Showing up for food

It’s the Food Show again. I had a nice time this year because a) going on a Friday means I avoided the crazy weekend crowds, and b) I didn’t eat so much that I felt sick, like what happened a couple of years ago.

Overheard at a dips stand: “I’m glad you’ve got that rotation going cos you don’t want stupid bloody deli mangers buying too much.”

Unexpected music could be heard wafting from various stands. Nouvelle Vague’s bossa nova version of “Love will tear us apart” and Gary Newman’s “Cars”. Fingers crossed neither were being used to sell packet mix sauces.

Nestle have this new hot chocolate powder that’s seems to be marketed to Bridget Jones types of ladies. The stand was manned by “hot” guys (i.e. probably gay in real life) wearing T-shirts claiming “Resistance is futile”. However, all that conjures up for me is some daggy sci-fi nerd girl snuggling up with her stuffed toy collection and watching “Buffy” episodes.

I heard a man at the a cheese stand proclaim that some deal was “the cheapest in the southern hemisphere”, which made me wonder why New Zealand cheese would be cheaper in the northern hemisphere.

Worst stand – the Heart Foundation Tick stand. They had a thing called the Wheel of Tick. You spun it and won whatever it landed on. It was mostly branded food items, but there were three disappointing options – a carrot, a banana or going in the draw. Everyone who ended up with one of those “prizes” walked away hating the tick, making a beeline for the sausage stand.

Apparently we are all so poor these days because of inflation rates or whatever that we can’t afford to eat out all the time, so home cooking is popular. I think this has manifested in home espresso machines and internationally flavoured baked beans.

Best foods

Stones ginger beer. That’s alcoholic ginger beer. Excellent. Not only does it take like proper ginger beer, but it’s got 4.8% alcohol. It’s about time this was available in Aotearoa.

RJ’s licorice have an orange licorice coming out soon, including a version with a dark chocolate centre.

Buderim Chilli Blast is a lime cordial with chilli. Yes. It’s really good and not necessarily mouth-setting-on-fire hot.

Scarborough Fair have Fair Trade coffee and tea. Fair Trade is the new thing that we concern ourselves with. If we’re going to spend hundreds of dollars on coffee a year, we don’t want to be ripping off the workers, see.

Strangest stand – the Alternative Living vegetarian stand. Some really enthusiastic ladies (possibly Taiwanese) were tempting everyone with their delicious vegetarian pastiches of traditional meat dishes. “We pray for you,” says the cartoon chicken.

    Mountain climbing

    I went to the Food Show yesterday. It was rubbish and I did not get my money’s worth in entertainment value for the $18 entrance fee. There were only two things that stood out.

    A company that sold chopped onions in plastic bags displayed their goods on a dinner table, set up with cutlery, plates, glasses. Yet, in a surreal twist, upon each plate was a bag of the chopped onions. I imagined some parallel-universe dinner party, where people sit down and enjoy a bag of onions (and if they’re lucky, there will be a fat-free, sugar-free bag of onions for dessert).

    The Guinness stand has giving little-cup samples. It seemed to attracted all the old codgers (and me, ok, shut up). One old codger asked if he could buy a pint, but the barmaid said they weren’t allowed to sell it, but snuck him a bottle. She was also attempting to pimp Guinness as a “dessert beer”, complete with handing out little chocolate squares so that we might see how well Guinness goes with it. Unsurprisingly, all the old codgers (and me) rejected the chocolate.

    After the Food Show, I headed into Newmarket, but went via Market Road instead of Manukau Road. I realised that right along side me was Mount St John, and I’d never been up there before.

    I found an entrance off Mt St John Ave and headed up the steep path that went straight up the side of the hill for much of the journey. Having made it to the summit, I located what appeared to be the only park bench up there and concluded that Mt St John is much like its neighbour Mt Eden in that:

    • it has a big ol’ crater, but with a swampy puddle of water at the bottom and a couple of big trees growing in it.
    • there are the holes in the ground from old kumara pits, but without damage from mountain bikers or the need for signs and barriers to prevent subsequent damage.
    • there is a footpath up to the summit, but no road full of tour buses.
    • the old terraces from Maori fortifications are still visible, but there aren’t any tourists posing on them.
    • at the summit there is a path going around the crater, but there isn’t a car park with tour buses and cars fighting for parking spaces.

    Yeah, Mt St John has much in common with Mt Eden.

    The Food Show 2004

    Oh, no. It’s the 2004 Food Show. Unlike last year, where I showed great restraint, this year I had but one goal: To get my money’s worth for the $15 entry fee. Oh dear. I did all the things I’d vowed not to do.

    • I picked up toothpicks and speared them in cheese cubes.
    • I sampled bits of meat that all tasted identical.
    • I took microscopic slivers of chocolate.
    • I dipped bits of bread into olive oil, and – in a new twist – dipped those oiled bits of bread into bowls of herbs and spices.
    • I tried samples of ice cream.
    • I felt horribly ill and had to sit down.

