Thursday, April 2, 2009

Creative Kai

Eel Tacos, Wairewa. 2007. Ajr
It’s some time since we visited the Wairewa Runanga at Mako Marae at Little River near Christchurch to spend the day with chef Jason Dell (Ngai Tahu, Ngati Wheke) and runanga kaumatua, cooking and talking about tuna (eel) for one of Te Karaka magazine's kai features. There’s been a long tradition of tuna harvest at Wairewa; and there’s always been an element of mystery about the tuna migration and strict tikanga has surrounded tuna harvest. They have traditionally been caught between February and April during the last quarter of the moon (hinepouri) when the nights were darker and the eels had begun moving down the streams and into Lake Wairewa, ready to migrate out to sea to spawn in the Pacific. Local whanau adhered to strict rules – food, drink and smoking were all banned from the drains and stepping across drains was equally frowned upon. When it came to producing a modern eel meal, Jason managed to surprise most of the kaumatua that day - they’ve been brought up with baked or boiled eel – perhaps some curried eel, or smoked – but never anything quite as exotic as warm eel salad with watercress, Maori potatoes and bacon; and never anything as tasty as smoked eel in parmesan tacos with shredded lettuce and vanilla mayonnaise (pictured above). Their decision was unanimous though – “it was all delicious, a real treat” – and as they reached for the last of the eel and roast pumpkin butties, they promised to go home and try something new with their own tuna. If you want to read more about traditional methods of drying eel, you can read a piece I wrote last week by clicking here.

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