Apr 1, 2022 Metro Eats
Why is everyone so weird about fake meat? Impossible Foods, the mince meat imposter designed in a lab in California, recently hit the supermarket shelves after a soft-launch at some popular eateries in Auckland. A few media outlets have run stories covering this – Impossible Foods has proved massively popular overseas, particularly for its success at closely resembling meat, down to its juices – and lots of these stories have copped it in the comments, with the general argument that the superior (and therefore only) plant-based option should be real vegetables. It isn’t plant-based if it isn’t natural, apparently – especially in the case of Impossible, which uses GMO soy protein and heme (the thing that makes it “bleed”).
I feel like this argument assumes several things, one of which is that everyone choosing to eat plant-based, whether full-time or part-time, does so to be as healthy as possible. Which just… can not be true? I personally am in the camp of let people eat what they want, however there is some real justification for Impossible-Foods slander, most of which has been expressed by food writer Alicia Kennedy in her Substack newsletters, about its questionable sustainability credentials and whether these vegan meat alternatives are really saving animals. She talks a bit about the connection between “meat superiority and male greatness” and the lack of media coverage on both women chefs who are working in the “plant-based” space (without trying to recreate meat) and on non-Western alternatives, due to Impossible and Beyond’s PR machine. (You can read the whole newsletter here). If you wanna try some non-Impossible Foods mock meat, have a scan of Metro‘s ranking of them by Laura Vincent – lots of Asian supermarkets have entire sections dedicated to meat substitutes, and one Asian supermarket in East Tamaki, E-PAC, is nearly entirely vegetarian / vegan. Enjoy!
In other news, it’s Easter soon! Apparently everyone’s very into the Lindt Ferrero Rocher eggs this year (in that, I’ve been told by at least two separate people that they’re the thing to buy) so I grabbed some of the hazelnut ones recently. Conclusion? They taste like Ferrero Rocher. I also had a scoop of the new limited edition flavour by Duck Island, which uses hot cross buns from Ima (#gifted), and it’s basically a hot cross bun in ice cream form – albeit with less raisins. It’s gentler, but doesn’t shy away from leaning into spice flavour, so if you’re not a hot cross bun fan you’re unlikely to be converted. However, if you are a hot cross bun fan, you’ll find it delicious, and I’d recommend it.
Some recommendations from Sunita:
“For red wine lovers, Spiga in Remuera is not just a home to tasty Italian treats, but also a tight but thoughtful, red-heavy, mainly-Italian wine list with a good spread by the glass (including an Amarone, which is never cheap and so rarely available on menus by anything but the bottle). The construction site outside provides a little adventure in finding your way in, but it’s clearly going to be a beautiful space once completed and presently a very nice early evening perch with a glass of wine and a book.”
“The cocoa, nutella and cinnamon rugelach at Carmel are among the best I’ve ever tried – from the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, to the Hasidic bakeries of North London. I’ve always favoured the pastry, rather than cookie, end of the rugelach spectrum, and these are properly weighty when held in the hand, dense but moist and yet still also fluffy, a little bit crisp along the shiny ridges on top, and with dark, rich, satisfyingly chocolatey filling.”
Simon said he had a ham and guyere sandwich at Cazador Deli and it “may be the best sandwich he’s ever had in his life. Pillowy!”
I finally hit up Little Sicily , which is parked up by the train tracks in Penrose. There’s indoor seating available too, so bathed in red it’s incredibly hard to take photos, unless you’re willing to be obnoxious and turn the flash on (my flash went off by mistake, I promise!). It’s a fun little spot, and was particularly into the paua arancini, which was a special that day.
There’s a new cafe, Chur Bae , in the City Works Depot precinct that just opened today… where The Botanist was, maybe? (In this instance “bae” apparently stands for “before anywhere else” instead of “before anyone else”.) It looks like a pretty big space.
Plus: An exerpt from Auckland Eats Vol. 2, The Prequel
Lazy Susan’s second cookbook is out now, this time taking you back in time to Tāmaki Makaurau’s booming restaurant scene in about the late 1970s onwards. There’s recipes, there’s profiles, there’s interviews with owners and chefs who were prominent hospitality figures. We’re giving away two copies on our Instagram – to enter, head to the post here.
To give you a taste, here’s an excerpt on Parnell institution Oh Calcutta, by regular Metro contributor Anna King Shabab. Featuring a small mention of Metro.
By Anna King Shahab
‘Parnell Road was known as “The Strip” when we opened here,’ says Anand Patel, who owns Oh Calcutta with his wife Meena Anand. ‘It wasn’t as spread out as Ponsonby Road was, it was more compact, and full of bars. You had two iconic pubs at either end of the street – The Exchange and The Oak and Whale – and there was a lot of movement up and down the street. The restaurants capitalised on that.’ The Patels opted for this Parnell site for a few key reasons: it was right beside an ASB cashflow machine – one of the first ones in Auckland – and the suburb was popular with families. ‘Families are the future – our butter chicken has brought up three generations of one family. Parents introduced their children, who introduced their children.’
