Monday, November 1, 2010

Roadside treats on the way to Tauranga

If you ever drive to Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty, be sure to take the road that goes through Matamata. As locals will tell you, this is a much faster way to get there. In fact, they won't tell you. They'll just ask you which way you came and if you say 'um, just the normal way' they'll burst into laughter then run outside to start telling their neighbours about what a dick you are. So take the Matamata route. You'll get their faster, you'll avoid ridicule and you'll go past three excellent foodie treats on the way.

The first is fresh farm gate eggs, $5 a dozen sold by a jovial old couple along with swan plants and various other growables. You'll enjoy meeting the couple, and you'll enjoy meeting their eggs, just about the brightest yellow I've seen when we scrambled them up the next day. I'd like to tell you exactly where to find them, but I can't place it exactly on Google maps. So, some time after you've turned off State Highway 2 onto 26, look for a sign on the left advertising eggs and swanplants, just before a cafe on the right.

Next is Asparagus Man: look for the sign just before Waharoa – if you come across excellent foodie treat number three then you'll know you've come to far.

Asparagus Man sells asparagus spears of all sizes, $8 a kilo and picked on the day you buy them. You'll find many a menu and cookbook banging on sanctimoniously about seasonality these days, but my annual test for seasonal eating is a simple one: how many kilos of asparagus have you eaten this spring? The girlfriend and I bought two kilos of the stuff between us and it's not even touching the sides as it goes down.

The slightly, um, unusual feature of Asparagus Man's stall is the d├ęcor. There are on the wall, no exaggeration, about four hundred glossy A3 photos he's taken of teenage girls in bikinis holding gamefish. Pink bikinis, green bikinis, blue bikinis … groper, swordfish, mahimahi. I make no judgment, just point out that it's a slightly unusual wallpaper for a roadside vegetable stall. You drive away happy, with a large bag of asparagus and an implicit agreement with your partner not to spend too long speculating about what it all means.

About half a kilometre down the line is the Kaimai Cheese company. I'm definitely not the first person to discover their excellent produce, but I wanted to mention the amazing deals you can get on cheese while you're there. I always feel a bit affronted when I make it all the way to a winery's cellar door and find wine only slightly cheaper or, worse, more expensive than you can get it elsewhere. So it's awesome to find a boutique producer where the prices are incredible, even better than you'd hope buying directly from the source.

A massive wedge of brie for $5 was a beautiful purchase. Then, on the way back, we dove into their offcuts bin and grabbed a kilo of Havarti and a kilo of Feta for $14 each. They both apparently freeze very well, and we've worked out that our economical bulk purchasing will save us at least a hundred bucks. Of course that calculation assumes we'll both be eating greek salads every night for the next two years and giving all of our family hand wrapped cheese for Christmas, but I think you'll agree that's a small price to pay for a healthy discount.