Monday, April 20, 2009

A Traditional Delicacy

Believe it or not, these rather ugly little things are a Maori delicacy! Lamprey (Geotria australis) has multiple ‘identities.’ It is also known as the lamprey eel and to most southern Maori it is kanakana – although it is also known as nainai in the Temuka/Waihao Marae area; and in the North Island it is called piharau. Long considered a delicacy by Maori it is also widely eaten in Portugal, Spain, France, Scandanavia, the Baltic countries and in South Korea; and King Henry I of England is said to have died from “a surfeit of lampreys.” I was introduced to these slimy little devils at the Hokonui Marae in February, when we travelled there to write and photograph another kai feature for Ngai Tahu’s magazine Te Karaka.
Kanakana. Hokonui Marae, Gore. Feb 2009. Ajr
I had never seen them before – certainly never tasted them; and I’m almost ashamed to say, I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. I was completely put off by their awful little sucker-mouths filled with tiny razor-like teeth. But the Hokonui kaumatua were delighted. They don’t get kanakana quite as much as they used to and despite the fact that chef, Jason Dell hadn’t cooked them before, they seemed more than satisfied with their hearty lunch. They may not have been expecting their kanakana to come with marsala potato, warm parsnip salad and chilli and lime baked gurnard - (they’re used to simply pan-frying them fresh from the river) - but the verdict was unanimous – for his first time cooking kanakana Jason Dell had done pretty well.

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