I imagine any UK readers are looking askance at the title of the post and thinking “Um, thanks, but I think I know what fish and chips are,” while rolling their eyes a little.
But before you jump ship to another site muttering “teach your grandmother…”, perhaps you haven’t heard of tarakihi or warehou, kumara chips or corn patties. Neither had I until very recently, and I’m desperate to show off my newly-acquired knowledge to anyone who will listen.
Due to our budgetary constraints, takeaways were bound to feature on the menu a few times. We couldn’t afford fancy fish restaurants, but we could stretch to the occasional fish and chip supper.
As it happens, our first couple of encounters were eat-in. One being Poppies Café in Twizel, where I failed to record the type of fish, but H remembers it being mighty fine.
The next was Riverstone Kitchen in Oamaru, where we first met tarakihi. A succulent white fish, this was lightly crumbed and served with awesome skin-on chips and tartare sauce. This ultimately became fish and chip winner of our trip, and set the bar high for the next contenders.
In Nelson at The Sands Fish and Chip Shop (623 Rocks Road), we asked the advice of the cook. Blue cod was recommended as the supreme choice, and indeed it was good, but I tried the cheaper warehou (battered) and really enjoyed its swordfish-style meatiness.
Napier saw us dropping into Westshore Fish Café (for takeaway), where crumbed tarakihi made a return, along with some decent kumara chips (see my kumara post for, to be honest, barely anything useful at all!) and a heavy breaded sweetcorn patty which, despite my love of sweetcorn fritters, proved too much for me.
Near the end of our holiday, the Schooner Café and Restaurant in Omapere served us some delicious snapper (pictured). H had his battered, I had mine grilled, and both were superb. The flavourful white fish was cooked to perfection, far surpassing the so-so chips.
There were many things to like about eating fish and chips in New Zealand. For starters, the fish was always freshly cooked. There were no hot plates piled high with pre-cooked cod slowly desiccating until someone turned up to purchase it. We were happy to wait, as we knew it would taste so much better.
One could often choose how one wanted the fish cooked, too. Breaded, battered or grilled were common options, and we both became fond of crumbed fresh fish, which was like eating giant gourmet fish fingers.
In addition, there was no skin left on any of the coated fish, which is something I hate in the UK. Steamed fish skin is not a foodstuff I view as a delicacy, and its flabby presence in a nice portion of fish always disappoints me.
On the downside, the chips were often nothing special, seeming to come from a packet rather than freshly prepared. This at least meant they were usually crispy though, unlike the fat pallid chips one occasionally gets served in the UK.
So if you do find yourself in New Zealand, please don’t turn your nose up at fish and chips but instead drop in, try a new fish cooked a new way, and then go back home and take contemplative look at your local chippy, which hopefully is one of the good ones.