There might have been a time when most Kiwis sat down to meat and three vege, but different diets, cultures and lifestyles have changed all that. Sarah Catherall visited four households at dinner time.
Gluten-free and on the go
At 7pm, Kendal Morgan-Marshall is not long home from picking up her daughter, Luca, from her evening hip-hop class. Standing in her small kitchen, she chops onion and capsicum for the salad, tossing it into a bowl with lettuce. Tonight’s meal of a gluten-free, vegetarian quiche made from yesterday’s leftovers is warming in the oven. The super-organised working mother made the quiche the night before, once she finished dinner.
The 41-year-old was diagnosed with coeliac disease 16 years ago. When Luca was 2-and-a-half years old, she was also diagnosed. Their condition is so bad that if either ingests a tiny amount of gluten, they become severely ill. Morgan-Marshall once ended up on a drip from severe vomiting and diarrhoea after accidentally eating gluten.
The males in the household eat gluten, but the main meal of the day is always gluten-free, partly out of convenience. “We are both so in tune with our bodies, what food fuels us and what food makes us feel good. As long as you eat fruit and vegetables, which we all should eat more of, we are fine,” she says.
As she prepares the family meal, Guy is in the living room drawing a picture, and Luca is upstairs in her bedroom. Jay comes in from his building job. The parents share the household chores: first one home prepares dinner and the next day’s lunchboxes, and sorts out any washing.
Sitting at the kitchen table for their meal is a daily ritual, when they talk about their day, sharing the highs and lows. Guy caught a 24-pound kingfish while he was out on the boat with his father the day before. It is in the fridge for tomorrow’s evening meal.
Once dinner is over, Jay starts scraping the scraps into the compost bin, and stacks the dishwasher. Quiche leftovers will be Luca and her mother’s lunch the next day. “I get so nervous dining out. I’ve been caught out in a cafe with people bringing out bread with gluten. They don’t realise I’ll be wiped out for the whole next day,” Morgan-Marshall says.
The Morgan-Marshall family schedule seems frantically busy, but they are very chilled. The kids bound off to their rooms after they’ve cleaned up too, and their mother begins getting the bags ready for the next day, for tennis, swimming and school.
“I don’t like to use the word ‘busy’. We’ve chosen the things we want to be involved with in our lives, and we have lots of chill-out, free time at the weekends,” she smiles.
Food is the link to family
Zahabia Rehan flips a piece of roti in her manicured hands, then sprinkles it with flour. Her husband, Rehan Barbador, is not long home from his accounting job, and he jiggles Shanzay to keep her entertained while his wife cooks. Nehaal watches television in the room behind the kitchen.
There are a few standard customs observed tonight in this Pakistani household: Zahabia typically cooks the evening meal, and tonight’s chicken karahi (a spicy chicken meal) is halal as they are Muslim. They don’t drink alcohol and will drink chai tea together after dinner.
Zahabia, who learned to cook from her mother in Karachi, likes to make Pakistani food to keep her family connected to its culture. Garlic and ginger smells waft through the kitchen. Typical Pakistani dishes take three to four hours to cook, and the busy mother of two has been preparing tonight’s meal since 6pm.
Zahabia (who took her husband’s first name as her surname when she married him, which is Pakistani custom) sprinkles water on the roti and turns it upside down over the flame to cook it.
“This dish takes less time to cook than some of the other Pakistani dishes. I can’t cook in small quantities, so my husband takes a lot of leftovers to work,” she smiles. Says her husband: “Food is our way of socialising because we don’t drink. We gather together around food.”
Nehaal helps her mother finish the rotis, putting butter over the bread and sprinkling them with garlic and coriander. “It’s very rich and very fattening,” Zahabia laughs.
The meal is finally ready at 7.30pm – 1½ hours after Zahabia stepped into the kitchen – when the family sits around the table, chatting about their day. In Dubai, they ate out every night, as it was cheaper than cooking at home.
Shanzay sucks on a lemon and tiny pieces of roti her mother feeds her. The others twist pieces of roti, then scoop up pieces of chicken and dip them into yoghurt. Aside from serving spoons, there’s not a single piece of cutlery on the table, and they also eat any rice with their fingers.
“It’s important to us to eat dinner together. Breakfast here is chaos as everyone is trying to get out the door,” Zahabia says.
The spicy dish is as warm as this family. Asking us to join them for dinner, they seem delighted about sharing their culture and their food with others.
A Colombian-Kiwi combo
Anayibi Loboa fries crumbed chicken in a pan, making a dish she learned from her mother while growing up in Colombia. Cooking the family dinner tonight, her stove and kitchen island have a jaw-dropping view of the sweep of Lyall Bay and Wellington Airport below.
