Ka pai: steak and cheese please

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 06:46 22/01/2014
Pies
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ

PIE GUY: An estimated 125 million pies are sold each year - that's 28 pies per person, as shown here by Baking Industry Association president Michael Gray, owner of Nada Bakery.

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If we are what we eat, New Zealand is a steak and cheese pie. While our tastebuds are becoming more discerning, an academic paper published in an international journal says Kiwis are not yet ready to say goodbye to the humble pie.

The pie has been tied to our national identity since the opening of the first pie-cart, says the article in Food, Culture and Society: An International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research.

A whopping 125 million of the tasty pastries were sold last year - that's an average of 28 pies per person, with steak and cheese emerging as a timeless favourite.

Auckland University sociologist Dr Claudia Bell and AUT university chef Lindsay Neill researched the article while writing The Great New Zealand Pie Cart. Meat pies were traditionally sold from roadside food wagons, but most no longer sold pies, including the infamous "White Lady" cart in downtown Auckland.

They remain ubiquitous at corner dairies, petrol stations, school canteens, races and fairs however, cementing their place in our culture, Dr Bell and Mr Neill say.

The evolving story of the pie mirrors social change in New Zealand.

In the 1950s, the emphasis on "meat and three veg" was reflected in the focus on standard meat pies.

Our No 8 wire mentality was embodied by the pie-cart entrepreneur, who created a business out of nothing but a converted caravan.

The carts were patronised by each generation's youth subculture, from beatniks to mods, rockers, and hippies satisfying cannabis-fuelled appetites.

"We were all stoned and hungry, but pretty harmless,"one interviewee said.

But meat eaten on the street was not a ladylike food, and patronising a pie-cart was thought most unsavoury for women.

The arrival of fast-food chains, cheap ethnic eats and 24-hour restaurants killed the cart, alongside many New Zealanders' desire for more sophisticated fare, the authors wrote.

But Baking Industry Association president Michael Gray, who owns Nada Bakery in Tawa and Johnsonville, said they sold around 3000 pies in more than 16 varieties but mince and cheese always came out on top.

"That's what the nation is fed with. [People] try different flavours but when it comes back to it they like the ones they grew up with, that bring back those fond memories.

"It's the meat dripping down your chin, it's the flaky pastry - it's about what a pie is."

Pak 'n Save Petone baker Roger Cathro, who won the Supreme Pie Awards steak and cheese section, said even during the summer months sales had not dropped off.

"It's just an all round good pie - it's got the right flavours, not too much fat, the right amount of salt. I eat a pie a day myself, even when I'm not working I'll go and find a nice pie. I don't know, I just like eating pies."

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- The Dominion Post

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