July 7, 2009 ALKA
I have a friend who used to eat for the sake of eating, it was fuel required to nourish and energize and survive, and that was all there was to it. I remember asking her one night how her chicken was and she just shrugged and said “it’s chicken”. I was taken aback! She didn’t want to discuss her food? I, or rather, my waistline often wished my relationship with food was that prudent and matter of fact, but the instant I bit into a light, hot, perfectly cooked rotli* covered in butter and a sprinkling of sugar or mum’s twice fried, salty, crispy on the outside and soft and floury on the inside homemade hot chips, any notion of food simply being petrol for my vehicle seemed blasphemous! I blame and credit my family for this. I come from good Indian stock, who have strict rules governing how food should be cooked and consumed; rice should be doused in ghee (clarified butter), lamb curry should be topped with a thin, sheeny layer of oil and generous scattering of fresh, luminously green coriander, samosa’s be bite-sized in order to get the perfect balance of light, crispy, shell and flavorful filling every time and the microwave is wholly off limits for cooking….and heating. We discuss tomorrow’s dinner ideas while heartily ingesting tonight’s fare. We venture to the Chocolate Boutique for decadent but light-as-air mousse, and the perfect hot chocolate, while groaning how full we are from our Peking duck dinner. We LOVE food, no… we LUUUURRRVE food!
So, it’s a good thing, that when I left NZ after falling for and marrying a beauty-pageant-caliber American dreamboat, that I settled in San Francisco with its world-class restaurants, amazing hole-in-the-wall joints, and fresh meats, seafood and exotic fruits and vegetables available year round. I worked as an engineer and scientist in biotech for 6 years, had my rambunctious, spitfire of a son and decided to become a stay-at-home-for-now mum with grand aspirations of starting my own business. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do but with the Food Network’s Giada, Ina, Tyler and Bobby my constant companions, evenings consumed reading recipes and days spent trying them, I knew it was something with food…..and New Zealand. I LOVE New Zealand and have been known, on occasion, to incessantly sermonize its greatness. The people, the childhood, the familiarity, the food…..oh, the food! And that brings us to pies……
I go back to Auckland once a year, and one of the things I would look forward to most was the meat pies. I have tried pot pies and the few offerings in handheld pies in San Francisco but have found nothing to quench my meat pie thirst. In primary (elementary) school, we would buy Big Ben’s mince and cheese pies, peel off the pastry lid and scoop out the goopy, gelatinous, mystery meat filling with potato chips, savoring the salty, crispy, meaty combination until the only remnants of our lunch were a pastry lid and empty potato chip bag. My tastes have significantly matured in the last 20 or so years. Now a trip back to Auckland would have me seeking out pies filled with smoked fish and vegetable, mustard chicken and leek, and duck with red wine sauce and wild mushrooms.
Following a trip last year, I had become so suffused with homesickness and longing for New Zealand, in dire hopes of bringing Auckland to me, I decided to have family over for a gourmet, kiwi-meat-pie experience. Out of this gloom, a new business idea had been blooming and needed endorsement. As dinner ended, with satisfied smiles and “you should sell these” comments lazily sauntering around the dinner table; it was so plainly, embarrassingly “why hadn’t I thought of this earlier” obvious….Flaky pastry shells stuffed with fresh meats, vegetables, gravy, spices, herbs and cheeses, fusing Kiwi and Indian flavors, using fresh California ingredients, effortlessly blending all my world’s. This was the first time I was truly inspired and excited about one of my business plans, and at the risk of sounding supremely cheesy, I knew this was it!
So here I am today, months and months later, still totally inspired and excited, reliving the exact moment my American family validated my kiwi pie in the sky idea with their accolades, patting of tummies and subsequent food comas. And then we ate dessert….
*Gujarati unleavened flatbread/chapati