kaimoana – seafood, Maori
I’m on my way to London, but the journey starts with five days in Whangamata. It seems the best route to take, providing rest and relaxation and a nugget of Coromandel sunshine to take out and polish during the bleak winter ahead.
It’s perfect. Nothing to do but sleep, read, bodysurf, eat and drink, and then eat some more. Aside from our stomachs, the only thing governing our days is the tides. Sprawled on a deck at the mouth of the harbour, gin and tonic to hand, we watch the water rise and fall, the boats slowly turning together in a graceful dance of summer.
And at low tide, we head off to the beach, smothered in sunscreen and carrying sacks, to gather tuatua for tomorrow’s tea. Scrabbling in the shallows, doing the tuatua shuffle, we dig deep in the sand, waggling our butts and wiggling our toes in search of dinner.
People strolling along the beach point. They stop to look. They have no idea what we’re doing, sniggering at the freaks dancing about in the surf. But we will have the last laugh. Cos we’re not aerobics fanatics who couldn’t bear to go cold turkey, we’re not there just to tone our thighs, and tomorrow night when they’ll be grazing on overpriced kai in some poncy cafe, we’ll be feasting on barbecued kaimoana.
Tuatua fritters to start with, then whole Tarakihi baked over glowing coals, their bellies split and stuffed with fresh coriander and slices of lemon. Four-year-old Jake, spurred on by the Worzel-hunting exploits of Pooh and Piglet, has become expert at climbing over the wall to the neighbours’ and collecting fat juicy lemons from their very fine tree.
But first we have to catch our kai, so it’s back to the beach at low tide for that frantic scrabble under the sand before the next wave breaks. The kids are alternately fascinated by the tuatua squirting jets of water as they squirm back into their shells, and nervous, lest their seeking toes should find a crab instead.
The tuatua find cold comfort in a bucket of seawater which will be changed three times in the following 24 hours. Time passes in a haze of cards and cryptic crosswords. Every so often I peer into the bucket to see how they’re doing, little sphincters opening and closing and spitting jets of sand. When we eat them there will be no grit.
Finally, we’ll steam them open to dig the flesh from the shells, all cream and pink and white. We could just eat them like that, but we’ve got a lot of people to feed, so fritters it is.
Use one egg and two heaped dessertspoons of flour for three handfuls of steamed and shucked tuatua. Throw it all in a food processor and pulse until you’ve got a relatively fritterish looking mixture which will hold together without spreading too much. Cook gently on an oiled barbecue griddle, turning once.