    I realised that there is a good reason why people usually eat while they’re sitting down – because it’s physically uncomfortable to eat a lot in a vertical position. I found took a seat in the back of the cooking demonstration area and attempted to digest the previous hour’s samples, but just managed to felt like a gluttonous fat-arse, not unlike Governor Phatt from Monkey Island 2.

    The cheese and ice cream demo guy was halfway through mixing up some cheesy stuff when I realised that a) I am sooo over cheese and b) I wasn’t feeling ill anymore, so I got up off my not-so-fat-anymore arse and got back to the food show. I can report the following:

    • I feel sorry for people with a gluten intolerance. The gluten-free breads I tried were either dry and crumbly or damp and spongy. I don’t feel sorry for people who just go gluten-free as a last-ditch weight loss attempt.
    • At the Vanilla Direct stand, I overhead one of the Vanilla guys saying that they were planning on changing the company name to The Natural Vanilla Company because, apparently, company names that are “[Product Name] Direct” are old and gimmicky. Whereas “The [Product Name] Company” isn’t?
    • I remember at the Food Show about four years ago when all the organic food was a bit freaky and hippyish. Now it’s getting very very ordinary and mainstream.
    • I scored a chart showing when fruit and vegetables are in season because, y’know, it’s more ethically sound to buy things in season and minimise environmental damage caused by international shipping.
    • It’s interesting to see how Cadbury were discretely pimping their Mother Earth and (ahem) Natural Confectionary Company brands. “It’s so good that someone is making food without all that muck in it,” said one overexcited show visitor.
    • Cyclops have this new liquorice-flavoured yoghurt that is unexpectedly delicious.
    • I bought an oven cloth. I’ve never actually been able to get my oven to work, but, um, it was only $1.
    • I also got some Nick’s Pasta fettucine for $1. I believe Nick himself sold it to me.
    • I was in the midst of pilfering two sample boxes of Special K when the Kellogg’s lady said, “Would you like a sample of Special K?” “Yes, thanks,” I politely replied in the midst of stuffing the boxes in my bag and walking away.

    Food show

    I went to the Food Show today. To make things easy, I vowed to stay away from stands with the following kinds of food samples:

    • Cheese
    • Wine
    • Salami
    • Anything “wild berry” flavour
    • Anything involving a piece of bread/corn chip/pita bread/cracker being dipped into olive oil/hummus/aioli/salsa

    These rules made things really easy. The cheese stands had hordes to people pushing and shoving, grabbing a toothpick and skewering little cubes of cheese. Then there’s the obligation to make the people manning the stands feel like all their free samples aren’t for nothing. “Mmmm,” the cube eaters say. “That’s very nice.”

    The first thing I sampled was some chocolate ice cream. It was horrible. It tasted really watery and more milky than chocolatey. I threw the rest of it out and felt really punk.

    At the Delmaine stand I tried some gherkins and discovered that I really liked them. I never used to like gherkins. I’m now the proud owner of a jar of sliced gherkins. Rockin’.

    I walked around looking at stands. It seemed that anything that came out of a can or was made from adding dried stuff in a packet to ingredients didn’t look or smell particularly appealing. But people queued up to get little plastic cups full of some sort of mock curry.

    There were samples of Hoegaarden served with mussel fritters. I would have happily spent the rest of the afternoon there, but I thought I’d better move on and let others experience the Belgian delights.

    In the middle of it all I saw a woman wearing a t-shirt reading “fuck you you fuck’n fuck”. I was offended. Not by the curse words on the t-shirts, but by the inanity of it. Yeah. empty insults as fashion.

    Then I was delighted to find the Abe’s Bagels stand. Three bags of bagels for $4. That’s bloody good value.

    Kellogg’s had some bins that they put free samples of K-Time bars into. One of the Kellogg’s people tipped some bars in the bin and a swarm of people swooped down and started grabbing handfuls of bars. Within seconds the bin was empty.

    I discovered that rice crackers that proclaim to be 100% fat free are horrible and dry and would be endlessly improved with a little bit of fat. Same for those dry, tasteless low-fat biscuits.

    My helpful rules were keeping me out of trouble. Stands with samples of fruit and vegetables were lacking hysterical crowds. I picked up a baby carrot and dipped it into mayonnaise, experiencing some weird deja vu.

    Three years ago it was all about the hummus, then last year I discovered the delights of broccolini. This year I noticed a lot of things with coriander. On the way out I broke one of my rules by trying some coriander bean dip on a cracker. It was really good. With that good flavour lingering in my mouth, I took my bagels and gherkins and went home.

    The 2002 Food Show

    I turned the corner and almost recoiled in horror. There was a dorky DJ playing boring dance music and he was surrounded by bowls of fruit-flavoured chewy sweets. Around the booth were very serious looking men in yellow t-shirts putting stickers with the product’s logo onto all the mousy women they could lure into their kingdom of sugar. Ah yeah, it was 2002 Food Show.

