Tio Point Oysters and Sauvignon Blanc at Comida, Downtown Tauranga
Considering the vast amounts of light, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc coming out of New Zealand, it would be almost wrong not to drink it on the regular. Even better -- paired with some excellent NZ oysters on the half shell. These Tio Point oysters ($15 NZD for a half dozen) at Comida on the Strand in downtown Tauranga were a particular treat. Farmed in the Marlborough sound, the oysters have a 31% meat-to-shell ratio. The meat is plum and firm, and has a buttery, sweet flavor and a creamy finish.
Similar to English bacon, New Zealand bacon includes the belly and the loin. The meaty, smokey quality of the meat makes it a stellar sandwich filling, and a perfect base for eggs Benedict.
Chicken Laksa at Banana Leaf Malaysian, Auckland
I was ready to book my ticket to Malaysia after this flavorful, unbelievably delicious bowl of chicken laksa ($12 NZD). Rich with coconut and topped with a slick of chile oil, the laksa is filled with tender egg noodles, chunks of bone-in dark and white meat chicken, and porous fried tofu (perfect for soaking up the rich broth). Behind it is a freshly fried piece of roti chanai ($3 NZD), which balanced a crispy fried texture with the fresh doughy chew.
Veggie Stack at Grindz, Tauranga
Something I loved about New Zealand cafe menus was the large number of "stacks" that made appearances. Basically a pile of stuff served on bread, this veggie stack ($13 NZD) from Grindz included spinach, fried potatoes, avocado, and a grilled tomato, piled on a thick slice of ciabatta and covered in an excellent lemony hollandaise sauce. The vegetables were all fresh and well-prepared, the avocado was creamy and ripe. I love the choose-your-own-adventure bite building that comes with a stack.
Fresh bread and pastries at the Queenstown Farmers Market
Gibbston Valley Cheese at the Queenstown Farmers Market
Sundried Tomato Focaccia from Fergbaker
I wrote about the Afghan cookies from Fergbaker, but this oily round of focaccia was definitely the star of our Ferg-made treats. Yeasty, soft, and fresh, the focaccia was topped with a crispy layer of sharp melted cheese and chewy-sweet sundried tomatoes. Meant to serve as a mid-hike snack, we took this down before we made it off the bus in the Milford Sound.
Kumara Wedges at Halo Forbidden Bite, Queenstown
Kumara, a kind of NZ-grown sweet potato, "basically came to earth in order to be fried and dipped in aioli," according to my Auckland-native friend Cass. She may be on to something there: these wedges at ($8.50 NZD) of lightly seasoned, deep-fried kumara were salty-crisp on the outside, creamy and lightly sweet on the inside. Perfect for dunking in the side of aioli, and washed down with a mid-afternoon beer on Halo's lovely outdoor patio.
Creamy Smoked Fish Pie at Providores, Tauranga
Half gourmet-grocery, half cafe, Providores was an important find for a hungover New Year's Day in Tauranga's Mount Manganui. Their gourmet pies ($6.90 NZD) were a well-crafted take on a convenience store classic -- delicate, buttery pastry flaked apart to reveal fillings from potato and cheese to curry chicken. This creamy smoked fish pie was a particular standout -- the interior is more of a smokey fish chowder than anything, studded with vegetables. The creamy innards causes the pastry to lose its structural integrity pretty quickly, but it's nothing that can't be mopped up with ripped off pieces of the pie top.
Lamb Cumin Burger at Xi'an Food, Auckland
I led us on a wild goose chase around Auckland to track down Xi'an Food. I read about their 'burgers' in a 20-word blurb in a city magazine, and again about their hand-pulled noodles on local blog. Considering my love for Xi'an Famous Food in New York (and the lack of anything comparable in San Francisco, ugh) I was determined. Oh, am I glad I stuck to my quest. The cumin lamb burger ($4.50 NZD) was as good as the New York-iteration -- spicy and pungent with cumin, the lamb had an excellent, dry-rub induced texture, and was liberally dripping with juice.
Xi'an Style Braised Pork Noodles at Xi'an Food, Auckland
The noodles ($9 NZD), however, were the true show stopper. Thick and wonderfully uneven, the pliant noodles were undeniably fresh, and slippery with salty-sweet juices of braised pork. The meat itself was meltingly tender, and would have been stand-out on its own.
Chili Vegetable Noodles at Xi'an Food, Auckland
The vegetable version certainly lacked the rich savoriness of the pork, but more than made up for it with its healthy coating of chili oil. The slow-building heat was particularly evident towards the bottom of the sizable bowl thanks to the generous pool of chili oil. The best was when we combined the two noodle toppings: does it really get better than pork-chili-vegetables on fresh noodles?
Fresh produce stand in Tauranga
10 avos for $5?! Oh, hello!
Mac's Beers, Everywhere (pictured in Tauranga)
Mac's is one of the largest beer producers in New Zealand, and we drank a lot of their brews. I was partial to the Mac's Black, a snappy, refreshing black lager, with lovely toasty notes and a clean finish.
More New Zealand Beer
Monteiths, Moa, and Boundary Road, all excellent varieties of NZ beer.
Our Man in Trinidad at Mea Culpa, Auckland
I didn't have the best luck with cocktails in New Zealand. One rendition of an Old Fashioned was made with orange juice (among other things) and was bad enough that I full-on couldn't drink it (definitely out of character). Mea Culpa in Auckland is a decided exception. With a multi-page, cheekily annotated menu, the six-year-old bar has a frequently rotating menu, makes use of creative spirits sourced from all over the world, and fresh produce.
The Our Man in Trinidad ($16 NZD) is made with Stolen Golden rum, topped with fresh muddled strawberries, and blended with raspberry balsamic syrup, angostura bitters, and Stoke ginger beer. A sophisticated beach drink, the rum and ginger beer are both incredibly well blended, and the balsamic lends a slightly savory note. A garnish of Thai basil, strawberry, and a grind of fresh black pepper deepens the overall effect.
Iced Chai at Grindz, Tauranga
Something I learned quickly on warm summer mornings in New Zealand = ordering an iced coffee drink often means you're getting a big scoop of ice cream in it. This iced chai ($6 NZD) at the always-bustling Grindz Cafe in downtown Tauranga was no exception. Spicy-sweet chai is poured atop a scoop of melty vanilla ice cream. The biggest supporter of my ordering iced drinks? My boyfriend, who generally ended up taking down the scoop of ice cream I'd fish out, hoping to get some coffee in me pre-dessert.
Beef Rendang from Bali Star, Auckland
An Indonesian riff on beef rendang ($11.50 NZD), this tender, slow-cooked rendition was made with lemongrass, lime leaves, garlic, galangal, and coconut cream. The tangy pungency of the lime brightened the rich heat of the dish, while the coconut lent a creaminess, this rendang was decidedly more savory than sweet.