Category: Kiwiana

Kiwi Culture 101: Marmite


There is a meme I’ve recently seen on Facebook:


It says Vegemite, but the exact same rules apply to Kiwi Marmite. It’s an acquired taste—like American root beer—and you either love it or you hate it. From what I’ve heard, most Americans like it about as much as I like root beer—they think it’s horrible and can’t understand how anyone could possibly consume the awful stuff.

As you can see, it’s a black paste, with a strong yeasty taste. New Zealand Marmite is produced by Sanitaruim, the food company established by members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. They are vegetarians, and Marmite is packed full of Vitamin B and other essentials often missing from a vegetarian diet.

Marmite isn’t unique to New Zealand. There is an English equivalent, although it quite literally pales in comparison to the New Zealand product (they, of course, claim theirs was first and is therefore better. We beg to disagree). Ours is darker and stronger. Especially when you layer it on.

New Zealand Marmite has had a rocky history, literally. The sole factory is located in Christchurch, the site of the deadly earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. The earthquakes rocked the factory off its foundations, and New Zealand came to a standstill with the news that the factory would have to close.

Yes, a new factory would be built, but we were told the production process takes several months. As a nation, we were faced with the ultimate first-world problem.

No Marmite. For at least a year.


What followed seems almost farcical in hindsight. Within hours of the factory closure being announced, Marmite had disappeared from shop shelves as addicts bought up all remaining jars to stockpile. There were rumours of fights. My brother-in-law spent an evening visiting every small shop in the vicinity to try and buy a year’s supply for his daughters. My sister-in-law rejoiced that she had two unopened jars. They could make it, as long as they saved it for their son and didn’t spread it too thickly.

As happens with any scarce resource, a secondary market appeared. TradeMe, the New Zealand equivalent of eBay, saw a rise in searches for Marmite as those who had won the stockpiling war began offering their excess jars for sale. One 500g jar, unopened. Starting bid: four times the normal retail price. And people bought … but it didn’t last long before all the jars were safely in the pantries of people who had no intention of sharing, let alone selling.

Others of us did the unthinkable:

We switched from Kiwi Marmite to Australian Vegemite (may we be forgiven). To understand the magnitude of this betrayal: inter-Tasman rivalry between the brands makes the Coke vs. Pepsi arguments look like a pebble next to the Rock of Gibraltar. Marmite and Vegemite are matters of national pride. Under no circumstances should you try to pass one off as the other, or offer someone the “wrong” spread.

Marmite v Vegemite

Eventually, the dark age ended and the good news was proclaimed.

Marmite was back in production, and was available in limited quantities. In order to allow as many people as possible to experience the resurrection for themselves, it would only be sold in small 250g jars.

Supermarkets would announced the times at which they would be refilling the Marmite shelf, and customers would politely hover while the shelf was filled … and then promptly empty it. Sales were rationed: no more than two jars at once.

Over time, the factory built up to normal capacity, demand fell back to normal levels, and Marmite was available on our supermarket shelves again, in the normal range of sizes. The great Marmite Scare of 2013 was over.

But not forgotten.

Kiwi Culture 101: Fish and Chips

Fish and Chipes
Food and culture are intertwined.

When we think of Italy, we think of pizza and pasta. With Japan, it’s sushi. India is curry. Germany, bratwurst sausage and beer. France, their fine wines and culinary “treats” like truffles and escargot. China, Thailand, Mexico … all have a rich culinary heritage that’s tied to their culture.

In New Zealand, we have fish and chips.

It’s not in exactly the same league. Our Australian and British friends would point out we don’t even say “fish and chips”, that we say “fush and chups”. We laugh and console ourselves that they say “feesh and cheeps” or “fash and chaps”.

But either way, fish and chips is a part of our heritage.

