I have a taste for things savoury, so it’s nice to enjoy the occasional burger and chips. I know it’s becoming frowned upon, but the long life that the wowsers would have us benefit from would be dull, boring and moribund if we couldn’t indulge ourselves occasionally. All things in moderation, as the saying goes.
I’m old enough to remember the pre-multi-national days when burgers were made to local designs and were so erratically prepared that the consistent assembly-line product introduced by McDonalds in the 1970s seemed very attractive. In fact, the idea of fast food pioneered by the hamburger chains was a much-needed stage in New Zealand’s gastronomic evolution. It showed how it was possible to achieve a consistent product that was edible, if lacking pizazz. The downside was, of course, the virtual extinction of the local hamburger bar, such a feature of the 1970s and early 80s.
These hamburger bars churned out burgers based around a beef pattie with various trimmings such as lettuce or coleslaw, onion, beetroot, cheese, tomato and so on. The basic beef concept could be altered by the addition of bacon, an egg, pineapple, but they were almost exclusively beef – chicken was less common and hardly ever used. The beef patties varied greatly in quality from minced beef to the dreadful processed meat that was more akin to a fried slice of luncheon sausage.
The arrival of the burger chains brought consistency at the cost of originality in content, and many of us soon bemoaned the absence of beetroot, fried onions and other toothsome contents.
The modern day burger is a completely different product. Whilst adhering loosely to the original concept of a hot filling between thick slabs of bread, they really fall into two categories – the eat on the run burger contained inside a bread bun, and the knife and fork variety with the hot filling served on a slab of bread with another slab providing decoration on top. The latter category are impossible to eat by hand, and would defy even the legendary John Belushi who stunningly managed to “morph” a hamburger into his face before reaching the canteen checkout in “Animal House” back in 1978!
These wonderful modern creations are served in pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants nation-wide nowadays. The recipes for the filling are often locally prepared, and the flavours will vary according to local produce available at the time. The ratio of meat to vegetable content is now much reduced, with less of the contents fried to achieve the requirement for a hot filling. Indeed if the word burger implies “hot and greasy” to some minds, then these new creations could easily be called hot sandwiches.
Beef is no longer the only meat component, with chicken, pork and lamb now being offered. It has taken years since Mike Moore’s “lamb burgers” were promoted for them to become a reality, but their slow appearance as diced or sliced lamb is probably somewhat different from a ground lamb pattie that was the vogue when he was pushing the idea.
Over the years, I have enjoyed many different burgers – so much so that they have become a bit of a familiar ritual when visiting certain places.
The Park Cafe at Marahau in Tasman Bay began offering home made burgers from a gipsy-style wagon near the entrance to the Abel Tasman National Park many years ago. It rapidly became a ritual for one of the beach walks to be capped off by stopping for a burger and blueberry smoothie at the cafe on the return leg. In the early days, seating was a ramshackle affair beside the caravan and around the heaped up herb garden in the middle. As the burgers were made, the cook would nip out and select various herbs from the garden while we watched. The smell of the burgers being prepared was accompanied by the frozen blueberries being “rrrrred” in the blender before the creamy yoghurt was added for a final spin. The smoothie was a meal in it itself, but guilty consciences over the addition of the savoury burger could be assuaged by the knowledge that we’d already walked off half of it!
It was pleasant to sit in the sun on the edge of the Marahau River estuary, watching the occasional tramper and walker pass by. Extra energy was expended by waving at the wasps who also had a taste for park burger, thereby further easing our consciences. The peace and quiet was a far cry from today’s cacophony of tractors, trucks, buses and jet skis that drown out the sound of cicadas and the hollow clunk of oars against the sides of the kayaks. Even so, the bellbirds still sing out from the bush early in the morning for those awake enough to listen.
At meetings of the Galactic Senate, which convenes irregularly at a bach at Marahau, the price of the Park Cafe’s burger and blueberry smoothie is analysed as solemnly as the price of a pint of milk and a loaf of bread was used as a benchmark for New Zealand’s economy at the end of last century.
Tawa has a chequered history for eateries and take-aways, with the locals often not properly supporting local establishments but buying “out-of-area.” Why this should be so is beyond me. Burger Wisconsin only lasted a year on the Main Road in the 1990s, and it has taken some time for other establishments (apart from the fish and chip bars) to establish themselves. Endzone offer a tasty lunchtime burger and have some nice wines to chase it down with on a summer’s day.
Just recently, I decided to join some friends for a cleansing ale at The Roundabout, our newest local pub. I’ve been there before, but they offered only bar snacks at first, and later visits didn’t coincide with a mealtime so that I could sample their expanded menu.
This visit was the perfect opportunity to sample some of their food. The menu was highly entertaining, being a fine example of the spelling mistooks and grammatical era’s which are becoming more commonplace in New Zealand. But don’t let that put you off the munchables.
The beef burger’s live up to the promise of their possessive name, and will occupy your full attention when they arrive. Slices of marinated beef are served with caramelised capsicum and onion (and a wisp of greenery) on a thick slab of bread. If I was better ejacated I would recognise the type of bread from its plum crust underneath its floury dusting. But I don’t. What I can say is that the melted cheese clung to the top slab tenaciously so that it was able to be enjoyed with alternating heaps of veges or slices of beef. The sauce had a distinctly tart fruity flavour. The accompanying chips were crisp and tasty. It was a satisfying and filling meal at a good price. Well done!
If, like me, you have a hobbit’s disposition and like to indulge in the ancient art of “filling the corners” then you can start chasing the toasted pine nuts which always escape the first attack on the meal. But choose your dining companions carefully. If you attack the toasty ones too aggressively, they tend skitter away, and your mates end up getting sprayed with buckshot!
Now all we need to do is get The Roundabout to stock some decent beer like Mac’s Gold and everyone will be happy. But I’ll avoid that argument as it leads to flame wars and discussion of free and bonded ale houses. Perhaps, like the burger industry which saw market domination by burger chains being slowly eroded by a change in eating habits and burger styles, the domination of breweries and their bonded houses will soon be eroded by a new market trend toward free houses that can address their customers’ preferences. We live in hope.