By Cam Lucadou-Wells
You could say that much of NZ Street Food’s roaring trade belongs to a line of homesick Kiwi stomachs.
But the Dandenong Market outlet is also a pit-stop for the curious. No other food outlet in the South East offers a hangi straight out of a steaming oven.
Hangi, a Maori cooking tradition, is the definition of slow-cooking.
Traditionally, it is a combination of meat, cabbage and spuds cooked under hot stones in a pit in the ground. There the food stays for hours, cooking moist and tender in a combination of steam and smoke.
Owner Jae Tuhi, a carpenter by trade, designed his own above-land hangi oven, suitable for the kitchen.
He prefers his hangi of chicken, lamb, potatoes topped with thyme stuffing to stew in foil-wrapped juices for up to eight hours. The longer, the better he says.
By the end, the flavours of each ingredient are absorbed into the other.
It’s a treat Mr Tuhi looks forward to every Friday night. Though customers are keen for it anytime, including as a hearty reviver early Saturday and Sunday mornings.
The business started in a food truck in 2015, gained a cult following and has now become a Dandenong fixture.
Cooking for large numbers of people was something Mr Tuhi grew up with.
It’s a tradition, like his Maori carvings, that he wants to keep alive in the South East.
“A lot of the younger ones don’t get to see our culture.
“I love it. It’s a passion.”
NZ Street Food’s menu includes some other New Zealand favourites – deep fried bread buns filled with hangi-cooked pulled pork.
The fried bread is like a donut, but not so sweet.
“As soon as our people see fried food, they jump on it,” Mr Tuhi said.
Also steamed in the hangi is a sweet brown-sugar pudding topped in custard.
NZ Street Food also imports seafood from the homeland – such as smoked snapper, as well as fresh abalone (paua) , sea urchin (kina) and mussels.
It stocks ‘home-grown’ confectionery , chips and other packaged foods, such as L&P soft drink, Rashuns, Munchos and Watties tomato sauce.