The meal comes in many forms. Fancy restaurants offer pan-fried fish of the day served with thick cut chips cooked in duck fat (let’s face facts: chips taste best when cooked in some kind of fat, and duck fat is currently the foodie fat of choice. It can’t be less healthy than canola oil). And the fish will be fresh line-caught snapper or tarakiki or hapuku, or one of the beautiful deep sea fishes found in New Zealand’s territorial waters—John Dory, perhaps.

Mid-range restaurants offer tempura-battered fish. They might serve the deep-fried chips in a one-portion metal basket, an echo of the large baskets used in the deep fryer. Family restaurants will have beer-battered fish and chips, and the fish will probably be hoki—the fish McDonald’s New Zealand use in their Filet-O-Fish burger. No farmed code or tilapia here, thank you.

New Zealand is an island nation.

Many people own small boats which they use for fishing in the local harbour, or in the shallow waters off the coast. Their fish and chips could be snapper or any of the huge range of species found in our coastal waters. Then there is the messy job of scaling, heading, gutting and filleting the fish so it can be fried or barbecued.

But for most of us, fish and chips are bought from the local takeaway shop, a Friday night treat. When I was a kid, our options were limited: battered fish, a hot dog*, a range of hamburgers, or a toasted sandwich. Some offered potato fritters or battered oysters. All served with chips, which could be ordered by the scoop or by the dollar.

The burgers and toasted sandwiches were cooked on the hot plate, but everything else was deep-fried in lard. Yes, a cardiologist’s nightmare. The fish and chips were dumped out of the fry basket onto a sheet of butcher paper, and the steaming mass wrapped in last week’s newspapers. We’d open the packets, add tomato sauce, and dig in with our fingers—a great indoor or outdoor meal. Most Kiwis will have memories of eating piping hot fish and chips on the beach, watching the children play in the shallows.

But New Zealand has moved with the times (!).

Our fish and chips are now cooked in canola oil and served in pristine white butcher paper. But the taste is pretty much the same, especially once we’ve added enough salt to preserve a pig, and doused it all with tomato sauce. Always called tomato sauce; never ketchup. (Unless you’re at McDonald’s.) Some people drizzle lemon juice over their fish, others drown the chips in malt vinegar. It’s a matter of taste.

And I love it.

* In case you were wondering, a Kiwi hot dog isn’t a frankfurter in a long bun. No, it’s a sausage on a stick, covered in batter and deep-fried. I think it’s similar to what Americans call a corn dog … although there’s no corn in the batter. And Australians have the Dagwood dog, which looks the same, but I have no idea where the name comes from!

What culinary treats do you remember from your childhood?

Remembering ANZAC Day

Next Monday, 25 April, is ANZAC Day.

It’s the day New Zealanders and Australians join together to commemorate all those who served in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Other countries have similar days of remembrance: the US have Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, while the UK has Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday.

ANZAC Day is an important day for us. It’s a public holiday, and only essential services are allowed to be open. There are heavy fines for businesses who open on the morning of ANZAC Day: as a nation, we want everyone to be able to attend a commemoration service. No, not everyone does, but they can. ANZAC Day is also observed in Canada and many Pacific Island countries.

Australia and New Zealand chose this day specifically to commemorate the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, which began at dawn on 25 April 1915, when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps—the ANZACs—landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. It was the first major battle either country had been involved in which led to major casualties, and forged our identities as nations.

As I’ve done for the last five or six years, I will be awake, showered and dressed long before dawn. I’ll attend the Dawn Service in the grounds of the local Returned Services Association (RSA), wearing the green and black uniform of the local Brass Band, sitting front and centre and playing my tenor horn.

The Dawn Service is special.

We arrive while it’s still dark and watching the sun rise as the music plays and prayers are intoned. I’m always impressed by the number of families with children. Some wear medals that used to adorn the chest of their father, grandfather or perhaps great-grandfather. They wear these medals with pride, in memory of men they may never have met, men who have become legends for their service and sacrifice.

Also present are the legends themselves, men who fought in France, Crete, North Africa, Korea, Vietnam, the Falklands, Afghanistan. These men wear the medals they earned facing enemy fire under what were often horrific conditions.

