Day 87: Pies and the Bewildered American

I was in a meeting a few weeks after moving to New Zealand, discussing some sort of issue with my co-workers around design. Someone tried to make a point and launched into an analogy about baking a pie. I jumped on the analogy and started adding toppings to the pie including sprinkles and whipped cream and what-not and then I looked around the room and saw confused faces that slowly turned into smirks before I realized that I had just put imaginary sugar sprinkles on what started off as an imaginary meat pie.

Pie to an American is just about always sweet. But pie to a Kiwi is usually savory. There are sweet pies, but the ‘norm’ is definitely savory. The traditional Kiwi pie is round and about the size of your hand with a nice crust on the top, bottom and sides and a meat and gravy filling. The NZ Herald had a story about NZ pies and said “only Americans are bewildered at the idea of a meat-filled pie.” It seems there’s some truth to that.

In NZ, you can find savory pies just about everywhere – fuel stations, convenience stores, grocery stores, delis, etc. as a quick and easy takeaway (to go) meal. They can also usually be found in nicer restaurants with a twist such as a pie on top of mashed potatoes with a side salad. The most common flavors are mince (ground beef) and steak but you’ll also find them with chicken, fish, vegetables, bacon and eggs, etc.

Wikipedia says that New Zealanders eat about 15 pies per year but that seems like a small number to me. One of the first fast food places in New Zealand was called Georgie Pie – their pies were batch made and frozen and then heated in the restaurants. Georgie Pie eventually was bought by McDonalds and now McDonalds sells steak and cheese pies as well as chicken pies with the Georgie Pie label at its New Zealand restaurants. They are surprisingly good.

Most Kiwis consume their pies with a bit of tomato sauce (pronounced tah-MAH-to of course). In takeaway places, this is often found in a little single-use container next to the pie counter. In restaurants and delis, tomato sauce is often found in a round red plastic dispenser that looks like a tomato. Tomato sauce isn’t consistent here and while it is similar to American ketchup, it is more vinegary to me. Many critics will complain that tomato sauce is only needed if the pie isn’t any good!

If you’re visiting the country and want to find some of the best pies, check out the 2016 best pie award winners. The awards for 2016 went to a variety of places all over New Zealand including grocery stores, cafes, and bakeries in Hawke’s Bay, Petone, New Plymouth, Auckland, Ngaruwahia, Thames, Taupo, Queenstown, Rotorua, Havelock North, Riwaka, Timaru, Te Kuiti, and Tauranga. The best pie in New Zealand award for 2016 went to a bacon and egg pie from Patrick’s Gold Star Bakery in Tauranga.

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