are made up nightly with mattresses on the floor.

I’d stayed in ryokans on previous trips to Japan, and so I knew that travellers usually share rooms. A group of six or eight might get a large suite, while four or less would share a smaller one. It was unusual for such a large group as ours (28 people) to arrive and book in together, so obviously and luckily there was not a room large enough for the whole party.

A special feature is the onsen - a hot bath - and every ryokan has large shared baths, while some have rooms with their own private smaller bath. There’s ritual and tradition for bathing too, as women and men are separated and no swimsuits or garments are worn. Extensive washing of the body must take place before you plunge into the bath. It is a heaven sent experience and I managed to fit in four hot baths in 36 hours.

Ryokans offer dinner and breakfast (never lunch) as part of the room charge and Mikawaya’s cuisine was exceptional - kaiseki dinner of multi courses with Japan’s finest fare. Sometimes meals in a ryokan are served in the room, but our party had dinner and breakfast set for us at a very long table in the dining hall. We’d all changed into yukatas, a garment not unlike a cotton bathrobe, topped with a heavy linen jacket that you wear around the ryokan, to the onsen and to dinner. It is comfortable, relaxing and really democratic as everyone looks the same, so you’d never know who usually wears Prada or who buys their gear at Uniqlo!

That dinner was exquisite enough to write a book about. Every course is beautifully plated up for each guest and our menu ran from an introductory hors d’oeuvres platter to a hot pot with the treat of seasonal matsutake mushrooms, a sashimi platter with beautiful sparkling slices of fresh fish, a ‘boiled pot’ sweet lobster stew, through to a grilled pot – sizzling abalone steaks which were delivered to the table still squirming in their shells and then cooked on individual hot plates with sake and a heartattack sized lump of butter for each.

At that point many would be groaning but not enthusiastic chefs! I learned they can eat and eat and eat. We were only half the way through, as next each of us was given a stunning decorated seasonal platter that contained grilled barracuda, grilled shrimp, boiled chestnuts, persimmon and pumpkin, and a deep fried fish ball. Then came another highlight, some very thin slices of wagyu beef and tongue to be cooked shabu shabu style in steaming broth – rich, tasty and meltingly tender. You know you’re almost at the end of a Japanese meal when the rice arrives alongside a little bowl of pickles and some wonderfully comforting miso broth. And the finally a platter each of dessert – seasonal fruits, cake and a chestnut flavoured bavarois. Needless to say, lovely sake flights, large bottles of Japanese beer and a few wines went down with our dinner too.

I am not even going to begin to describe the intricate breakfast next morning. Another sensation of Japanese thought and care. But a word of warning. It can take some fortitude to eat pickles, rice and preserved fish at 8am, but they are delicious. Unlike the Western style breakfast offered that we thought we wanted on our second morning. It included a rather weird ‘ham and eggs’ accompanied by crunchy green salad, tomato sauce and corn kernels. When in Japan, do as Japan does!

29 October 2017

A HANGI 25 YEARS AGO

(In 1992 the NZ Guild of Food Writers invited Gourmet magazine’s food writer, Fred Ferretti, to travel from New York to Auckland for a week of feasting. To welcome Fred and his wife, Eileen Yin-Fei Lo we invited them to join the committee for dinner. We dug a hāngi pit in my backyard with the help of a couple of mates. Fred wrote this story for the much loved but now defunct Gourmet magazine and it was published in early 1993.)

"If you do not have manuka wood to burn, if you cannot get stones from a river, then you might just as well forget about having a proper hangi," Ruben Oneroa was saying one afternoon in a backyard in Auckland, New Zealand, as he watched wisps of smoke seep through a large mound of freshly turned soil and up into the leaves of the lemon trees.

We were in the yard belonging to our friends Lauraine and Murray Jacobs, in the Remuera section of Auckland, on an incline of Mount Hobson. Ruben and the Ihaka brothers, Daga and Dave (all three are Maori) had dug up the earth so that we might experience a true hangi, a tradition of those Polynesian first settlers of New Zealand, an outdoor feast with which they mark salient events in their personal lives and their history.

The stones that Ruben was talking about — between swallows of beer (another ingredient absolutely necessary for an honest hangi) and occasional tastes of green-lipped mussels lifted from a nearby barbecue — were of lava. "And you cannot have stones that have been in salt water," he said. "They will crack and split when you warm them. They will sound like guns. You have to have proper stones from fresh water. And manuka." Manuka is an extremely hard wood from the tea tree that burns slowly and with great heat.

Ruben, Daga, and Dave had excavated a rectangular hole about four feet by two and almost three feet deep and piled in it logs of manuka, which they ignited and covered with lava rocks. After two hours the rocks and wood ashes were removed and the hot lava re-bedded in the hole. On top of the rocks the men placed a tray of open metalwork onto which were layered, in ascending order, slabs of fatty pork; whole chickens; racks of lamb; jacketed potatoes; chunks of kumara (pronounced CUE-mara), a marvellous yellow sweet potato; and slices of pumpkin. The loaded tray was covered with lengths of linen, the linen with bolts of thick sailcloth, the sailcloth with burlap, and the burlap with the pile of loose dirt left from digging the hole. The food for the hangi thus "steams" under the soil, Ruben said.

The hangi, a culinary treasure, exemplifies much that is good about New Zealand's cuisine: its simplicity and lack of adornment. In my visits to Auckland and to Wellington I ate lamb and venison, grilled and roasted; fat mullet, kingfish, snapper, trevally, salmon, and tuna (all just pulled from the water, fish that tasted as fish ought to, whether steamed, panfried, or smoked); and thick pea soups with ham. I also ate fine vegetables and fruits — leeks, small sweet tomatoes, parsnips, tangelos, Braeburn apples, and "drinking nuts," which is what coconuts are called in the Saturday Polynesian market at Otara, near Auckland.

As we waited Ruben showed me an old lithograph in Lauraine’s kitchen, of an 1844 hangi wherein the Maori baked nine thousand sharks, one hundred pigs, and eleven thousand baskets of potatoes in a celebration of amity with new English arrivals to their country. "It was a major hangi," he said, "the kind we usually have to observe an important event like the accession or funeral of a leader, any occasion when we would have a hui," or important discussion.

Would we have a hui at our hangi, I asked?

"We are having one," said Ruben. "Have a mussel."

For about three hours, the buried food cooked, and then Ruben bent over the pile of smoky dirt, sniffed, and pronounced the food done. He and Daga and Dave shoveled the earth away and asked me to help shift first the burlap, then the canvas, then the linen. Finally the four of us lifted the enormous metal tray up and onto a table, where the meat and vegetables were sliced and served.

Into the night we ate pork, chicken, and lamb; softened potatoes, kumaras, and pumpkin; and all manner of greens and salads that others had contributed to the hangi. Moist and sweetly aromatic with the flavour of the kumara, the meats, tubers, and roots had cooked through perfectly. A glorious introductory hangi it was.

"You have learned a lot today, have you not?" Ruben asked.

Indeed I had. In the course of my afternoon hui, as the foods steamed, I had learned about lava rocks from fresh water and manuka wood; about the need for fatty pork to be the foundation of a successful hangi; that a little smoke will not harm lemon leaves; that good beer is necessary for the orchestration of a hangi.

"Good," said Ruben. "Now the haka."

A haka, he explained, is a Maori dance that concludes every hangi. To participate, one waves one's arms about while jumping from one foot to the other, up and down, back and forth, scowling and sticking one's tongue out to ward off enemies and unfriendly vapours.

"I'll watch," I told Ruben.