There are no longer any veterans of Gallipoli with us, but we still meet at dawn on 25 April to remember and honour the men who served in that disastrous campaign. And we meet to honour those who served in subsequent wars in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as those who served in the merchant navy to keep the home nations supplied and fed, and who were just at risk of being torpedoed or bombed as their army and navy counterparts.

The veterans and visitors sing as we play the God Save the Queen, the national anthems of Australia and New Zealand, and a hymn. I will be able to hear a pin drop when Peter, our lead cornet player, stands to play the Last Post, as we pay silent tribute to those who fought and died for freedom.

After the Dawn Service and a hot breakfast at the RSA, we’ll head to the civil service at the city’s official war memorial, Memorial Park. This service starts with a march, led by shuffling veterans who have fortified themselves at the RSA bar, followed by the cadet forces marching proudly, then groups such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

A group of Army, Navy and Air cadets will form the honour guard, standing to attention throughout the service. The choir will lead the congregation in singing hymns and the National Anthem. The band will play quietly as wreaths are laid by representatives from local community groups. An Army chaplain will pray for the fallen. Peter will play the Last Post again—still poignant, although not as spine-chilling as in the pre-dawn light of the Dawn Service. A student representative from one of the local high schools will read the famous poem, In Flanders Fields.

Everyone will be silent, as befits such a solemn occasion.

Another student, perhaps the Head Girl of one of the local high schools, will deliver a speech about what ANZAC Day means to her. She’ll be wearing the formal school uniform: tie, jacket, and stockings. She might mention a family connection to one or both World Wars, or possibly a later conflict. She will talk about freedom from oppression, and about innocent young men who travelled far from home and made the ultimate sacrifice, their lives in exchange for our freedom. She might even quote the Bible: For greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

But her polished speech will miss the most important sacrifice: the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for your sins and for mine. She will miss the end of the story of sacrifice: the victory Jesus gained through the resurrection. ANZAC Day without Jesus is like Good Friday without Easter Sunday.

It’s only half the story.

ANZAC Day is important. It’s a time to come together as a community and remember those who have gone before, those who gave their lives that we might live. But it’s more than a commemoration of sacrifice.

It’s the story of victory.

Lest we forget.

Dear New Zealand Herald

The New Zealand Herald is one of New Zealand’s major daily newspapers.

Despite the name, it’s not actually a national paper (although it is available in most main centres). It’s actually the Auckland paper, distributed throughout the original province of Auckland—broadly, the top half of the North Island.

While Auckland isn’t New Zealand’s capital, it is our largest city, with a population somewhere over a million people. It’s a sprawling multicultural melting pot, with a significant indigenous Maori population as well as immigrants from all over the world. Some immigrants can trace their families back to the original pre-1840 English settlers, while others are more first generation immigrants from Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Pacific Islands.

This rapid expansion is causing Auckland problems, especially transport problems.

Auckland is a city built on and surrounded by water. The central suburbs are built on the narrow central isthmus between the Auckland and Mangere harbours. At the narrowest points, there is less than a mile between Mangere Harbour and one of the tributaries of Auckland Harbour.

This lack of space means the Southern Motorway is a daily carpark, and while the New Zealand Herald reports that more Aucklanders are taking public transport than ever before, options are limited and expansion is difficult. Train routes are constrained by the physical geography, and busses are subject to the same traffic problems as cars. Rush hour never stops.

Then there are the hills—which are actually dormant volcanoes. More than fifty of them.

For those of you who were wondering, dormant volcanoes are those which are likely to explode again in the next few hundred to few thousand years (as opposed to extinct volcanoes, which are properly dead). Each hill (or lake—there are two crater lakes in Auckland) is an obstacle the roads have to go around.

1859 Map of Auckland showing the volcanic cones
1859 Map of Auckland showing the volcanic cones

It’s estimated that Aucklanders spend twenty days a year stuck in traffic.

