Before moving South, I was warned that mid Canterbury was meat and three veg sort of a place. Having been schooled in the ways of food by my dad, whose chilli use in any given meal is directly proportional to the volume and intensity of the rock music playing in the background, I made sure to stock up on spices before coming down. As it turns out, not only are tumeric and garam masala on the supermarket shelves, there are also a huge range of cuisines going on in this town that don’t include steak as the staple.
Waitangi Day’s ‘Multi Cultural Bite!’ event provided the perfect opportunity to check them out, so we headed down to East Street with rumbling bellies and much curiosity – we’d seen Thai and Indian restaurants in town, but were about to find out that there’s more to Ashburton than what lies on the main street. After buying a bundle of tickets at the gate, it was off to savour fresh banana spring rolls, homemade satay sauce and a mouthwatering range of beverages concocted from all manner of fruit. I was impressed.
Much as people like to write off all of its inhabitants as small red balls of confectionary, Auckland has the greatest cultural diversity of all New Zealand cities, and when it comes to cultural festivals there is never a dull moment. I’m accustomed to big festivals like Pasifika and the Lantern Festival for Chinese New Year, but I’ve never changed continents so many times over the course of one meal. Nigerian rice, Malaysian satay, English high tea scones… If air points were on offer with each food purchase, I’d be on my way to Hawaii by now.
Another thing that was remarkable about the Multi Cultural Bite event was the number of languages being spoken. In a town where 93% of the population speak only one language, it was quite extraordinary to go from stall to stall and hear so many different dialects and tongues. When everyone around you speaks English all the time, it can be hard to see why learning a language is worth the effort, but the insights to be gained by learning to see the world in a different way are immeasurable. Perhaps not every kiwi kid aspires to work at the UN one day, but there’s a good reason they have a 3 language policy for all employees. Tongues do the tasting and tongues do the speaking, so perhaps it’s not such a big step from trying Argentinian cuisine for the first time to giving Spanish a go – it’s one way to plant an important seed.
All in all it was great to see the community out celebrating such a range of cultures, and I can safely say that the meat and three veg myth has been well and truly busted. The music and dance performances topped everything off, and I’d love to hear the music that was playing in the background when some of the dishes on offer were prepared. Adding a few more CDs into the kitchen mix can do wonders for stagnant menus…
Originally published in The Ashburton Guardian