Family Kiwidutch are staying in the Distinction Hotel (Rotorua).
We’d arrived late in the afternoon in the pouring rain, Himself and the kids squeezed in a soak in the Jacuzzi, also in the pouring rain but the pool is geothermally heated so there were no complaints and luckily their hunger got them out and drove them back to the room in time to get changed for dinner.
One of the restaurants here hosts a Maori Hangi cooked meal (=cooked in the ground with hot coals/rocks or in this case with natural geothermal steam) and usually the show provided is put on for tour bus parties and not really intended just for passing by, families of four.
We strike it lucky because tonight’s tour bus contingent is smaller than usual and staff at reception tell us that there’s no problem for us to grab a table and share in the food and fun.
New Zealand sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and is very geophysically active, fault lines litter the entire country, earthquakes abound (as Christchurch residents can attest to only too well), volcanoes are dotted around and several (Mt. Ruapehu and White Island are highly active), and geothermal hot springs are a feature in both the North and South Islands.
In fact, the Rotorua area could easily be called the “Yellowstone” equivalent of the Southern Hemisphere and steam vents, geysers and boiling mud are almost literally a stones-throw away.
Local Maori have historically capitalised on the abundance of natural energy and taken their traditional cooking style to a whole new level here. Usually a traditional Hangi involves heating large stones over a fire for some hours, transferring them to a prepared pit, placing the wrapped food on top and then covering the lot with earth to insulate it and letting the heat of the stones be released to slow-cook the meal during the course of the day.
In Rotorua the ground itself is Mother Nature’s oven and the food cooks without the need for the fire preparation stage. I’ve had Hangi’s before and the food ranged from ‘ ok to fantastic”.
This one was brilliant, probably the best I’ve had… the surprise of the meal was the inclusion of Maori Bread (which I had heard about but never tried before) and wow, wow, wow, it was delicious!
I asked the restaurant staff about the inclusion of rice and some other non-Hangi menu items and they smiled…
…it appears that a considerable volume of their bus tour patrons come come various parts of Asia and can be more than a little reticent at trying things like sweet potatoes, lamb and baked pumpkin.
I’m told that they definitely feel more comfortable with familiar favourites like rice and seafood and indeed many enquire before booking their tour if they can expect these foods, so naturally Hotels learned swiftly that if you want your customers to be happy then you cater for your customers wishes. Consequently this is a “kind-of-authentic” Hangi… but the chefs have done a great job with all the food, so no complaints here.
The kumera (sweet potato) is a New Zealand variety that tastes totally different to ones we get in Europe and I can highly recommend it, followed by the pumpkin (which I could willingly have eaten every last piece of, if only my stomach have been big enough and it been socially acceptable to have hogged the lot) …and the roast lamb was to die for.
We finished off our wonderful meal with Pavlova, fruit salad and gingerbread with custard, Yum! …what’s not to like?
Top marks for an excellent meal, now it’s time to acquaint ourselves with some Maori culture…