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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!)

          2. http://www.aji.co.nz/

            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...

                2. No ideabaker, don't give up! Mexifoods out of Dunedin (www.mexifoods.co.nz) carries Maseca brand instant masa and a blue corn flour. Not at the American prices you will be accustomed to, I'm afraid, but still available. They also distribute dos equis and tecate (and some pretty good tequilas as well) to wash down your tortillas.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: gallileo

                    gallileo, thank you! I'll check out their website now. Even if the Maseca Masa is a bit more pricey it is definitely worth the pay-off in "corny" taste and texture. I just used up the last of my bag from Texas to make chicken and cheese enchiladas yesterday and they were sooooo good! Glad I won't have to wait ages to enjoy them again!

                  2. Hello ideabaker! I am a fellow Texan who lived in Auckland for 3 1-2 years (now I'm in Spain)...and understand what you're going thru on the mexican food thing. I used to buy all of my ingredients from a store in Newmarket (Auck)...but i cant remember the name of it for the life of me! Sorry! It was on the main shopping street, and they sold all sorts of imported groceries/hot sauces from Mexico & states. Probably closed by now. Maybe someone knows? Anyway I did read not too long ago in the Herald about a new Mexican grocery & cafe in Ellerslie that's actually owned by Mexicans!!!!! They are only open like 3 days a week, over lunch time...but you should give them a call...their info is below.

                    Mexican Specialities, 92 Marua Rd, Ellerslie, ph 580 2497
                    owned by José Carlos and Maria de la Macorra


                    3 Replies
                    1. re: msmarabini

                      Mexican Specialties is great. It's a shame they are only open such limited hours however as they make all their food from scratch Maria admitted they are too busy to open more regularly.
                      Their food is as authentic as I have eaten in Mexico, that is it isn't smothered in sour cream and cheese as Mex dishes in NZ restaurants seem to be. The only thing missing for me was the wonderful spicy and tangy tomato, chilli salsas which are so common in Mexico.
                      The little restaurant is adorned in the wonderfully kitschy, colourful Mexican style and dining is a very relaxed affair.
                      The shop sells a range of imported products including masa flour.
                      It is well worth a visit for a casual, tasty lunch!

                      1. re: jogas

                        Oh, jogas, I want to go there right now! Finally perfected my hand-made fresh corn tortillas and whipped out a lovely set of chicken, and beef, enchiladas a few days ago. Sadly, after being served they were immediately (before tasting) doused in sour cream, maybe it is a tiny bit of fear that the cuisine might be too spicy? Or just custom? Who knows, they still were lovely. I will make time in my day to get to Mexican Specialties when in Auckland, that is for sure!

                      2. re: msmarabini

                        Thank you msmarabini, I can't believe there is a grocery and cafe near Northland that is owned by Mexicans! (Have you actually seen them or is it a Kiwi urban myth :-) ? ) I will add the info you've posted to my file, as the only person people qualified to do my hair are also in Auckland (3 1/2 hours from way up in Northland where I am)... I can make a day trip of it, hairdo and specialty foods in one trip! Thanks so much again for your recommendation. Glad to know that someone else understands the urgency of the matter :-).

                      3. Hi there, I'm yet another American living in Auckland (3 1/2 years now) who misses mexican food. My partner and I also resorted to making our own. I've ordered some things from Mexifoods, including Maseca, and found them fine to deal with.

                        Not sure if like black beans but I do and had a hard time finding them when we got here. (When I asked people for them they always thought I meant black bean sauce - yick). I did find canned black beans at the organic grocery stores but they were a little expensive for how much I use them ($5 a can). I finally found a good source of dried black beans (black turtle beans) - http://www.huckleberryfarms.co.nz/. It's in the Glen Innes neighborhood of Auckland. It's a little difficult to find but worth the bother if you are in Auckland. Also, Nosh is across the street from it (a gourmet grocery store) and that's definitely worth a visit.

                        A new mexican place opened downtown in Auckland a few months ago and it's pretty good - Little Mexico, 31 Wellesley St., Auckland. It's gotten less spicy since we've been going there, maybe to account for kiwi tastebuds, so just ask for some hot sauce. This is not to be confused with the Mexican Cafe on Victoria St. which I would not recommend.

                        Have fun!

