America has its Thanksgiving turkey; England has a Sunday roast. New Zealand has many unique dishes but which one is iconic enough to represent us? What we need is a National Dish we can set on the all-black tablecloth on Waitangi Day and let the kids tuck into some patriotism. Here are the top contenders.
Paua is The Lord Of The Rings on a plate: a scenic package of blues and greens showcasing a rather unattractive hobbit-like foot. We used to have some really Tolkienesque giant eagles but we ate all their food, so these ancient snails that have survived unchanged since the dinosaur age are the closest you'll come to eating a mythological creature. Take a fellowship on a journey to collect them, but if they're undersized you'll have to go there and back again. If don't mind dealing with a dangerous and powerful ring you can purchase them on the black market, where you'll discover the true meaning of "My Precious".
Rich, fluffy and bad for you, the pav is the Real Housewives of pudding. Smothered in more cream than Julia Sloane at bedtime, it represents local luxury available to a few while the yolk of servitude weighs heavy on the less fortunate. Much work is needed to avoid a soggy bottom and its facade is prone to crumbling under pressure. It offers only a fleeting substanceless pleasure you'll regret the next day.
All kiwifruit everything
Ideal alone or in garnishes, salads, marinades and drinks, if you can handle your food trying to eat you back. A kiwifruit is a ravenous little beast, packed with digestive enzymes. If left on a steak overnight it will dissolve it into the kind of paleo smoothie not even Pete Evans would drink - or actually, possibly would. Perfect for tenderising cheaper cuts or disposing of your enemies. In fact, the kiwifruit is Anzac spirit with a spoon: scruffy and unassuming with an unexpected bite, literally the country's Zespri de corps.
Enormous effort goes into digging the pit, but once the hangi is on it's all about standing around and opening a beer, two things New Zealanders excel at. Its Pakeha counterpart is the barbecued sausage, though digging is swapped for swearing at the empty gas bottle and scraping the previous barbecue off the grill. Our national dish could be the ultimate fusion cuisine: minced hangi kai in a sausage skin, burnt black on the outside and cold in the middle. Served on margarined white bread clinging damply to a paper napkin with a limp sprawl of onions, it's our version of Scotland's iconic haggis - the hanggis. Tomato sauce is compulsory.
Mince pie, bacon and egg pie, the cheerfully vague vegetarian pie - if it has a lid, we'll eat it. The appeal of a pastry top might be that it's the only roof we can afford these days. There's much talk about the golf ball of fat in each one, but it's the fat of the land: good, wholesome butter in the pastry, mutton in the mince, who knows what in the gravy, and who cares? Pies are the backbone of the country, and also quite a bit of the belly.
Largely unknown in the North Island, these hardy little southern snacks deserve wider acclaim. The humble cousin of the sausage roll and the slightly redneck nephew of the asparagus roll-up, its secret ingredient is onion soup mix, food of the gods if the gods went to parties. The taste of chip dip in a handy mouth-sized tube, it represents a New Zealand of community halls and bringing a plate, a New Zealand that couldn't stand the thought of another scone and number-8 wired something tasty. Or possibly colby.
Kaimoana and kumara
England invented fish and chips, but we turned soggy cod into golden, seaside perfection. Substitute the spuds, and kaimoana and kumara chips could be the iconic meal of our time. If only fish was replaceable with something else until stocks recover. Chicken soaked in sea water perhaps, or whatever kumara currently used for filet-of-fish burgers. Appreciate it now before it runs out, because your grandkids won't know what you mean when you say "by hoki".
Buy hoki? Bye hoki.
The RSA Buffet
Our real National Dish would be a little bit of everything. There would be lamb and mash and frozen peas, pork and puha, taro, curry, wontons, katsu, stroganoff. A little bit of everyone all jostling together on the same plate, getting salad dressing on each other. That's why our National Dish might be the buffet down the RSA. It has all the hallmarks of a utopia: kids are welcome, the beer is cheap, and Mike Hosking wouldn't be seen dead there.
Treat yourself, New Zealand, there's chips with everything.