Growing up, I was not particularly fond of seafood. Although I tolerated the taste of most fish, my ability to catch fish bones in my throat brought me much fame in the whānau, and considerable discomfort to myself. It didn’t matter how careful my mother was in de-boning fish, I was sure to discover a bone by choking on it. Typically no one else could find any bones for want of trying.
I didn’t enjoy shellfish at all with the one exception. And that was paua. For those unfamiliar with the word, pāua are members of the abalone family endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand, commonly found just below the low tide mark around most of the country. Blackfoot, the most common species has a black body and the shell has a beautiful peacock-like iridescence. With friends of my parents regularly diving for these delicacies, they found their way to our table frequently.
My father was a keen surf-caster, and most weekends when the weather was good, the entire family would squeeze into the car for a short trip along the coast to one of Dad’s many fishing spots. While Dad looked after two, three or four fishing rods, Mum would keep an eye on us kids while we dammed streams, explored caves and rock pools, and risked life and limb climbing cliffs.
It would be a very exceptional day if Dad didn’t catch enough fish to provide a meal or two for six people with a little left over to give to friends. From what I remember, Dad always prepared the fish, but both he and Mum took turns at cooking it.
In those days, the selection of food in NZ was very limited. Most vegetables came from home gardens as it did in our case. Roasts of mutton and hogget were by far the cheapest form of protein, with beef and lamb some distance behind. Smaller cuts such as steaks and chops were too expensive to have more than once a month, and pork and chicken were so expensive, that we had them only on special occasions such as Christmas. Fish, if purchased was also expensive. So free protein fresh from the sea was really appreciated by all the family except for myself. The fish I most enjoyed came in cans and never contained bones to choke on; Tuna, salmon, herrings and mackerel.
When we were children, meal times a were special time where food, experiences, thought and opinions were shared. They will always be fondly remembered by me. However, the only food I really loathed was one of my parents’ favourites – mashed carrots and parsnips. I still feel ill when I recall its taste and texture. Disgusting!
My wife’s background was very different. For her family, sea food was the primary source of protein and in such a wide variety of forms, that it still makes my head spin. When she first arrived in NZ she longed for the variety of food found in Japanese supermarkets. She had no idea how to cook roasts – Japanese homes don’t have ovens – and the smell of sheep meat cooking made her physically ill. Most of the food and ingredients she was familiar with were unknown here.
Over the four and a half decades since her arrival, New Zealand has undergone a food revolution and our choice of fruit, vegetables and proteins has increased many times over. Our choice of foods will never match the likes of Japan or Europe or (I assume) North America as we are a relatively small country physically with a tiny population, and a very, very long way from other markets. But it’s a marked improvement over the days of my childhood.
Since those log ago days, the relative prices of many foods have changed drastically. Chicken, once very expensive, is now the cheapest form of protein, while beef and lamb (why is all sheep meat now identified as lamb?) is the most expensive. Pork and fish lie somewhere in between. Which finally brings me around to point of this post.
My wife has educated my pallet to truly enjoy a wide variety of food styles, but what I realised recently is how drastically my protein of choice has changed. Where once I preferred red meat, today I much prefer red or pink fish. To be specific, tuna or NZ farmed salmon in the form of sashimi. Salmon is around half the price of good steak, and tuna is somewhere in between. If, fifty years ago someone told me that one day I would enjoy eating raw fish, I would have laughed at such a ridiculous statement. How wrong I would have been!
Long gone are the days of “meat and three veg”. Here are some recent examples typical meals lovingly prepared by my wife.