Foodie Down Under

In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a foodie. I know, foodie is a loaded term. It can imply anything from elitism to the corporate dumbing down of the Western world. In my case, all I mean to say is: I love to discover tastes and recreate them in my kitchen. And even more so while I’m on the road, traveling through New Zealand and Australia.

Shell Shock

Pegasus Bay oysters
Pegasus Bay oysters. Photo credit: Karen Kao

On Valentine’s Day 2020, Frans and I splurge on a gourmet lunch at the Pegasus Bay Winery. This is the appetizer: seasonal oysters local to this bend of the Canterbury coast on the South Island of New Zealand.

From the green-lipped mussels on the North Island to the rock lobster coves of Tasmania, we eat our weight in shellfish. For example, at the oyster bar off the Bruny Island Ferry. Their parking lot can accommodate busloads of foodie tourists.

The longer we stay in Tasmania, the more obvious it becomes that Covid-19 is wreaking havoc in the local economy. Fishermen can’t afford to take their boats out for rock lobsters not that Asian demand has plummeted. Our foodie pilgrimage to The Lobster Shack in Bicheno ends in failure.


Where there’s shellfish, there’s bound to be seaweed. Our cottage in Swansea looks out on the Tasman Sea. At high tide, the sound of the water lulls us to sleep. At low tide, there is an unfortunate stench in the air that arises from all that exposed seaweed.

I’m not enough of a foodie to know how to forage for my own seaweed salad. I need to consult the package of wakame I bought in Swansea to learn to speak seaweed. The wakame I use for ramen and poke bowls grows in the intertidal zone, where it likes to sit half submerged in the sea. I use kombu to make quick pickles. It grows 6-16 meters long on the cold ocean bed around Hokkaido.

The Bruny Baker
The Bruny Baker. Photo credit: Karen Kao

I think this was the same kind of kelp Mikey was trying to pull into the boat during the Pennicott Wilderness tour. Same shape, same cold water environment.

Karen Kao, Travel journal entry for 3 March 2020

While I may not know my hijiki from my wakame, I know an opportunity when I see it. I have no problem at all foraging for bread when found in the wilderness of Alonnah.

Fine dining

The true foodie goes out of her way to find awesome restaurants like Dier Makr in Hobart, named in honor of Led Zeppelin, according to the waiter. Or she lets her foodie friends guide the way to Cumulus in Melbourne.

Foodie goals
Foodie goals. Photo credit: Karen Kao

The rest of the time, this foodie haunts farmers markets, fishing boats and wine festivals in search of that perfect local ingredient. I’m glad to find this handy billboard. Now I have goals!

In Kaikoura, New Zealand and on Bruny Island in Tasmania, I’m in foodie heaven thanks to the gourmet kitchens on site. I can whip up my trusty seaweed salad or try to reverse engineer a delicious breakfast I ate at Ortolana in Auckland of toasted millet, macadamia nuts, yoghurt and berries. Cooking at home feels to me like a tiny bit of normalcy on a road otherwise filled with unknowns.

Now that I’m home in Amsterdam, I’m trying to recreate the tastes we had while on the road. And not just for myself!

In six weeks, I’ll be cooking dinner for 17. The menu is a foodie reprise of our 7 month trip around the world, from east to west and north to south.

  • A cold sesame/spinach salad that my mother taught me to make while we were in Taiwan,
  • A green papaya salad we ate all over Vietnam and Cambodia,
  • My version of Korean BBQ chicken cobbled together from multiple recipes from The New York Times,
  • Our new all-time favorite food from Japan — chawanmushi,
  • To cleanse the palate, a pineapple sorbet for Hawaii,
  • Lamb chops and Ottolenghi lentils in honor of New Zealand and,
  • Last but not least, a molten chocolate cake garnished with pepper berries I brought home from Australia.