A recent addition to the bar menus of most New Zealand cities, it seems Kiwis have gone a bit mental for small plates of food that don’t quite fill you up, but somehow end up costing just as much as a regular meal.
Not to be confused with the original Spanish tapas, which is usually a plate of over-salted patates braves or slices of roadkill chorizo, given away free in bars to keep the customers drinking, and ward off the flies.
New Zealand has, for some years now, taken to international cuisine with an almost religious zeal. Perhaps, as a well travelled bunch, it reminds us fondly of the backpacking trips of our youth – sleeping 4 to a bunk in the flea ridden youth hostels of the Czech Republic, or sitting just outside a posh restaurant in France, eating ham sandwiches, from a plastic bag, bought at an Aldi on the edge of town.
More likely it is part of our overall need for positive identity reinforcement; eating fancy foreign food at home makes us feel that New Zealand is slightly less of a ‘hokey nowhere-hole on the arse end of the earth’. It also allows us to express such self-congratulatory statements, when out with friends, as… “I’ve eaten Udon in Nagasaki, and I have to say, the noodles at Don Don Rikka on K Road are much better than those in Japan!”. A statement which both affirms your unquestionable support of New Zealand culture, while also gently reminding those dining with you that you are more widely travelled than them (an important competitive pursuit in Kiwi society).
And so it is that New Zealand does (or at least believes it does) Thai food better than the Thais, Sushi better than the Japanese, French cuisine better than the French, and Asian-Fusion better than, well, the Asian Fusions.
But this new phenomenon of Tapas has really got the restaurateurs wringing their hands at the cash register. Meager, entree sized dishes, sold at nearly mains prices under the hands-round-the-word liberal notion of ‘plates to share with friends‘, which inevitably just means everyone else picking at your lamb skewers, while you politely decline any of their anchovy custard tarts, and so end the meal hungry, and slightly disappointed.
But Kiwis will never object to the notion of Tapas, because this would be seen as being disrespectful to the whole core New Zealand concept of reworking foreign dishes, which is practically treasonous, and probably slightly racist too.
And so, for now, we are now stuck with Tapas.