I love New Zealand. It's as fine a country as I've ever seen. It would be no great hardship, on my part, to list 74 reasons why New Zealand bowled me over. To find fault with New Zealand, now that would be troublesome, as I can think of only one thing that didn't suit my palate. No surprise, really, that I was befuddled by an item that appeared regularly on breakfast menus across the land of the long white cloud (Aotearoa, aka New Zealand).
Before I spill the beans, let me just say that I found the food in New Zealand to be quite wonderful. They don't have, what I would call, a traditional cuisine that's easily identifiable, like Thailand, India or Sudbury. I'm far from being a qualified food critic or culinary savant, but if forcibly coerced into describing the Kiwi cuisine, I might suggest that they've put their own spin on the California fusion thing. Is it obvious to you, the reader, that I have no idea what I'm talking about when it comes to food, with a few exceptions?
I am qualified to to state that a British food hangover still exists. Need a meat pie? No problem. Finding a meat pie in New Zealand is as easy as finding a Timbit in Moncton. Segueing to coffee for a moment, there are cafes in every little Kiwi town or village, sometimes in the most unlikely of places, like ruralnowhereville. The focus of these cafes is always on the coffee, it's never about unrolling a paper cup and winning something that you've always wanted, like a Sea-Doo. This focus seems to satisfy the locals because I don't remember seeing any empty coffee cups littering the roadside. The aftertaste is of coffee, not losing (note: I make this comment because I once counted 54 discarded Tim Horton's cups in a 20 kilometre stretch of rural New Brunswick road. This road was not remotely close to any Tim Horton's location).
Okay, it's time to address the one thing that could bring the flourishing New Zealand tourist industry to its knees...
Pasta with toast.
It sounded innocuous enough, after all, I like pasta and I like toast. I don't make a habit of ordering pasta for breakfast, but I'm willing to embrace the culinary traditions of most cultures. I've eaten haggis in Scotland. I've ingested a Twinkie in Maine in the 1980s (it's still about two-thirds of the way down my colon). A chicken fried steak in Oklahoma didn't slow me down, though it did fetch up on the Twinkie. Have I made my point? I'm no one's dinner table patsy.
Pasta with toast appears to be a traditional dish. The first time I saw it on a Kiwi menu, I laughed out loud and wondered what it might be like, then I ordered something appetizing. My mind wandered off into the kitchen to sneak a peek, but the door was locked. The second time I encountered pasta with toast on a menu, I bit the bullet (which might have felt better in my mouth), and ordered it.
The dish was brought to my table. I tried to disguise the look of surprise on my face. I was unsuccessful.
Alphagetti without the joy of being able to spell words like 'grotesque' with my meal, which is what I sorely wanted to do. The noodles were long and somewhat thick, not unlike intestines. Every fiber in my body twitched for bacon and eggs, or granola with yogurt, or toast.
Excuse me, Miss, where's my toast?
I never got around to asking that question, because I finally spotted my toast desperately trying to free itself from the train wreck on top. I had visions of a side plate stacked with sourdough toast, fresh creamery butter and homemade preserves. Instead, I watched Wonder bread drown under a can of New Zealand's famous Watties spaghetti. Apocalypse on a plate. For this, Sir James Wattie was knighted (I'm sure that he must have bread Corgies on the side, or something equally worthy of royal favour).
So....New Zealand is far from perfect, but it's still pretty good. Here's my advice if you're traveling to New Zealand. Drink wine. Lots of it. Take a bottle, or two, of Marlborough's famed Sauvignon Blanc to bed with you. Wine, in New Zealand, is so inexpensive that you'll love it (it's one of my 74 reasons to visit). Another one of my 74 reasons to visit is a New Zealand hangover. The hangover itself is not the reason, it's just that you'll be feeling too awful to eat breakfast. I see this as a positive.