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Monday, April 18, 2016

New Zealand's Disappearing Delicacy -- Whitebait


The famed seafood stand at Kaikoura, on the West Coast
of New Zealand’s South Island.
Silly me, at New Zealand South Island’s famed Kaikoura seafood stand instead of ordering paua or whitebait fritters, out of nostalgia I selected scallops.  Seeing lots of whitebait in Akaroa, I figured we’d encounter it again.  But we didn’t.











Lobsters (“crayfish”), mussels and scallops sizzling on the grill
at Kaikoura Seafood BBQ stand, South Island, New Zealand.

Post Kaikoura, before heading to Auckland in March, I researched seafood restaurants. Depot Eatery And Oyster Bar earned rave reviews.  “Do you offer whitebait?” I enquired.  “Nope; only when they’re running in the spring,” they promptly responded. 

Spring, here in the land of upside-down (from a Northern hemisphere perspective) is November, not March.  Alas, I missed my chance as we’ll be long gone.  I’m guessing New Zealand South Island seafood eateries must use frozen whitebait to serve year-round, in much the same way Mike’s Ice Cream in Hood River Oregon freezestheir precious huckleberries for their fabulous huckleberry shakes.



Menu and prices at Kaikoura Seafood 
BBQ stand, South Island, New Zealand.  
Little bites, but inexpensive.  Lop off a little
less than 1/3 the price to convert to USD.  
Whitebait fritters in varying states of done-ness on the grill
at Kaikoura Seafood BBQ stand, South Island, New Zealand.
“What exactly is whitebait?” I wondered, besides these pretty teeny-tiny shimmering silvery fish for fritters.  The actual taste drew polarized reactions, from “ewwwww*” to sublime enthusiasm and specific comments regarding what constitutes the ultimate whitebait fritter.



Turns out whitebait is galaxiids, not one specific fish, but five species, net-caught off the West Coast of South Island.  Four out of five species are considered even more rare than the elusive, endangered kiwi bird.  While there’s a move afoot to ban whitebait commercial fishing, even its proponents admit galaxiids’ biggest threat is far more of a sacred cow -- pastureland.  Denuded hillsides eliminated the shady dells these little aquatic critters need to thrive.

Now I wish I could claim my passing up whitebait was due to my environmental bent, however I know that would be in genuine.  I just wanted to try a whitebait fritter once, and still do, though would season my culinary curiosity with a little guilt and reverence.


Not a bad nibble for about the equivalent of $6.50 USD, though
I regret not ordering the more exotic paua or whitebait fritters
for about the same price.
While I’ll never be considered a Kiwi given my lack of enchantment with fish and chips, I thoroughly enjoyed New Zealand’s Coromandel mussels, and devoured a delish paua (New Zealand abalone) fritter today in Kensignton.  Sadly, it would be an understatement to say the steamy scent of briny mussels burbling in the all-too-close quarters of our little boat was not popular with the captain.  Mussels have not since graced our galley, though I’ve happily partaken of them when someone else cooked them a few times since.


Sampling more seafood will go on my list of what to do if lucky enough to return to this beautiful country, along with hiking the Tongariro crossing, penguin watching, seeing a real live kiwi and spending more time with the incredibly gracious non-feathered inhabitants.


New Zealand’s Coromandel deliciously meaty mussels
sold for as little as $3.49/kilogram for just over $1/lb USD
at Whangarei’s Pak&Save.
Location Location
We're back on a pole mooring in Whangarei’s Town Basin Marina (S35.43.412 E174.19.539), though by the time you read this, we'll likely be on a brief road trip up to Cape Reinga, the Northernmost point of New Zealand's North Island.  Meanwhile, our must-do boat and provisioning chores  before we set sail list is getting much shorter!  Quite likely we'll leave Whangarei by month's end.

Sailing by the Numbers
Last year, between December 2014 and November 2015 we sailed from Florida USA to New Zealand, over 10,000 miles. Current plan's to resume cruising this May.  First stop's Fiji.  We plan to sell our boat in Australia, likely around February and return to work - somewhere.