Hungry Hinch

Feeling Sheepish

Ok, I know all the sheep shagger jokes. Been hearing them since I crossed the ditch more than 50 years ago.

What do you call a New Zealander with ten lovers? A shepherd. I even  have a sister named  Baaaabara.

We grew up not on the sheep’s back (as Aussie comedians claimed) but living off the sheep’s back. Wool and lamb meat fuelled the Kiwi economy, and pulled in precious foreign  pounds and dollars, a century before they struck oil on and off-shore.

Even the favourite insult for a woman dressing beneath her years was ‘mutton dressed up as lamb’.

On our dinner tables, lamb was the meat of cheap choice and often necessity. Lamb chops should have been on the national flag and a leg of lamb with mint sauce was traditional Sunday dinner – even though it was cooked Sunday morning and served at lunch time.

I know they successfully exported lamb because, in Manhattan in the 1970s, I would treat American friends to roast lamb impregnated with slivers of garlic  and sprigs of rosemary. And you bought it from the supermarket at about the same  cheap  prices as Down Under. I suspect dumping was quite legal in those days.

So what happened? Why is lamb now more expensive in New Zealand than beef? Does it all now go for export? Like crayfish (lobster) tails and Bluff oysters?  Why is it not even on the menu in many hotel restaurants?

I have one clue. I dined in New Plymouth at a fine restaurant. A restored old bank building now called Andre’s.

I have been eating out, pulling on the nosebag, all around the globe for this column, since 1975. (I remember one of my first reviews was for a place in New York  called  The Palace. They boasted they were the most expensive restaurant in the world. Dinner for two (set menu) cost $400 in 1975. Thank you Mr. Fairfax.)

One dish at Andre’s would have done The Palace proud. I’m used to seeing  ‘market price  or ‘POA’ on  dishes  like  lobster  or oysters. At Andre’s they had POA alongside the rack of lamb.

Didn’t fuss me because I don’t eat red meat (except for the occasional shabu shabu) but my dinner companion had  just returned to the land of the long white shroud’after  30 years in Europe and Mexico.

The rack of lamb was $42. And it was only three ribs. So really it was half a rack of lamb. Plus sides were extra,  so you were looking at $60 for a main course.

At that price you’d want to hogget. Groan.

 Foodie’s Footnote: I was back in NZ for the 50th wedding anniversary of my cherished elder sister (the aforementioned Barbara) and her husband, Les Swanson. The luncheon was held at the Tariki Hotel in the shadow of the magnificent, snow-capped cone-shaped Mt. Taranaki. I had two dishes I hadn’t experienced for about 50 years. There were asparagus rolls. Single sticks of canned asparagus wrapped in small slices of white bread.

 (I’ve written before about my mother’s Anzac Day ritual. We couldn’t  afford asparagus so for my Dad and his Digger mates, after the Dawn Service, and a few rums, Mum would make mock asparagus sandwiches out of mashed cold peas and Marmite or Vegemite).

At their Tariki farmhouse, I  also sampled my sister’s pickled onions. Brought back memories of visits to my grandmother’s as a kid. As soon as we walked in the door, my father, my older brother Des and I  would dash to the linen closet in the hallway where Nanna  kept a crock of spicy  pickled onions in  brackish  brine. Sister Barbara’s were just as good. I’m about to bottle some myself to go with the first batch of olives from my solitary balcony tree.

Another taste experience was at Andre’s. I cautiously ordered half a dozen  Bluff oysters. I say cautiously because I had a not-so-rosy memory of my father often bring home a pottle (not a bottle, a slim glass container called a pottle) or raw oysters.  To a young palate they smelled and looked revolting.  From memory I tasted and hated. Too ‘oystery’. 

Never again. Until this week. Six  plump Bluff oysters, reasonably priced as $24.

I enjoyed them. Better than that creamy taste of Sydney Rocks and certainly  nothing like the briny, magnificent, Pacific Oysters from Coffin Bay. Surprisingly, there was even a pleasant hint of clam in the firm body flesh. Changed my impression of them completely. Next I must try some from Stewart Island.

POA of course.


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