‘I left school at fifteen, with little education, and I basically had nowhere to live – I came from that type of background. I was taken in by an auntie and uncle, and did a stint in insurance, but it wasn’t for me. I was really passionate about food and about people. I couldn’t afford to buy cookbooks but I experimented. In my early twenties I went to India, had an arranged marriage, and spent a year over there, in a village in Gujarat. I gained a perspective on how fortunate I was to be an Indian born in New Zealand, rather than in India, where it’s so hard to get opportunities. In the village there was no running water, very little electricity. I couldn’t communicate in the native tongue, had to resort to English, and it was difficult. To pass time, I sat with the local ladies and learned how to make homestyle food.’ Back in New Zealand, Anand pursued his passion for Indian cuisine, spending time with his auntie, a talented cook.
‘There were five Indian restaurants in Auckland when we opened. Today there’s one in every suburb, on every block, almost!’ Along with Thai Friends, Oh Calcutta – named for the Broadway show controversially peppered with nudity (Anand’s tongue-in-cheek approach was evident early on) – broke the ‘mostly Italian’ mould in Parnell. Anand, then in his mid-twenties, was the youngest restaurateur in the village – in fact, he walked around wearing a waiter’s uniform and didn’t reveal that he owned the restaurant in the fear that people would think him too young.
‘The nineties saw a lot of growth in Asian cuisines. Kiwis were starting to travel more and tastes were expanding. The fact that dishes in Asian restaurants were designed to be shared meant you could try different things. (Although we still have customers who only want their one favourite dish after almost 30 years!)’
‘In the old days, there were two major hospitality training schools in India, the Oberoi and the Taj. When someone wanted to open an Indian restaurant anywhere in the world they would contact these institutions to find staff. The advantage was they were well-trained professionals, but their food tasted virtually the same. Meena and I wanted a bit of diversity – we wanted to incorporate Meena’s homestyle cooking and what I learned from my aunties with what the chefs from India knew about serving big crowds.
‘We’ve never claimed to be serving “authentic Indian” food. I mean even in our own village dal varies from one household to another, so what is authentic? We used our personal experiences, trial and error, and really took our customers’ advice onboard. One thing we decided early on is we’d never have salt and pepper on the table – the chef should know how to balance their food.’ Meena and Anand have always been very involved with the design of each dish – often up till 1 or 2am tasting and balancing when creating new dishes.
Sourcing the good-quality spices essential to Indian cooking is something that’s become much more straightforward over the years. Anand used to travel to Delhi to bring spices back. He points to the migration of Fijian Indians following the first coup in Fiji as a turning point – ingredients, as well as saris and other clothing, became readily available.
The restaurant’s relationship with the Gujarati community has always been complex. ‘The mindset among Gujaratis was “Why would we pay to eat out when we can cook that at home?” But people came to realise I wasn’t trying to compete with Mum’s or Auntie’s cooking – we were offering our own interpretation.’ A good example of their innovation and pursuit of excellence is the ‘three salmon tikka’. Salmon isn’t typically seen in Indian cuisine, and the kitchen prepares only a small number of portions of the dish each day, because the fish, which Anand rates as the best in the country, is flown up directly from a South Island supplier.
Oh Calcutta posed cultural challenges of another kind through its tongue-in-cheek approach to advertising. The restaurant has always been well patronised by suits from Parnell’s ad agencies, and Anand built up a close relationship with ad man Rob Sherlock. ‘Rob came to me with an idea for an ad, warning me it was a bit risqué, but I was okay with that. It was for the launch of our takeaways, and it had me wearing high heels, fishnet stockings, and a chef ’s jacket, carrying a plate of food. The text said “At last the tastiest Indian is coming out”. I got hate mail and abusive phone calls from the Indian community for that, but I got embraced by the rainbow community. We went on to win a Mobius Award for that ad which ran in Metro magazine, and it was one of the first steps in us becoming an institution beyond just your local curry house. The ad came out a year after my father died . . . he would have kicked my arse!
‘I learned from that that there was more to advertising than the Yellow Pages, which was still big then. Another time, Rob took up the billboard site along the railway line at the bottom of Parnell Road. The ad just said ‘www.ohcalcutta.co.nz’ on a simple black background with three faces: my wife, my sister, and my sister in-law. The red dots on their foreheads were the dots in the website address!’
Sometimes they pushed it too far – there was a television ad that didn’t make it past the broadcasting authority, and a bed of nails Anand set up on one of the dining chairs, which became a popular dare with people who’d been drinking at The Fat Lady’s Arms, attracted the ire of the council. There was another covert marketing tool at work. ‘Customers were coming with my business card, with a signature and discount written on it.’ It transpired that Anand’s father had been purposely bumping into people in the supermarket as they pondered over frozen curries. ‘He’d say “Oh god, you’re not eating that, are you?” And he’d tell them his son had a restaurant in Parnell, here’s a discount card, go and try it! Dad passed away and still we had so many people coming in with those cards, all I could do was be humoured by it.’
‘My father always told me to remember my roots, and the people that have helped you. And that’s what I do – I always remember my suppliers, my staff, my customers. As an owner, I’m at the bottom of the pile, I’m accountable to all those people first – it’s not about me.’