Monday, March 2, 2009

Whitebait Feast

Wai Scott making whitebait fritters at Te Tauraka Waka a Maui Marae, Bruce Bay. Feb 2009 Ajr
When we visited the Makaawhio Runanga at Bruce Bay recently to do one of our last kai features for Ngai Tahu’s TE KARAKA magazine, we were very lucky to have – in addition to locally-hunted wild venison and fish – a big bowl of whitebait. Chef Jason Dell (Ngai Tahu,Ngati Wheki) got Wai Scott on the job of fritter-making. To Maori, whitebait are known generally as mata. Whitebait are the juvenile form of six native freshwater species. The most common is inanga (Galaxias maculatus). Others include koaro or mountain trout (G.brevipinnis), the banded kokopu (G.fasciatus), taiwharu or the giant kokopu (G.argenteus), the short-jawed kokopu (G.prostvectis), and the common smelt (Retropinna retropinna). All migrate in large, mixed shoals from the sea to freshwater rivers and streams during the season. In every river system the whitebait species are moving up and down the river according to their separate life cycles. In autumn when the inanga are migrating downstream to spawn on estuarine sedges, smelts are migrating upstream to spawn on the river sandbanks. Most inanga spawn and die in an annual cycle while koaro and kokopu survive spawning and return upstream. Banded kokopu are thought to live as long as nine years.
In the old days Maori cooked whitebait in leaf packages or dried them in the sun for storage. Today almost everyone loves them cooked in fritters.

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