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: bettylee

                          bettylee, thank you for the additional sources of Mexican food. I just got back to the states for two months, then I go back to Northland. I sense that my suitcase will have a few cans of black beans in it (5 bucks a can!?!). I have never gotten good at cooking the black turtle beans, maybe I need a new recipe... do you happen to have one? Does Huckleberryfarms deliver (since I'm three and a half hours North of Auckland when in NZ)?

                          Again, thank you for your help!

                          p.s. where'd you buy the tortilla press, or did you bring it with you?

                          1. re: ideabaker

                            I bought my tortilla press from Mexifoods. It's a pretty basic one but seems to work fine.

                            I don't really have a recipe for black beans. I just cook a bunch for a while til almost soft then I freeze them in 1 and a half cup batches in individual baggies. I think that's about how much is in one can - couldn't swear to it though. Then when I need a "can" for a recipe I just pull out a baggie from the freezer. Then they usually get cooked for a while longer in chili, etc. Huckleberry farms web site says they deliver.

                            If I've learned anything in NZ it's how to be frugal (we go out a lot less and frequently with coupons, we bring our lunches most days, and cook most dinners from scratch). Sometimes it's a fun challenge and sometimes it's just a pain. With both my boyfriend and I working I have about the same lack of time as in the US. But down here because of the higher cost of living, I'm just more motivated to cook.

                            I made an awesome beef stew over the weekend. I'm still working out the different names for the cuts of meats. My recipe called for "chuck" and I bought a "Bolar" roast and it tasted great.

                            1. re: bettylee

                              Ha ha, Betty, I had the same challenge trying to figure out the names for cuts of meat, and also for basic cooking ingredients! My first five shopping trips took me over two hours each as I tried to figure out what I was buying and if it was equivalent with anything I used back in the states. Luckily I love to cook and was very burned out on restaraunts before heading to NZ (I also just like to know what is in my food), so cooking hasn't been a problem, actually it has been a real joy. I did notice that chicken seems to be way higher priced in NZ than in the states, but maybe it is just my imagination.

                              I bought some "stewing beef" chunks at the grocery in Northland and it is still sitting in the freezer as I am trying to find a good beef stew recipe... would love it if you shared yours. I will definitely try making batches of the black turtle beans and freezing them in packets... that is a GREAT idea (and way less expensive than shipping over cans of beans to myself). I was thinking of cooking them in low sodium chicken broth for added flavor, but would that affect the texture when freezing?

                              Someone said that the Maseca flour would be more expensive in NZ than the states, I pay about three or four bucks for the big bag of Maseca in NY, what do you pay in NZ? I'm seriously considering packing a bunch of presses in my suitcase and giving them away, with Maseca and a great enchilada recipe for Christmas gifts this year!

                              1. re: ideabaker


                                Ideabaker.....the link above is for a thread I saw tonight at the Tradme message boards and is for Americans living in Auckland, but I see/read that others from all over NZ have joined in. Could be a good place for you to get info re sourcing all kinds of things here??

                                1. re: Sentiamo

                                  Sentiamo, you are always so helpful! Thank you! I love Trade Me and will definitely check this out, it will be a huge help in my cooking in NZ!

                                  1. re: Sentiamo

                                    Oh, Sentiamo, I wonder if the link was shut down... can't seem to find it anymore!!!

                          2. I have not read any of the replies, but I was taught by my NZ grandmother to clean my plate, no ifs ands or buts about it. No one left the table until your plate was clean.

                            But all the dishes were placed on the table and we helped ourselves, so we were to blame if we took too much. Lastly, we did have to try everything on the table, even if we truly did not like it, we have to have one spoon full.

                            My other grandmother(Canadian raised) basically had the same rules, you did not leave the table until your plate was cleared off.

                            My folks were depression kids and thankful for any food on their plates, so they reinforced the clear your plate rules.

                            It is hard to overcome the programming, of clearing your plate not matter how full you may be.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: mlgagnon

                              Thank you, mlgagnon, your explanation helps a lot. I finally figured out I should either let people help themselves with a "buffet style" meal, or place small quantities of everything on the plate, and let people go back for seconds if they want.

                              My mom was a sixties mom, always taught us to just eat until we were full, then wrap up whatever was left to eat later if we wanted (or leave it if it was a tiny bit left); so hearing a different rationale is useful!

                              1. re: ideabaker

                                I'm with you there on that, My mum always taught me that if I enjoyed my meal to tell her and she would make extra so when all the other kids were having sandwiches for lunch I had left over mac and cheese and salad or cold meat and vegetables which in the long run has made a huge difference to how I eat and how I approach my cooking.

