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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Burgers on the Chathams

My favourite photo from my visit to the Chathams.
My job took me to the Chatham Islands which is New Zealand's eastern frontier about 800 km directly east of Dunedin.  With a population of 600 people and no cell phone coverage, the place fits the description of remote rural.  It is, however, the real first place in the world to see the sun and a full 45 minutes ahead of NZ time.

Well known for Crayfish and Paua, and me being a bit of a foodie,I was quite surprised/ disappointed that neither of these two items were on the menu at either of the two eating establishments on the Island.

(In hindsight this tends to make sense when you consider the locals can get the stuff for free, and there just aren't enough tourists to justify stocking the good stuff.)

What both places did have on the menu, however, were burgers.  How could I come all the way here and say I didn't try the burgers?  I couldn't.

Waitangi Cafe

On day two of our stay we popped across the road from the Council to the Waitangi Cafe to grab some lunch.  It turns out it is more of a fish and chip shop.  A small cabinet with sandwiches justified the name I guess. The place was going flat tack and there was a solid wait for service.  We were on island time so even though our next meeting was only half a hour away, I ordered the Giant Burger and a scoop of chips.

You tend to know what you are going to get when you buy a burger from a fish and chip shop.  But when you are this far away from the Mainland, and everything is imported, you have the right to be wary.  My wariness wasn't warranted.

The giant burger ($10) lived up to its name.  A processed pattie, pineapple ring, bacon, onion, egg and beetroot.T sauce was the condiment.  It was served up in a quality baker's pattie.

All stock standard ingredients, but prepared and presented with effort and attention to detail.  The bun was toasted, The pattie, pineapple ring and egg were cooked (fried) to perfection.  Great char, crust and caramelisation.  The onions were the star.  Still plump and flavourful.  Plus it looked good on the plate.

Taste wise it didn't disappoint.  It has been a while since I have gone for the bacon, egg, pineapple AND beetroot combo, but for some reason it resonated.  Took me back to when I used to sneak in the ole Hawaiian Burger after a night on the turps.  However, the difference here was, being stone sober, I could actually appreciate the subtle compatibility of the flavours.  Unfortunately I had to wolf it down as even island time has its limits and, with no cell phones we couldn't phone ahead and say we would be really late!!

Chatham Pub

A couple of days later, we found ourselves with a couple of hours to spare before our Saturday afternoon meeting.  We had been on the hunt for the elusive Pita Thomas who was somewhere between Port Hutt and Waitangi.  Perhaps he was down at the Hotel.  He wasn't.  Oh well, a perfect opportunity to sample the second burger on the Chathams.

The beef burger came with wedges, it was apparent that this was the upmarket offering on the Islands.  It was accordingly priced at $18.  

And when it arrived its status was confirmed. It was served as an open burger on a ciabatta bun.   Salad leaves and a couple of sliced tomatoes. An aioli (or mayonnaise) base

I quickly addressed its identity crisis and flipped the top half onto the bottom half.  Voila!!  You are now a burger!

Now here is where I have to get a little bit critical.  Regardless of how the burger was dressed - presentation, ciabatta bun, wedges - it couldn't hide the fact that it was dressing up a processed, tasteless, pattie.  In fact, by partnering with quality ingredients, what it did do was actually accentuate how destructive a bad pattie can be to a burger!  

 I almost wanted to take the pattie out and have a vegetarian sandwich.

Musings

The burgers were not bad.  In fact, I would actually go another Giant burger if I got the chance. 

The Chathams is what it is.  It is a hard place that has its rugged beauty and character.  There is no pretense on the Island.  It is what it is.  And it is not (much) geared to the tourist market.  I recognise that there are demand, economic and even regulatory issues that make it difficult to provide an experience that visitors to the island might expect.

But wouldn't it be amazing to arrive on the Chathams and be able to sample the local specialties.  A battered (or panfried for the health conscious) blue cod or paua burger.  On the fine dining dinner menu a lobster burger on a soft white bun,  Or, the ultimate, - a Chatham Island Beef burger, with a freshly ground beef pattie.  Maybe a salty lamb burger.  A Weka burger even....with a swan egg.




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