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Aug 7, 2008 04:01 PM

Mexican Food in NZ and Kiwi Eating Habits?

Two questions today, one, should I just give up on finding Mexican food items (like corn Masa for making tortillas) or restaraunts in Northland? I don't see anything in the phone book and when I ask people they seem to stare at me blankly as if I were asking for a cuisine I'd made up in my head.

Second... what is the deal with Kiwis cleaning their plates? I've now been to four group dinners, one at a restaraunt, the other three at homes (two that I prepared) and as I look round the table at the end of the meal everyone's plate but mine is completely cleaned off, save a bit of drippings or sauce. Mine on the other hand has bits and pieces of food on it (I was always taught to leave a little food on my plate "for the Gods" and to stop eating when I'm full). I asked a good Kiwi friend about this and he said that it was beaten into him to clean his plate his whole childhood and that's why he finishes everything, but I think (I hope) he was joking.

The two times I cooked for groups, I plated the meals with big American sized portions and people practically exploded, though still cleaned their plates. Should I just start putting the pans out and letting people help themselves, am starting to feel guilty!

Anyway, any thoughts you have on Mexican food in Northland, or the rationale behind the cleaning the plate thing in NZ would be greatly appreciated?

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  1. I think NZ in general is lacking in good Mexican restaurants. Perhaps you should open one...preferably in Auckland and then I can become a regular!

    As far as finishing your meal is concerned, we too as children were encouraged (forced) to eat everything on our plate. Perhaps NZ portions are smaller that American so it is not such a task. If you are serving huge portions your guests will still eat everything so as not to appear unappreciative.
    Serve smaller portions which will not only save money and help save the planet but will also help save your guests girths!!

    4 Replies
    1. re: jogas

      jogas, if only I had five or six great Mexican cooks and all the raw materials to make a great Mexican restaraunt in Auckland! I'd even drive the three hours from up in Northland to oversee (and gorge myself in) it!

      Ok, so now tonight I am cooking for visitors. There will be four people total and I'm making a Mexican inspired lasagne-- using corn tortillas (which I made from scratch since they don't sell them here, my mom sent the Masa flour and the tortilla press over from Texas) layered with meats and cheeses and corn and jalepenos. It's a lot of food. I think tonight I will just put the whole dish on the table and let people serve themselves. I wasn't planning on making anything as a side dish with it (well maybe a green salad) so hopefully I won't swell my guests up tonight! I wonder if this "cleaning your plate" is pervasive in New Zealand?

      1. re: ideabaker

        To my knowledge "cleaning yor plate" is simply considered polite in many countries (especialy those with a European heritage). In fact in some countries/cultures it is considered extremly rude not to do so.

        I assume it arose for two reasons, first you don't take ore than you need, second it shows respect for your host that you finished their food. Although in other cultures/countries this can mean the opposite i.e. your host didn't provide enough food and it is a sign that you want more.

        As you say the best bet is to let people serve themselves, or you can serve them at the table so they can say how much the want. When they come back for seconds or thirds you know they really liked your food rather than simply finishing out of good manners.

        1. re: PhilD

          I tried your advice, PhilD tonight, and everyone ate what they wanted, then went back for seconds! Finally I did something right with serving Kiwis without overfeeding everone! :-) I believe I will make this a lifelong habit. I knew nothing of the "eat everything on your plate" etiquette... Thank you!

          1. re: PhilD

            PhilD, I'm headed out to a dinner party tonight and plan to put as little on my plate as possible, since going back for seconds seems like it will be a lot less offensive than not finishing my plate the first time... again, thanks for your advice!

      2. Firstly I just have to commend you on your earnestness in trying to understand the culture you find yourself in. Well done you!

        I (australian) was brought up to eat everything on my plate. This was etiquette my mother was brought up with. My father on the other hand grew up in a family where there was no such etiquette - food was devoured before the elder, hungrier kids would start nicking it.

        I think it's a combination of factors. As a migrant country (as USA but younger) many people have come here for opportunity suggesting perhaps a level of need. The country experienced no real wealth until after WWII and that was generated (initially) through primary industry and thus the "middle class" were farmers with a deep appreciation for the value of food.

        The origins are now possibly lost on the culture but many of us (myself included) feel compelled to finish what has been served. I still recall at 3 (one of my earliest memories) being made to sit at the table until I finished a bowl of irish stew (I hated it). Eventually it was so cold even my mother couldn't pretend it was edible and I was allowed to go to bed.

        Wasting food (to many at least) is just wrong. Think of the pink Ffloyd lyrics - if you don't eat your meat...

        Your idea to let people serve themselves is good in light of the food you are serving and the difference in culture.

        As for mexican - it's simply so far away, not a common migrant community and a $3000 airfare to experience properly... I feel your pain - Australia is equally hopeless at mexican food and every now and again someone tries to revive it.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kmh

          khm, you always have such great wisdom in your messages. I cut the "Bomb" Mexican lasagne into small pieces... everyone took paltry servings first, but l left the serving platter on the table and they all went back for seconds... also had a green salad with mango and avocado with a vinagrette of olive oil, lime juice, s and p, a dab of mustard, and a dash of smoked paprika.

          I don't want to come across as wasting food, so I also served myself a tiny portion and added tiny spoonfulls til I was also full. Also had sour cream on the side for the spicy-phobic folks there. A great night, altogether! Thank you for your help!

        2. Ok, made decent corn tortillas, at least as decent as necessary for a couple of Mexican recipes here. But the Masa was sent in to me from the states (gotta love Mom)... can it be bought here (online)?

          Also went to a dinner party and filled my plate sparingly, so finally I cleaned my plate like everyone else did, felt proud and polite :-). Thanks for everyone's advice and would love to hear more from everyone about "table manners" in NZ...

          2 Replies
          1. re: ideabaker

            you got the knife and fork bit down right? I think that is the most noticeable difference for Australians going to USA. After the portion sizes of course!

            1. re: kmh

              Ha ha, Kmh, yes, the knife and forth thing is a difference. I've learned to scale down the portion sizes I offer guests and am having better luck with them coming back for seconds! (Am also learning to clean my plate more often too!)


            This store in Christchurch does mail orders and has Masa flour as well as other Mexican ingredients. Good luck!!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Sentiamo

              Sentiamo, thank you thank you thank you! Ordering it right here in NZ has gotta be cheaper than shipping it over from the states. I'm putting this link in my favorites right now!

              1. re: wegemite

                Thank you for the restaraunt tip, wegemite... I'll add this link to my (hopefully ever growing) list!

                1. re: wegemite

                  Mmmm stomachsonlegs looks delightful... so fresh! I wonder if the Link bus stops off close to there...