Auckland – the city of 100 lovers – is about to be turned into the city of food lovers in the search for 100 iconic dishes. Lincoln Tan reports.

A hunt is on for 100 unique Auckland dishes in a move to build the city’s reputation as a food and beverage destination.

Iconic Auckland Eats, an initiative delivered by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) is also designed to give a boost to a hospitality sector struggling after Covid-19 forced many to close for weeks.

Fifty dishes have already been nominated by well-known Aucklanders – including top chefs Al Brown, Ray McVinnie, Peter Gordon and Ganesh Raj.

Next up the public will be asked to name the other 50 favourites.

Described to be like a soup hangi in a bucket, fish is cooked in pre-heated river rocks placed in a cedar wood bucket at Spicy Palace Restaurant. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Described to be like a soup hangi in a bucket, fish is cooked in pre-heated river rocks placed in a cedar wood bucket at Spicy Palace Restaurant. Photo / Babiche Martens.

Food that has so far made the shortlist ranges from food trucks to fine dining to farmers markets; from Manaaki whitebait fritters at the Matakana Village Farmers Markets to turbot sliders at Depot, spicy chicken wings from Mr Hao in Dominion Rd and Nyonya fish head curry at Bunga Raya Restaurant in New Lynn.

Brown opted for the Baloney sandwich at Hare and the Turtle, while Gordon plumped for the steamed and roasted kumara with kawakawa at Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae in East Māngere.

The White Lady’s Aucklander burger also makes the cut, as does Prego’s snapper with herb risotto.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is hoping the initiative will get Aucklanders out to explore their region and try something gastronomically new.

“Covid-19 border restrictions mean that overseas travel isn’t an option at present, but as one of the most diverse cities on earth, Auckland is home to a world of flavours and meals,” Goff said.

“I encourage those who can do so to support their local businesses by getting out and experiencing some of the fantastic food and beverage options available across our region.”

The sashimi platter at Cocoro. Photo / Babiche Martens
The sashimi platter at Cocoro. Photo / Babiche Martens

Ateed general manager Steve Armitage says the time is ripe for the region’s food story to be told.

“This has been a particularly tough time for the hospitality sector and it’s vital that we continue to support our local food and beverage businesses because a vibrant and thriving hospitality sector is important for Auckland’s economic recovery.”

Armitage said food plays a key role in the local and visitor experience and the Iconic Eats list will highlight unique and well-loved dishes that can only be enjoyed in Auckland.

“Food is central to how we connect with each other and our culture and it is important that we continue to build our region’s reputation as a food and beverage destination.”

The list will help uncover some of the hidden food gems across the region.

The first 50 dishes were nominated by Auckland chefs and food writers and the public get their chance to submit their favourite 50 recommendations during the upcoming Elemental AKL festival to kick off on October 1.

Traditional hangi at The Hangi Master is one of Auckland's iconic dishes. Photo / Supplied.
Traditional hangi at The Hangi Master is one of Auckland’s iconic dishes. Photo / Supplied.

Hospitality NZ chief executive Julie White said the sector had been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, along with the tourism industry, since March when borders were closed to international visitors.

White said the industry contributed more than $6 billion to NZ’s GDP annually and employed more than 170,000 people but did not receive any targeted support.

Julie White, chief executive officer Hospitality New Zealand. Photo / Supplied.
Julie White, chief executive officer Hospitality New Zealand. Photo / Supplied.

“With every changing alert level, hospitality businesses have had to adapt their operations to abide by the restrictions which has been extremely tough,” she said.

White welcomed the Iconic Eats initiative and said anything to drive awareness of New Zealand’s “amazing hospitality operators” was great news.

“Iconic Eats is also equally as important for local wellness. Encouraging more social connection among Aucklanders is a great way to promote the recovery of the economy and people’s wellbeing,” she said.

Lamingtons from Sugar at Chelsea Bay. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Lamingtons from Sugar at Chelsea Bay. Photo / Babiche Martens.

“We need Kiwis to get out there and support locals so we hope this initiative is one way we can encourage Aucklanders to do so – that’s the only way our sector will survive.”

White said it was important to back the hospitality industry because it was often at the heart of local communities and played a crucial role in the cultural fabric of the nation.

“Hospitality has the ability to get money into the economy quickly, so will be crucial to our recovery as it’s the glue that brings people, connection and communities together,” White said.

