Lucy Corry’s Blog: From budget eats to experiences, here are the best things I ate in 2020
From budget eats to keeping it local, the best way to remember 2020 is through good food, says Lucy Corry.
At the end of every year my little family and I play a ‘best of’ game, in which we look back at the things we’ve done and discuss our favourite moments, or meals, or experiences. It might sound silly but it’s a great way to remember all the small things that make up a year. A special section reserved for eating and drinking is hotly debated by all parties. Here are my stand-outs from a memorable year.
BEST ASIAN FOOD
This is a tough one, so I’ve made it a tie. In January, I ate exceptional dumplings, kung pao chicken and sweet and sour black fungus at Sichuan Style, an unassuming little restaurant in Hamilton’s unloved city centre. It was so good we returned two days later and ate it all over again. In August, on the sort of frigid day that Wellington excels at in late winter, I greedily slurped up A Taste of Home’s dan-dan noodles. This shoebox-sized joint on Vivian St has a cult following and it’s not hard to see why.
Honourable mention goes to the dimply pork dumplings I made myself to a recipe shared by A Taste of Home in the Pandemic Pack Cookbook.
BEST RESTAURANT EXPERIENCE
In February I got a dream gig working on Monique Fiso’s Hiakai book. In the interests of research (I’m all about the work), I ate my way through her ‘Battle of the Mountains’ menu. It was a strangely moving experience to have the story of the landscape I grew up in played out on the plates in front of me.
Best moment (apart from the famed rewena and titi butter) was my dining companion exclaiming that “this tastes like a volcano” as we ate a dish inspired by Mt Tarawera. Honourable mention must go to lovely Rita, on Wellington’s Aro Street, a Mary Poppins of a restaurant where everything is practically perfect in every way.
BEST BUDGET EAT
In March, when our household income was looking pretty shaky, I thanked the gods of journalism that I’d had the opportunity to meet and interview some of New Zealand’s premier food foragers, Joe McLeod and Peter Langlands, before lockdown. I also thanked myself for having an organic, untamed garden, where even if the vege patch wasn’t up to much I had loads of chickweed so we could have chickweed pesto with spaghetti snaffled from our earthquake emergency kit.
I’d always joked that my family would be grateful for my culinary resourcefulness one day. Suddenly it wasn’t such a laughing matter. Honourable mention: our four feijoa trees provided fruit for months and we ate every single one.
Last October I was mooching about Athens and the Greek island of Syros. This year I finally made it to the Acropolis Takeaways in Strathmore, to indulge in a well-seasoned chicken souvlaki. Like a true Wellingtonian, I ate it on the beach in Seatoun, wearing a puffa jacket.
Honourable mention: our first post-lockdown takeaways came from the Acropolis’ more upmarket neighbour, Oikos, which makes the best Greek food in Wellington.
I’ve made plenty of dud loaves this year, but there have been some absolute winners too, mostly sourdough (chocolate sourdough or scalded rye). When you’re good at things that the ‘normal’ or corporate world don’t value much (like writing stories or baking), you have to take all the praise you can get.
The occasional “Mum, this bread is sooo good” went a long way this year. Honourable mention: If you find yourself at Waikanae Beach over the summer, don’t miss the croissants at The Olde Bakery.
BEST LOCAL FOOD EXPERIENCE
And should you arrive in Westport, make sure to get to the Buller Café (the é is silent on the West Coast) for the quintessential New Zealand dining experience. The dining tables are formica and the walls are plastered with photos of the owners’ winning racehorses. All the diners seem to know each other.
The best thing to order is fish and chips, which comes complete with a stack of ready-buttered white sandwich bread, or whitebait egg foo young (the caf’ also doubles as a Chinese restaurant). Drink an icy cold glass of Lindauer Brut, then step outside and taste the coal in the sea-salty night air.
Honourable mention: in season, wait patiently while your West Coaster spouse spends four hours catching 8oz whitebait. Then eat them cooked to a recipe that helped the local mayor win a whitebait cooking contest, while the Coasters around you argue the merits of fresh vs frozen ‘bait. This is pure New Zealand.