Monday is a quiet night in this Colombian-Kiwi household. On some evenings, the family don’t eat until past 10pm as the children’s after-school activities can stretch long into the night. At weekends, when Loboa is often singing and performing, the family eat takeaways, or “a picnic” in front of the television.
As her mother prepares dinner, Catalina lies on the couch in the adjoining living room, tapping her smartphone, while Marco looks on. The family pooch, Skipper, hovers close by.
As the main cook of the house, many of the Colombian recipes the singer and beauty therapist has mastered were handed down from her mother, who used to say: “Come with me and learn.”
The smell of garlic wafting through the kitchen is a staple, along with many of the ingredients she now struggles to get in Wellington, such as green bananas, and tamales (served in the inside of a banana leaf), which her kids love.
Loboa’s husband talks about his cooking nights, when he loves firing up the barbecue on the balcony to cook sausages and chicken drumsticks. Tomorrow night, though, he will stay at the helicopter base as he is on night shift. For two nights out of every eight, Loboa is a solo mother.
Calling out in Spanish, the kids come into the kitchen to help. “Gracias,” Loboa says as Catalina begins peeling a tomato for the salad. The tween cuts her finger, dashing to the pantry to find a plaster.
Last night, the family ate the leftovers of a chicken stir-fry which Catalina made the night before. In this cross-cultural household, the children admit some of their favourite dishes are Western ones – spaghetti bolognese and their mother’s lasagne; they also devour her empanadas.
“Please don’t put tomato sauce on the table,” Loboa calls out, as they all help set it. Sitting down, they chat over dinner, alternating between English and Spanish. There are a few family dinner rules: no devices at the table and ignore the dog.
“Buen brouecho,” Loboa smiles, as the family eat their simple dinner of pollo apandao, papas rellenas (stuffed potatoes) and avocado salad. Their Colombian-Kiwi meal reflects the fact that this family moves fluidly between both cultures.
Gregarious and gourmet
At 6pm on a Thursday night, the Wakefield St flat is already buzzing. Robbie Handcock sips from a glass of red wine as he stirs leeks and onion in one pot, turning over sausage ragu in the other pan to stop it sticking. Elisabeth Pointon is not long home from her paid job at a luxury car yard, although her passion – like all those living here – is art.
The 27-year-old is the other main cook in this six-person flat, although Handcock loves cooking as a way of chilling out at the end of the day. “My mother is Filipina and she taught me a lot,” he grins as he stirs a pot.
In 2020, it’s unusual to find housemates who eat regularly together and spend so much time together. Christopher Ulutupu, who has lived in the flat for eight years, has always encouraged these weeknight flat dinners to bring the flatmates together. Four of the six flatmates are gay. Laughs Pointon: “We were desperate so we had to take on hets.”
Tonight, Haz Forrester’s sister, Georgette Brown, 32, an artist, and her partner, Laura Duffy, 26, also an artist, have come for dinner. The door bangs open, and it’s the sixth flattie, Kauri Hawkins, 24, who heads to his room to bed.
Most nights go like this: the flatmates meet at the Tasting Room for happy hour drinks, then come back here, up two flights of stairs to their top-level flat with a bird’s-eye view of Chaffers New World. It’s handy being across the road from the supermarket; someone is often sent to run across for another bottle of wine or an onion, or whatever is needed for dinner bubbling on the stove.
The warehouse space is lined with their own artworks. Handcock laughs as he tells us that it’s all for sale if anyone is interested. The flat regularly hosts fundraisers for Play_Station, the gallery for emerging artists in Willis St with which both Handcock and Lawson are associated.
The flatties chat and laugh, filling up empty glasses with more wine as the food on the stove bubbles and simmers.
Dinner is ready. Handcock ladles creamy polenta on to nine mismatched plates (his Swiss friend Richard Hoechner has also arrived for dinner), topping each smooth pile with a mound of ragu. Pointon is a vegetarian, so he puts a dollop of sauteed leak on top of hers. “Cheers,” they say, clinking glasses. Pointon serves salad from a pot rather than a salad bowl. The salty focaccia bread they made last night is warm from the oven.
As they tuck in, they start their nightly ritual: sharing their day’s “peaks” and “pits”. Ulutupu was disappointed with a phone meeting; Brown’s “peak” is coming here for dinner. At one point, Handcock interrupts, and Pointon tells him: “Be quiet and listen”.
After dinner, the flatmates and their guests have a gin rummy tournament (Handcock wins), followed by dancing. Over the evening, we spied just one person staring at a device – Haz Forrester, who sipped his wine and scrolled through his phone.
The energy here is infectious. It feels like one big happy family, without all the dramas of sibling rivalry.