So it’s no surprise that many Aucklanders want to leave, to live somewhere with a little less traffic, where they can drive at more than 15 kilometres per hour (roughly 10 miles per hour), and where the average family can afford to live without having to be a dual income family simply to pay the mortgage.

Tauranga, it appears, fits the bill.

I agree. I live in Tauranga, and I love it. Each visit to Auckland convinces me again that I don’t want to swap sunshine for smog, or exchange our rush-ten-minutes for their rush-all-day. Yes, they’ve got lovely beaches, but so have we. And ours have car parks (well, except for when we’re hosting the national surf lifesaving championships).

Yes, they have the beautiful harbour and visiting cruise ships, but so have we. Yes, they have good schools and nice houses, but so have we (and our houses are cheaper).

I can see why Aucklanders would want to move here (hey, I did).

But not all of them, please. Because we’re a small city. Just 120,000 people. And we’re also built on water, which means we don’t have the space for all those Aucklanders.

New Zealand Herald, please don’t run more stories about why Tauranga is a great place to live Click To Tweet

2016-03-28 11.34.53

So, New Zealand Herald, please don’t run more stories about why Tauranga is a great place to live.

We know.

And while we’re happy for the occasional Aucklander (or other immigrant) to make the move, we can’t take them all. And telling them about what they can’t have is only going to make them dissatisfied with what they do have.

Despite the problems, Auckland is still one of the best places in the world to live. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks Auckland 10th. Global Finance says it’s 6th and management consultancy Mercer say it’s 3rd. But who’s arguing?

Please remind Aucklanders how good they have it in Auckland, and don’t mention they could have it better here.

Thank you.

New Zealand Flag Referendum: The Results are In

It’s official: we’re keeping our flag.

For the past year, New Zealand has been working through the official process of deciding whether to change our national flag, or to keep the present option. Our crowdsourced approach attracted international attention, including a shout-out from The Big Bang Theory’s Dr Sheldon Cooper:

At least now everyone knows what our flag looks like (we hope).

The project came about because people apparently confused our current flag with that of Australia, and said the Union Jack is representative of the bygone age of colonialism (also true, but most Kiwis have at least some Brits in their ancestry).

This is our flag:

NZ Flag

Not this one:Australian Flag

We started the process by crowdsourcing design options . . . which produced some interesting results. ‘Interesting’ being the operative word. It seems that as a nation, we’re more skilled with MS Paint than with Photoshop.

Flag Reject 2

Flag Reject 5

Many schools used the process to kickstart discussions around the electoral process, the purpose of a referendum, and research into the history of our flag and the Australian flag. My eight-year-old niece informed me the New Zealand flag predates the Australian version, so they copied us (not the other way around, as is often assumed), and therefore they should be the ones to change. I’m also hoping some schools used the process as the theme for art projects and submitted the children’s efforts. This would explain the level of artistic talent on display . . .

An government-appointed Flag Consideration Panel reviewed each of the 10,000+ submissions and came up with a shortlist of forty designs (although one was then removed for breaching copyright):

NZ Flag Top 40
The panel then narrowed the longlist down to a shortlist of four, although a fifth design was added after a grassroots social media campaign.

Flag Final 5
Two referendums (or is that referenda?) were scheduled.

In the first, registered voters got to choose which flag design they wanted to go up against the current flag in the second referendum. Some people voted for their favorite flag, while others apparently took a more strategic approach and voted for the one they liked least (on the basis it would then lose to the current flag in the second referendum). On that basis, I have no idea whether the winning design was the nation’s favorite or least favorite! All I’ll say is that I don’t think the final five represented the best designs on offer . . . maybe the official panel were also using the reverse psychology of the designs they liked least, or the ones which were so inoffensive as to be meaningless.

All the same, we then got a second referendum, choosing between the current flag and Kyle Lockwood’s design. My teenagers had been vocal throughout the entire process, pointing out that it was unfair that they, as the children who would carry this flag into New Zealand’s future, were ineligible to vote while “old people” (me) could. After much discussion (and rolling of eyes), my husband and I agreed to cast our votes as requested (directed ) by our children. They voted, and the wait was on to find out which design won.

