Sunday, February 8, 2009

Kaikoura Delicacy

Crayfish stalls, Kaikoura. 2007. Ajr
Mention the word crayfish and most people start licking their lips. Crayfish, more precisely the salty spiny lobster (koura to Maori), is a delicacy that few can go past – and in and around Kaikoura, you don’t have to. You can stop at any one of a number of roadside caravans and ‘stalls’ to get your fill. Kaikoura in fact, is named for this particular taste treat – kai (food) koura (crayfish) – and the local Maori have always treasured it as part of their kaimoana (seafood) diet. A couple of years ago when I was interviewing the Kaikoura kaumatua (elders) about their childhood memories of crayfish hunting they told me that “times have changed from the days when koura were caught in abundance here.” They talked about how koura are not as plentiful as they used to be and about how they now use metal pots to harvest them. Yet even just a few decades back you could still see the cray pots that were made by hand, by coiling hoops of supplejack vine. They would be weighted with stones and let down to the seabed on a rope. Some of the kaumatua remembered their parents using supplejack pots very successfully – “sometimes the boat would be so full of koura it would be only inches out of the water. Now you’d be lucky to get ten koura if you went out there. My father dropped his pots in every morning and picked up them up every night. He made the pots himself and we kids had to learn how to weave and mend them – and the nets. If the sea wasn’t too rough we’d often go out with him,” one kaumatua said.
Bobbing was also a favourite way of catching koura back then. “We’d put paua in the bottom of a sock, hang it from a string and lower it into the water. The crayfish would come for it and we’d just pick them out of the water. Sometimes we’d get half a sack full without any bother at all,” they said. They all fondly remember koura mara too – simply described as rotten koura. “We’d leave dead koura in fresh running water for two to three weeks until the tail turned white. The flesh would be clear in the centre and it would be very strong smelling. We’d mix it with vinegar, onions and salt and eat it on bread and butter. It was a delicacy – a bit like dried shark – that took some time to prepare but we ate it regularly.”
“We lived in good times and crayfish were a big part of our everyday life,” they collectively sighed. When they were young they would hunt for koura probably twice a week and they ate it in many different ways – grilled with cheese, curried, fried in butter, in a mornay sauce, or in a salad – for any meal of the day, even a morning or afternoon tea snack.
It goes without saying, that today, the giant crayfish like those adorning roadside koura stalls have helped cement Kaikoura’s image as THE place in New Zealand to find the best lobster.

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