By Insider – Suzanne Peri-Chapman
The Great Whitebait Hunt.
You might think this involves gumboots, a net, and a certain amount of standing about in chilly water at the mouth of a river, but no. Other people, bless, have done this, so you don’t have to.
If you’re in Auckland, the whitebait is closer than you think… you guessed it, at the Auckland Fish Market. A friend and I went in search of whitebait at the Auckland Fish Market, after reading about it. Our mistake was to go last Sunday, when the place was absolutely packed, including the Viaduct and all the fun new stuff they have there for Rugby World You Know What.
We located the Oceanz fish and chippery, and they had fresh whitebait for sale, but when we enquired as to whether we could please have whitebait fritters for brunch, then answer was along the lines of “not today love, we’re too busy to cook on the weekend, but we do the whitebait from Monday to Friday”. Okay, but we would have been slightly more convinced if they had been sweating over the BBQ and fighting off the hordes, however I’m prepared to accept that perhaps we turned up between hordes.
So, no dice on Sunday. However, the challenge had been issued, so I determined to go back on Monday in pursuit of whitebait. If you’re a Kiwi, you probably know exactly why anyone would go to this all this trouble; if you’re a visitor to our shores, trust me, the whitebait is worth the chase. However, Dear Visitors, please leave some for the locals once you’ve developed a taste for it, and remember it is seasonal – the unwary can find that they develop a whitebait addiction only to discover that it is restricted to certain times of the year. A rather long period of withdrawal then ensues.
Back to Monday. Drove to market, although the tram loop looked like fun, found carpark (free for the first hour), found shop, saw Whitebait Fritters on menu, ordered two. Yes, two, thank you very much. I was given one of those things that beep and flash to tell you when the meal is ready, and told it would be 15 minutes. No problem, again the place was busy, so I wandered about a bit. (See photograph of seagulls lurking around the fish market – they too would like to get in on the action).
My flashy thing went off at the appointed time, and I shot back to the counter and was given my box of whitebait fritters. Joy unconfined… got the cutlery and toddled off to a stool at the tables provided. Took a photograph of the fritters, curious looks from diners at other tables. Squeezed a zing of lemon on the fritters and hoed in.
I’d forgotten, being months between whitebait fixes, how delicate the whitebait taste is, and how a little goes a long way in terms of flavour. These fritters were nicely eggy, with a little parsley in them – more like slim omelettes, but not overly fried, so the flavour shone through. Simple, yummy and highly recommended for locals or for those who are showing tourists around, but as previously mentioned, kindly don’t eat too much and leave some whitebait for the rest of us.
If you are elsewhere in New Zealand in search of whitebait, there’s good news… apart from the usual places (the locals know where these are), there is the West Coast Whitebait Season Festival including the Great West Coast Whitebait Menu Challenge (South Island) all through Tournament time. For a cerebral view of the whitebait and its place in New Zealand culture, take in Whitebait! The Story of New Zealand’s favourite fish at the Hokitika Museum.