Herald on Sunday
WHEN THE STARS COME OUT
Jacqui Gibson suggests places to feast during our unique national food celebration
Feast Matariki, New Zealand’s new national food celebration, is on track to fill more than just hungry bellies this winter. Feast Matariki runs from June 18 until July 8, with events planned around the country. Organisers want Kiwis to gather their loved ones, remember those who’ve passed, share in the food of the country’s land, sky and waters and take time to look to the future.
Feast Matariki organiser Angela Clifford says the food celebration aims to give New Zealanders a food-related way to experience Matariki, the Māori New Year. Matariki, a star cluster known to astronomers as Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, rises in the New Zealand night sky as mid-winter deepens in the Southern Hemisphere.
“Matariki, from what I’m learning from leading Māori scientists like University of Waikato Professor Rangi Mātāmua, is about many things — navigation, cosmology, farewelling the dead and welcoming new life.”
It also has a deep association with food, from planting to growing, hunting to gathering and food storage, she says. “Starting this year, New Zealand now has its own modern-day national food festival — one that’s not imported from overseas, but based on the unique traditions of this country and its indigenous people. It’s about filling our hearts and minds, as well as our bellies over winter.”
Clifford believes Feast Matariki provides a great opportunity for Kiwis to get out and about in New Zealand to sample the food cultures and practices of different regions.
What kinds of foods are commonly associated with Matariki?
Clifford says Matariki feasts often feature food cooked in a hāngī — such as lamb, pork, shellfish, seafood, vegetables such as kamo kamo and puha and herbs gathered from the bush. Matariki was a time of ceremonial offering in the hope of a prosperous harvest in the year ahead. When Matariki appeared, the annual harvest and food collection for the cold months ahead became a priority.
Once harvesting was complete, it was time to celebrate and share kai with friends. One of the largest ever held was the week-long Remuera feast, hosted by the Waikato chiefs in 1844. It involved around 4000 guests for a four-day culinary marathon; they were served 100 pigs, 9000 sharks and 11,000 baskets of potatoes.
The best way to get your mid-winter feast on is to bring your family or community together for a meal, celebrating local kai. Contact your council to find out what’s happening in your neighbourhood during Matariki. Look for Feast Matariki events scheduled at local restaurants, cafes and farmers’ markets. Rug up and get outdoors in June and July to attend Feast Matariki events around the country.