Thursday, February 24, 2011


Every time you go out to eat, you are in search of a wonderful meal.  But sometimes, just sometimes, you come across something that you have not seen anywhere else before, something different and exciting.  Below are some foods that I have been surprised by, mainly pleasantly.

Polenta Chips

I love eating hot potato chips, so when I saw polenta chips on the menu at Coco's Cantina, I had to order some for comparison, even if it meant downgrading to an entrée for dinner.  I was not disappointed.  The long chunky chips were fragranced with rosemary, and stayed crisp and hot for much longer than you would expect.  They were absolutely delicious with or without the accompanying aioli. Just be careful you don't burn your tongue!

Polenta chips with aioli
Available for $8.50 at
Coco's Cantina
376 Karangahape Road, Newton, Auckland
(09) 300 7582
Turesdays to Saturdays 5pm - late

Feijoa Cider

Just up the road at the Wine Cellar, a basement bar in St. Kevins Arcade on K'Rd, I tasted feijoa cider for the first time when a friend played a gig there nearly a year ago.  Not only was it a proper cider rather than feijoa mixed with wine, it also came on tap.  It was fruity and intoxicating, and absolutely the best cider I have ever had.  Made from organic feijoas from Purangi, it tasted different every time I returned.  It was not always available, and it was never as good as I remembered again (sometimes it had a bitter aftertaste, more like beer) but I still go back once in a while to see if I can taste the most fantastic cider again.

Available (call first to make sure) for $7 a glass or $9 a pint at
Wine Cellar
St. Kevins Arcade, 183 Karangahape Road, Newton, Auckland
(09) 377 8293

Chirimoya Juice

I had never even heard of chirimoya before seeing its juice offered at Mexican Specialties.  This South American fruit (I bought a whole one to admire, and the chef picked out a ripe one for me that was ready to be eaten that very day) is related to the custard-apple, and looked green and scaly.  The juice was sweet, with a tropical flavour.  It wasn't available last time I visited the restaurant, so I am guessing it is out of season (I had it a couple of years ago, around October), but with other items on the drink menu such as cold chocolate, tamarind juice, pineapple and coconut, and lemon and lime, I wasn't about to complain.

Mexican Specialties
92 Marua Road, Ellerslie, Auckland
(09) 580 2497
Thursdays and Fridays 11am - 3pm
Saturdays 10am - 4pm

Sweet Masala Pan

Having studied Latin throughout high school, I could only associate the word pan with bread.  In India, this word means nothing of the sort.  Pan, or paan, refers to the betel leaf, which is commonly used to wrap a an assortment of fillings.  The sweet variety does not contain tobacco, and the lady at Ras Vatika assured me that this would be refreshing and good for the digestion.  As I was feeling full from dinner and wanted to find out more about this novelty (I hesistate to call it a dessert, even though it is sweet and eaten after dinner), I took one of these little green packets home.

As I was completely clueless about sweet masala pan, I decided to do some web research.  Were you supposed to eat the packet whole, leaf and all?  Were you supposed to chew and spit, or actually swallow the thing?  What is this betel business anyway?  What I discovered put me off altogether.  Apparently, the areca nut, commonly known as betel nut, which was listed as one of the fillings of my pan, can cause oral cancer.  Now, I know that there are a gazillion things in the world which can give you cancer, including burnt toast, but that doesn't mean I want to take my chances.

By the time I plucked up the courage to try some meetha pan, I had left the thing in the fridge so long that the leaf was shrivelled up and more unappetising than ever.  Cautiously, I opened up the leaf wrapper, to investigate the contents.  It smelt of mint and rose, and I saw dessicated coconut, fennel seeds, unidentified coloured candies, a reddish brownish sauce and some bark-like sheets that I assumed was the areca nut.  I admit that I only had the tiniest ever little pinch of the filling, but it tasted as it smelt, of menthol and flowers.  I may give it a proper go some day, but I suspect this is one of those things that may be an acquired taste.

Sweet masala pan, with the betel leaf opened up
Ras Vatika
596 Dominion Road, Balmoral, Auckland
(09) 623 2145
Mondays closed.
Tuesdays to Sundays 11:30am - 10pm
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