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Our abusive attitude to Italian cuisine

A recent culinary encounter has raised the question of whether New Zealand has finally gone too far in its enthusiasm for creating unholy hybrids of Italian food and more traditional Kiwi fare.

A perpetually hungry journalist will often require a nutritious repast during the day by way of a trip to a nearby establishment that offers food, and in this particular case – largely for reasons of proximity – this often means a short walk to the Z Energy fuel station on Masterton’s Chapel St.

Upon entering the store, one is met with a glistening row of shiny tin cans filled with all manner of questionable chemicals , along with – much more importantly – and a pie cabinet that emits a tantalising aroma obviously calibrated to pull the peckish punter ever closer.

The cabinet contains many pies that are inarguable Kiwi classics, including mince and cheese, steak and cheese, steak and bacon, and – wait, what now?!? – spag bol and cheese.

Yes, that’s correct – a pie filled with spaghetti bolognese for that extra carbohydrate hit.

Has this country finally gone mad? In what way can such an outlandish abomination be considered a “classic”?

Having grown up in New Zealand and consumed hundreds – if not thousands – of pies, this writer is confident that, up to this point anyway, this filling wasn’t even considered an anomaly, let alone some kind of standard.

In the interests of journalistic inquiry, a brief investigation consisting of a polite interrogation of a staff member about in what way this pastry product could be counted as a “classic” was instantly launched.

“It is classic because of its round shape,” he instantly replied, indicating he might have a bright future in marketing.

“It is quite popular, and we order it when it’s available.”

It’s almost as though it’s not the first time he’d been asked such a question and, while the adroit sales pitch can be appreciated, this writer nonetheless fundamentally disagrees with even entertaining the thought that this qualifies as “classic”.

Now, perhaps this could all go unremarked if it was just a one-off offence, but that would be to ignore NZ’s long dalliance with tinned ‘spaghetti’ in tomato sauce and that infamous occasion that our former prime minister, Bill English, added this insult to Italians to a pizza in an attempt to “connect with younger voters”.

In his Facebook post back in 2017, English declared that he’d “cooked dinner for the family last night” and urged people to “‘like’ if you agree with tinned spaghetti on pizza!”

At the time, one NZ media outlet approached one of Auckland’s best award-winning Italian chefs, Sergio Maglione, for his critique of English’s creation.

“You can’t even call it pizza,” he noted with great restraint.

“It’s more like round toast with stuff on top.”

And then there’s the way some Kiwis insist on putting pineapple on pizza, not to mention a food truck spotted in the wild several years ago that was serving what was described as “spaghetti tacos”.

Along with feeling a deep sympathy for Italians in the face of such sacrilege, the question has to be asked: what did they do to deserve this?

Having been lucky enough to visit Italy, this writer can assure you that real Italian food is absolutely splendido – and nothing like our local adaptations.

That said, the spag bol and cheese pie was actually tasty enough to inspire a repeat sampling – but please don’t call it a “classic”.

Freddie Wilkie
Freddie Wilkie
Freddie Wilkie is a journalist at the Wairarapa Times-Age; originally moving from Christchurch, he is interested in housing stories as well as covering emergencies and crime.

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