Turbot sliders with pickled lemon mayo and watercress from Depot Eatery & Oyster Bar. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Turbot sliders with pickled lemon mayo and watercress from Depot Eatery & Oyster Bar. Photo / Babiche Martens.

“Additionally, it will be key in rebuilding the wellbeing of some Kiwis who have felt isolated during this turbulent time.”

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said the association was working with regional tourism operators to find ways in getting their communities to eat out at restaurants, cafes and bars.

“We know from speaking to members just how important this kind of publicity has been for them in the past and we are hopeful that a spotlight on some of the best dishes our hospitality businesses have to offer will encourage people to get out to try them.

Pork sausage with pickles and mustard from Apero. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Pork sausage with pickles and mustard from Apero. Photo / Babiche Martens.

“Iconic Eats highlights the diversity of our Auckland hospitality industry with a number of different styles of food and types of establishments highlighted. The fact there will be 100 menu items really highlights just how much is on offer.”

Bidois said Iconic Eats was really about discovering hidden gems on offer around the region.

“It’s a chance for us all to get those insider tips, try them out, and then also share our own.

Sid Sahwarat, executive chef and owner of Sidart, Cassia and Sid at The French Cafe. Photo / Supplied.
Sid Sahwarat, executive chef and owner of Sidart, Cassia and Sid at The French Cafe. Photo / Supplied.

“We encourage everyone to get involved in this initiative, be it recommending some of your favourite dishes or getting out to try the recommendations of others.”

Sid Sahrawat, an executive chef and restaurateur involved with the initiative, believes it will help him and others in the industry during these challenging times.

“Restaurants are micro-economies in themselves, by dining out you not only support the restaurant and its staff, but your dollars go further in supporting the suppliers to that restaurant. Meat, veg and wine suppliers directly support farmers and producers at the grass root level,” he said.

Dahi puri from Satya. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Dahi puri from Satya. Photo / Babiche Martens.

“Let’s not forget that the taxes collected through the entire microsystem benefit the entire country. So by simply dining out you are helping so many businesses and producers recover from the impact of Covid-19.”

Sahrawat, who owns Cassia, Sidart, and Sid at The French Cafe, said Iconic Eats will not only get people around the city, but also turn some Aucklanders into “mini guides” sharing their insider knowledge on Auckland’s dishes.

“It fuels excitement and gets people out again supporting Auckland eateries in the post-Covid environment. Word of mouth is still the best form of advertising in our industry except we now use social media and the internet to spread it.

The White Lady Aucklander Burger has been a city favourite for years. Photo / Supplied.
The White Lady Aucklander Burger has been a city favourite for years. Photo / Supplied.

“I think it will benefit us as there are so many customer favourites on our menus and it will encourage new guests to come in and try our restaurants.”

Sahrawat said another way people could support the industry was by purchasing gift vouchers for friends and family.

“Many restaurants like Cassia are still offering take home menus so if guests are still worried about dining out, ordering in is another way to support local eateries, it’s a great option as it takes out the expenses of commuting and getting a baby sitter.”

Dim sum at Grand Park Chinese Seafood Restaurant. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Dim sum at Grand Park Chinese Seafood Restaurant. Photo / Babiche Martens.

He remains optimistic that the industry would recover to post Covid levels eventually.

“Hospitality business owners are very innovative and many will pivot their businesses to change quickly. We are adapting our businesses as well and I remain confident we will come out of Covid and the recession stronger.”

The website where the 100 iconic eats can be viewed is hosted by Restaurant Hub.

Restaurant Hub general manager and founder Mark Gregory said: “Delicious awesomeness has just found a new home and it’s called ‘Auckland’.

The White Lady is an Auckland icon serving the hungry late night crowd. Photo / Michael Craig
The White Lady is an Auckland icon serving the hungry late night crowd. Photo / Michael Craig

“I love that Aucklanders can celebrate and share the very best dishes to be found, from sensational restaurant dishes to jaw-dropping burgers and shimmering, slurpy noodles.”

Submissions open on October 1 for the public to nominate the remaining 50 iconic dishes.

Each iconic dish is considered against a set of criteria: well-loved, representative of local culture and people, a timeless classic, or being a ‘signature dish’.

• Check out the first 50 Iconic Eats at www.iconiceats.co.nz

• The second 50 dishes will be awarded following nominations from the public next month at https://iconiceats.co.nz/peoples-top-50-nominate-and-win/



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