In the last few years, Auckland has observed the emergence of many new central/southern American eating joints - welcome additions to our perpetually growing and varied smorgasbord of cultural culinary experiences. This regional gastronomic explosion has become the latest trendy thing to explore. It’s not really something that you can put your finger on; the fad celebrates traditional southern-to-central American food of every variety – Cajun, Creole, Barbeque, Tex-Mex, and regular ol’ Mexican.
The diversification of American cuisine has been a long and interesting process. Early colonizing and the mixing of multiple different ethnic groups culminated in completely new cooking styles. Also over time, as American chefs adapted pre-existing foreign recipes into commonly accessible food, previously international dishes became iconic ‘All-American’ options – hamburgers from Germany are a good example, alongside Italian pizza.
New Zealand hasn’t really been exposed to any of this kind of dining in any truly authentic way over the last few decades. Of course, we all remember Lone Star, the chain restaurant where we held our thirteenth birthday parties and hopefully left with a complimentary t-shirt emblazoned with the badass cowboy spur on the back. Those guys were pioneers in bringing a taste of American culture to New Zealand’s shores.
That Cowboy was a Badass - Image Cred // Lone Star
Now however, look at the choices we have available. To name a mere few: Bandita in Kingsland, Cajun Kitchen in Elliot Stables, Dos Amigos in Mission Bay (represent), Mexico, Orleans, and Miss Clawdy. Also, Burger Burger, Best Ugly Bagels and the diner-styled Federal Delicatessen in the CBD. Not to mention the current Mexicali Fresh expansion, or the fact that many stereotypical cafes and restaurants have adopted Nachos and Burritos into their own menus to capture consumers who suddenly and subconsciously crave this kind of fix.
Chicken Waffle from Orleans – Photo Cred // Britomart Hospitality
Miss Clawdy – Photo Cred // Concrete Playground
I sought to understand what’s inspired this emerging craze, and so commenced my attempt at investigative journalism (and subsequently some intuitive assumptions). It’s pretty common knowledge that American-New Zealand relations are the best that they have been in recent times. John Key has tactfully aligned our nation with the world’s biggest superpower, elevating our status to respected international co-operator. We’ve moved on from past nuclear power disputes and instead, opened our lives to US spy agencies. I’m digressing – this isn’t political satire, but heck, John’s even been playing golf with Obama in Hawaii! New Zealand has recently been rated highest in worldwide freedom trumping the states at number seven, which probably has not only irked the inhabitants of the ‘Land of the Free’, but also encouraged them to come over to see first hand exactly how we live. This, combined with the way that our international reputation as a beautiful, nurturing country has been promoted through the likes of Peter Jackson and Lorde, has probably contributed to American tourism growing exponentially, now generating our economy 727 million NZD annually.
Our boy Max mid Hi 5 with the President – Photo Cred // Dailymail UK
Running parallel to all of this, New Zealand has been continually growing, and in her modernisation has become far more culturally “Americanized”. Media in all forms has ensured this progression; for a while there we were even running a Kardashian style reality TV show on the Ridges – quality programming.
Sally & Jaime doing their thing – Photo Cred // 3 News
But, how do we explain the actual food phenomena? In their hard times with the recession over the last few years, it seems Americans have fallen back on the reassuring quality of easy, satisfying cooking. Traditional, hearty food joints erupted across the continent. New Zealand, riding the bow wave of American trendsetting, seemed to quickly cotton on to this development. Therefore I hypothesize two things. Firstly, Americans looked across the pacific ditch and realized the opportunity to exploit the gaping hole in our own dining network, and secondly, Kiwi gastro entrepreneurs quick to keep up with fad consumerism - and fresh from international explorations - started up the aforementioned dining destinations. Thus, the American absence has begun to be filled.
Honestly, I have a partly unhealthy obsession with food from the Americas. I deem it somewhat unhealthy for two reasons. Firstly because up until recently, the majority of it is has been styled as fast food options. And secondly, because I work at a Mexican restaurant, I am able to enjoy it pretty much all the time. Life is all about balance, but somehow I find myself only wanting to continue to eat at the abundance of eateries showcasing American cuisine because it’s just so damn good. First world problems, right? Fortunately however, many of the new restaurants have introduced a refreshing change with a more up-market, healthy approach to this kind of cuisine. So now not only is it tasty – it’s also good for you. A total win-win situation, which I have been proudly taking advantage of. And for those of you who really couldn’t care about how many calories or saturated fats or what ever it may be that you put into your body – don’t worry – the authenticity of the American product is not to be disparaged and you can still order up your favourite cheesy delicacy.
Mexico – Photo Cred // Metro Eats
It’s an exciting time to be witnessing the advances in the Auckland dining scene. With the huge numbers of immigrants moving to our country each year, they have predictably had a significant impact upon our culture – we are in fact our own version of a melting pot; a global microcosm that has to cater for all of our international residents. We can go out to dinner and choose from Chinese, Indian, Thai, Tapas, Croatian – you get the picture. The cultural boundaries are being blurred; traditional customs are being reinvented; and fusion cooking seems to be the way of the future – the blending of cuisines from different societies. Unprecedented experimentation, which I am sure, will continue to delight our taste buds for years to come.
So, what would my advice to you be? Y’all need to get out there! Hunt down the generously undisclosed restaurant names I included before, and experience the best Yankee dining testaments that Auckland has to offer - at the height of their demonstration.
Title Image - Federal Delicatessen - Cred // Heart of the City