Puha & Pakeha brings Maori flavour to the streets
Think Māori food and Reuben sandwiches, pulled pork, fish chowder and piri piri chicken salads probably don't spring to mind.
But these are a few of the dishes Jarrad and Belinda McKay are using to introduce native flavours – many of which have been right under Kiwis' noses for years – to the masses.
The couple take their matte-black Puha & Pākehā caravan to various events and markets around Auckland, offering their unique blend of contemporary street food and traditional Māori kai.
While the hāngi is a recurring theme in their cooking, they've also made the most of rēwena bread (used in their Reuben, among other things), horopito (spicing up the piri piri chicken) and kawakawa (infused into a meringue).
One of their most successful dishes is the pulled pork and slaw sandwich. The pork is slow-cooked in a hāngi, imparting that unique flavour into the well-spiced shoulder. Panko-crumbed kūmara balls also carry that distinctive hāngi flavour and are served with a sweet horopito sauce.
Jarrad lights up as he talks about the smell of the food coming from their hāngi. "It does take me back to primary school, where we used to put one down every year as a fundraiser. Mr Presley and Mr Going were digging the hole, putting the sacks on top."
The McKays started Puha & Pākehā with the aim of reconnecting New Zealanders with Māori kai – or, indeed, connecting many of us for the first time with a food we don't know much about. The name comes from a deeply un-PC novelty song from the 1960s, about Māori cooking up white folk in a boil-up.
Jarrad, who is Tainui and Ngāti Kahungunu, has fond memories of eating plenty of Māori kai growing up in Manurewa, South Auckland. He says the selection was limited, however, so researching and developing new recipes has been a learning experience for him too.
"I know the basics," he says. "We've only really scratched the surface of the common [Māori] foods. When you start digging, you discover there's horopito and there's this and there's that," he says.
"It's cool educating people about native New Zealand stuff."
Belinda is the Pākehā in the Puha & Pākehā equation, and says she didn't have much experience of Māori kai before they embarked on the venture in 2014.
Like her, many New Zealanders' only experience of Māori cuisine has been hāngi, which they've only had once or twice, Belinda says.
It's great the country's collective palate has embraced plenty of foreign cultures, she says, but there seems to be a dearth of Māori cuisine, and possibly a negative view of it too.
"That's part of the reason we started Puha & Pākehā, because we could see that. There are people like me, who are Pākehā, who have memories of hāngi from school camps, having it at a marae or something.
"If we're going to engage people with Māori kai, we can't just do what people have always done," she says. "It's kind of a blend of traditional Māori kai with modern flavours and presentations.
"We're engaging with all Kiwis. We have the Māori people, they love us; then we're also targeting those who are a little bit more foodie, a little bit more experimental, trying to re-engage them with what's here in New Zealand."
Then there are the tourists, whose first taste of Māori food is often from the caravan, she says.
Meanwhile, the McKays are continuing to spend plenty of time doing their research, looking at how to use ingredients like tītī (muttonbird) and karengo seaweed in future dishes.