The official result was announced last week, on Wednesday 30 March. After ten months and $26 million dollars, we get to keep our current flag.

Three cheers for democracy.

What is a Kiwi?

What about the Kiwi Twist?

I write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist. I’ve defined contemporary romance. I’ve attempted to define Christian fiction (and therefore Christian romance). But what about the Kiwi twist?

First we need to clear up a more important question: what is a kiwi?

Hint: it’s not this:
Kiwifruit. Not a kiwi.
This is a kiwifruit, previously called a Chinese gooseberry. It’s not actually a gooseberry, but it got that name after Mabel Fraser brought some seeds back from China, Alexander Allison cultivated them, and people thought it had a gooseberry flavour. Hence, Chinese gooseberry (although the Chinese called it yang tao).

We renamed it ‘kiwifruit’ when we started exporting to the US in the late 1950’s because of anti-Chinese sentiment during the Cold War. Several names were suggested, but kiwifruit stuck because the furry brown fruit reminds us of our national bird, the kiwi, also small, brown and furry:

North Island Brown Kiwi - This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust.
North Island Brown Kiwi

It’s also the colloquial name we call ourselves as a people. We’re Kiwis, and proud of it.

Being a Kiwi has certain responsibilities. We’re required to love rugby and cricket (and never admit if we don’t). We’re supposed to love the beach and the outdoors—not difficult. As an island nation, most of us live within an hour’s drive from the beach, whether it’s the mighty Pacific Ocean, the calmer Tasman Sea, or my own slice of paradise, the Bay of Plenty (named by Captain Cook, because it was and is a land of plenty).

I grew up in rural New Zealand, in a bicultural community where most of the families were involved in primary industry (mostly farmers and orchardists). It was a simpler time: a shared telephone line and only one television channel meant we played outside until it was time to come in for dinner. We ran barefoot, cycled in the road and didn’t wear cycle helmets. We disappeared for hours down to the creek or (later) to the beach.

We’re world leaders in dairy and kiwifruit production (although our lamb and wool production is right down. We now have only six sheep for every person, down from twenty in the 1980’s). We have an almost-free health system that’s the envy of many (and we still moan when the government raises the fee for prescription medicine to $5 per item). We don’t have the right to bear arms, but someone still goes on the rampage with a gun and murders half a dozen people once every ten years, although, we’ve never had a school shooting.

It sounds idyllic.

But New Zealand is a post-Christian society. Going to church on Sunday is a minority activity, and Sunday morning has long since been taken over by children’s sport and café brunches. Prostitution is legal, and advertised in the entertainment section of the local newspaper, right beside the movies and the Garfield cartoon. We’re world leaders in enviable statistics such as teenage pregnancy.


Like many Kiwis, I haven’t just lived in New Zealand. I spend ten years living in London, where I worked in an office with people from all over Europe and Africa (and the occasional Australian). Some were Christians; most weren’t. All had different perspectives on life that have contributed to my own views, to a greater or lesser extent.

We’ve also travelled extensively, both as a couple and as a family. At last count, I’ve visited twenty countries (more, if you count Monaco, the Vatican, Luxembourg and Lichtenstein). And I’ve visited twenty US states . . . although I admit one was a drive-through where I didn’t get out of the car. I’ve met people on their own ground, talked to them about life, about faith. And learned.

These experiences combine to form a world view that’s wider than the tiny rural towns and non-Christian family I grew up in. It’s a world view that’s uniquely Kiwi: we are a young nation, a travelling nation, a nation of immigrants. A post-Christian nation. A nation of individuals who love sport and the outdoors. And a few strange people who love God. And books. Books which show God.

And that’s the Kiwi twist I hope to bring to my fiction. A slice of Kiwi life drizzled with a dash of humour and infused with a global Christian world view.