New Zealand's rough West Coast hosts an annual food festival so disgustingly good, you have to experience it to believe it. Hunters, gatherers, farmers, families, thrill-seekers and voyeurs flock to the town of Hokitika for the most unusual local fare. Jennifer Morton remembers her day out at the Wildfoods Festival.
Weird or Wonderful?
New Zealand's south island is a magical place and there's no shortage of things to see or do. But when I found myself on the west coast in March, there was one event I knew I had to attend. Just a 30-minute drive from the Kingsgate Hotel Greymouth lies the historical mining town of Hokitika, home to the infamous Wildfoods Festival.
Huhu grub. Credit: Jennifer Morton
I can't say I've ever had a hankering for huhu grubs or cravings for crickets but the thought is intriguing. As I watch burly lumberjack types chop away at tree trunks in search of grubs, my heart quickens and my stomach turns. "They taste just like peanut butter," the bloke tells me with a smile. I wince and opt for the fried version and nibble on it like I'm a fussy two-year-old. However, there's something quite earthy about eating an insect; a nice way to get in touch with nature.
Next, I head over to the horse corral where the offering is 'stallion shots'. I don't kid myself into thinking that I will actually drink horse semen but I pop by the stall to grimace and watch in horror as people line up to have a go. Apparently, it's a great source of protein. I'll stick to chicken, thanks.
I'm five minutes late for the hot chilli eating contest but there's plenty of entertainment next door at Crouching Grasshopper. Crickets on toast? Grasshopper jelly shot? Or maybe a live, hopping one? Stall after stall, the crazy cuisine continues: sheep testicles, seagull eggs, pig ears, brain pate, duck heads, offal, worms, scorpions... It takes a brave soul and a tough tummy to sample these bizarre bites. Turns out, I'm not so brave or tough. Luckily, there are many vendors selling dishes more suited to my sensitive palate.
Pikopiko (fern shoots) and mussels. Credit: Jennifer Morton
I may not have embraced the huhu but there is a garden creature that I do enjoy: snails. Served plain in the shell, they're not as tasty as the garlic-drenched escargot served in Paris, but they're not bad. I waft from vendor to vendor, sampling roast beef bread rolls, spiced sausages, mussels, and a West Coast delicacy: whitebait. Served in an egg-based patty, dozens of tiny fish eyes stare at me with every bite.
Fudge, chocolate, liquorice, ice cream, cheesecake, waffles, and churros send sugary scents through the autumn air. There's no shortage of tasty things to eat. And to wash it all down, there's everything from beer to wine to rhubarb champagne and even tongue-numbing kava. One thing’s for sure, you won't be deprived.
Colostrum desserts. Credit: Jennifer Morton
This full-day event is not just about the food; it's about the fun. Participants are encouraged to wear their best fancy-dress costumes for a chance to win prizes. Bands, cooking demos and special performers entertain in three areas. In 2012, there was even a wedding on the main stage. The festival is a family-friendly event so bring everyone along: This year’s featured a kids' corner with a bouncy castle, an animal park, and balloon sculpting.
Salty seafood, earthy insects, rugged roasts, wild flesh, delish desserts, floral wines, and hoppy brew served up with wit and a smile sum up New Zealand's West Coast perfectly. The countdown to the 2017 Wildfoods Festival, which will be held on 11 March, is already underway. So don't be disappointed, book your hotel, car and flights well in advance of this kooky Kiwi classic.