    I wasn’t planning to go, but there I was, wandering the halls of the Auckland Showgrounds, stabbing bite sized chunks of food with a toothpick. Fortunately none of the other stands had gimmicks quite as spectacularly awful as the DJ. Really nice people, often the owners of small companies, staffed most stands.

    The usual Food Show crowd was there. The old people who stick with the familiar (i.e. cheese), the nervous women who keep coming back for chocolate samples, the men who try and get as drunk as they can on tiny plastic cups of wine, and, yeah, people like me who feel a need to say “mmm” after trying something.

    There was plenty of organic stuff. Now it’s no longer the small companies that are getting into it. Big food companies are launching organic lines of products.

    Mothers Against Genetic Engineering were there. It was a scary, high-pressure stand. One of the mothers was having a calm conversation with someone she appeared to know, when she stopped mid-sentence, blurted out “here’s some information about GE!” and thrust a brochure at a passing guy. She later handed me a bumper sticker “for your car!”

    As I walked around sampling various foods, I somehow felt that if people were going to give me free samples of their products that I should express some sort of enjoyment or gratitude. “Mmmm,” I’d say with a mouth full of tofu sausage. “That’s good!” On numerous occasions I’d say, “very smooth flavour”. I’m not sure what that means, but I used it to describe olive oil, chocolates, fruitcake, yoghurt and aioli (oh, aioli is this year’s hummus.).

    It was hard to fake enthusiasm for the stuff that didn’t taste so good. Fortunately most of that was products of large companies, things like Indian curry sauces (with very little spice and a weird jelly-like texture), muffin mixes that looked and smelt good but mysteriously had very little flavour, and some really boring tomato pasta sauce that would probably only be appreciated by old people on bland diets.

    But there was also some really delicious stuff. I really enjoyed the Del Monte Gold pineapple, Cinnamon Twist’s Chocolatta drink, Fresh and Fruity’s baby and toddler banana custard, Leader Brand broccolini (that was really good) and the Monteith’s pilsner. I was also delighted to find some real pretzels, big ones, not those little mini snack ones.

    But best thing I tasted was from the sparsely decorated Cambrian Meats stand. A friendly fellow was cooking some cubes of beef on a portable barbecue. It smelled really good. He served up the meat on a dish; I took a toothpick, got a piece and tried it. It was tender and had a nice, full flavour. That little cube of meat was delicious. And not a DJ in sight.

    Hummus Fest

    The Food Show was on this weekend. It claimed to be, “For people who love eating, drinking, cooking and entertaining.” That didn’t sound like me, but as it was a food show I figured there would be lots of free samples, so I decided it would obviously be perfect to go to.

    Three-bloody-dollars for parking. Ten-bloody-dollars admission. At that price, I had better be getting thirteen dollars worth of goodies.

    Upon arrival, I entered the exhibition hall and started to wander around. I fought my way through a sea of old ladies in search of free stuff. Oh, there were lots of free goodies. But there seemed to be a lot of places giving out the same sorts of free samples. After much investigation, I found that most of the samples could be put in one of these categories.

    * Wine
    * Hummus
    * Cheese
    * Coffee and tea
    * Hummus
    * Jams
    * Healthy drinks
    * Sauces
    * Hummus
    * Breads
    * Instant meals
    * Hummus

    I don’t know why there was such an extraordinary amount of hummus. Even stands that didn’t seem to have any apparent connection with hummus had samples of it (“It slices carrots, onions, leeks, tomatoes, hummus…”) It was almost as if hummus was the magical sex appeal that could get people excited.

    Then out of the hummus one stand caught my eye. A giant sign with “M.O.M. MICHELE’S ORGANIC MEAL” stood out. This is the description of the “M.O.M.” from the show programme:

    “A delicious meal. Three organic meats and four organic vegetables beautifully layered and baked and delivered to your door.”

    From that it sounds ok. Like it might be quite enjoyable. I was in the free sample mood and was about to taste a slice of M.O.M. when I looked at it.

    Imagine stripy spam. Like, a red stripe, a white stripe, a green strip, and some brownish stripes. It looked really unappealing. It was like the sort of food you’d expect to have to eat if it was the year 2000 and the cybertronic warlords had taken over the earth, forcing the few remaining humans underground to exist on a diet of M.O.M. as that’s the only thing that can be cultivated underground.

    However, as I didn’t taste it I don’t know if its flavour matched its appeal. It might be really delicious, so I’ll attempt to give M.O.M. the benefit of the doubt.

    In the end I had sampled so many goodies (and there were some goodies – kia ora to Wild Appetite’s chocolate paté) that I was really full. I had also managed to acquire three coffee bags and five tea bags, a sachet of olive oil, some garlic salt and a scone.

    Later in the day I was at the supermarket doing my weekly shopping and found myself in front of the refrigerated goods section. There it was. Row after row of hummus. I bought a pot of chargrilled capsicum hummus. It rules.