                                1. re: lifestyle1

                                  lifestyle1, our mums would've gotten along wonderfully, at least in that respect :-). I love that she intentionally made enough food so you could have leftovers, it is certainly the kind of cook I have become as a result. I'm interested in how your mum's style affected your personal approach to cooking...

                                  1. re: ideabaker

                                    whilst I understand your point of view I think it goes beyond that.

                                    I have commented above. And whilst we were supposed to eat what was on our plate, there was always a plentiful amount for seconds (thirds and lunch the next day).

                                    My mum was an 80's mum. I think it's a cultural thing and Australia (prob NZ also) was quite poor until end WWII in many regards. Also an agro economy and I reckon its got lots to do with that.

                                    1. re: kmh

                                      khm, I never thought about the agro economy angle. Come to think of it, when we grew our own food in my grandparent's garden, we always had "happy plates" (practically licked clean). In any case I see the value of just letting people choose how much they want to eat, as at first I was clearly overfeeding folks, and they felt pressured to eat it all which just made everyone uncomfortable.

                                      Funny thing, I come from a large family with a lot of boys, so maybe I've taken to overloading guests' plates because in my house growing up, if you didn't 'claim' the food by placing it on your own plate, there might not be any food left in the middle of the table if you went back for seconds.

                                      Now I just need to figure out how to *not* clean my plate without seeming rude. (I'd taken to serving myself a tiny spoonful of everything, then going back for seconds or thirds if necessary, but the last time I did that, everyone ate what was left on the center of the table- I am a slow eater- so when I went back for seconds there wasn't anything to choose from and I was still very hungry). So then I certainly overstuffed myself the last couple of dinners I went to in NZ because I wanted to "fit in" on the politeness scale...

                                      1. re: ideabaker


                                        if you eat slowly take what you think you'll eat and just plow on through. My sister is painfuly slow (she has MS) and she just chews away.

                                        I don't think there's a hard and fast rule, but eating up is pretty much what we were encouraged to do growing up. Whether you eat a lot or a little i think the point is not to waste food...

                                        Anyway, you're fine.

                            2. Hi, Tio Pablo is another NZ supplier of Mexican foods: http://www.tiopablo.co.nz/. For anyone based in Auckland, you can buy Tio Pablo products at Huckleberry Farms in Greenlane, Grey Lynn or Glen Innes.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: CeeVee

                                Thanks for that, CeeVee, I will add Tio Pablo to my list!

                              2. Hello there, ideabaker! I'm another American expat with a hankering for Mexican food. I won't comment about the kiwi eating habits as I think other posters have hit the right points here.

                                I discovered Mexican Specialties in Ellerslie today, and I was really impressed by their food and their selection of groceries. I bought Maseca masa flour, corn husks, and several cans of chiles for an upcoming tamale project. The spicy shrimp taco was an excellent lunch choice. Please give them a try on your next time through Auckland.

                                I did a brief survey today of the NZ online Mexican grocery sites, and I think that Mexifoods has the best combination of selection and price. I'll be ordering a few things from them ASAP, including dried chiles which seem to be difficult to find elsewhere. Mexifoods has canned black beans for about $4/can, less than at Huckleberry Farms. Mexican Specialties had them too, but I didn't notice how much they were.

                                The store in Newmarket another poster referred to was Pepperama, which later moved to Boston Road just down the street from Sabato. Pepperama is long gone. Peppers was a similar store in the Royal Oak mall, but it's gone too. Besides Mexican Specialties, I haven't found any other stores in Auckland which carry grocery products. These stores don't seem to have a long lifespan!

                                Best of luck with your cooking, and thanks for starting this thread - it's been great to read about everyone's experiences with finding Mexican supplies here. Glad to know I'm not the only one that loves and misses Mexican foods.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: kelly42

                                  I will check out Mexifoods for sure... New World has started to carry refried beans in the can-- at a shocking $4.25 per small can!!! Guess it's time to learn how to cook them myself, but can't even find pinto beans (dried) here in Northland. Think my next trip to Auckland will be with a big empty suitcase to fill with goodies.

                                  Need to scroll back through the posts as I am looking for a Ponsoby area Mexican food resto... have wandered around the area and don't see much but Asian and Indian eateries... maybe someone mentioned a place before I was more familiar with Auckland.

                                  Mexican Food *sigh* who knew back when I was wolfing it down for three bucks a burrito in Texas that it would be such a treasure hunt elsewhere???