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Maori Food Tours with Charles Royal, North Island
Concierge.com's insider take:
Maori chef Charles Royal is the closest thing New Zealand has to an Alice Waters—a fierce advocate of sustainable local cuisine, indigenous produce, and just plain good cooking. Royal started cooking in the New Zealand Army and now wears all the laurels of a modern-day celebrity chef, with a television show, cookbook, and recipes being served by Air New Zealand. Royal offers various tours on the North Island that introduce visitors to traditional Maori ingredients and techniques (before the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand, indigenous cooking was done mostly without metal or ceramic pots; instead, food was roasted or steamed in pit ovens). Royal picks guests up from their hotel and takes them on a bushwalk to seek out native flora and fauna, such as freshwater eel, kawakawa (bush basil), horopito (Maori pepper), and pikopiko, an edible fern. That might be followed by a hangi, the traditional method of smoking meats and vegetables in an earthen oven. From Treetops Lodge in Rotorua, for instance, Royal and his guests gather herbs while hiking past the cascading Bridal Falls, 800-year-old trees, and lush ferns. The feast that follows includes kawakawa tea, flaxseed soda bread, pikopiko pesto, horopito hummus, kumara (sweet potato), and smoked venison rubbed with local spices and served with wild mushrooms. Sampled in the forest setting, with Royal talking of his ancestors from New Zealand's North Island, this is a truly special culinary and cultural experience.—Lea Lane
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