Then through the 90s the world sent us greater and greater fast-food choices: Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian (if you count Pizza Hut), Americana mega serves of French fries. As the century turned, take- out got fancy, gourmet burgers and exotic pizzas reigned.
Through the early part of this century we moved culturally from take-out to eat- in, as cooking shows dominated TV and home-cooks labelled themselves ‘foodies’. The treat of takeaways became more about convenience, busy people using the take-out option only as a must; hand-made pasta and crock-pot ragout going on the back-burner in favour of more time at the coal face.
Now, 150 years after Western taste buds first enjoyed fi sh‘n’chips, where are we going with our takeaway cuisine? What is the future of pret-a-manger?
Two contrasting trends are happening in unison: a desire for slow-cooked whole- foods; and a need for instant heat-and-eat gratifi cation. A whole lot of satisfaction for as little input as possible. On top of that, the guilt of takeaways has robbed us of the pleasure; it seems now even our once- weekly easy, greasy treat needs to at least contain a vege or two.
There are many companies in New Zealand, from boutique and niche to up-market general grocery stores, that deliver yuppy desires with ‘ye olde shoppe’ aesthetics. In the main centres, places like Farro Fresh, Nosh and The Good Grocer are combining new fangled tech with old fashioned charm: yes, there’s an enticing website, but also a promise that the real thing is even more bountiful.
One answer in the Bay has been Bellatino’s, who balance their whole food focus with grab and go options. Now Black Barn has opened a deli selling chutneys and pickles, but also slow-cooked meals and dishes from the BB Bistro. Sure the beef cheeks or the pork belly took hours to prepare, but after only ten minutes of hard work from you, you’ll be tucking into restaurant-grade cuisine.
A more work-a-day option is Hastings’ MYLK. Owner and chef Kristy Isaacson calls her offering “convenience without guilt” and “just like Mum used to make”. Dishes include mac and cheese, lamb curry, chicken pot pie, salmon pasta bake. A family can be fed for around $20 with the customer making their own sides. The day’s choices are posted on Facebook, message to order, then pick it up on your way home.
“It’s quick and easy but it’s all made from scratch. There’s no wastage, no overeating, and no struggle with knowing what to cook,” explains Kristy. “People feel under pressure to be creative in the kitchen, they over complicate cooking and try to do too much rather than just keeping it simple.”
To understand the evolution of fast-food, you have to get inside the mind-set of the consumer. No longer driven by the ‘treat’ of takeaways, they are instead looking for a solution to indecision.
“They are saying, ‘Give me something that means I don’t have to think about what to cook’,” says Paul Greaney. “They are the kids of the baby boomers, who didn’t spend time learning to cook, so they don’t want to think about it and they want to learn new skills.”
When My Food Bag launched in Hawke’s Bay 18 months ago, Paul (who is The Village Butcher in Havelock North) took no notice. That is until he discovered he was losing 100 customers a week to MFB and the ilk. Back-of-the-butcher’s-paper calculations told him $5 million a year is leaving the Bay in food purchases thanks to this new fast-food trend. With that as motivation Paul hooked up with caterer Kate Lester to launch On Your Plate.
The model is similar to MFB – book a box of food online, it arrives with everything you need to cook for the week including recipes, it provides healthy meals, motivation and inspiration all in one tidy parcel. And, the ingredients are all sourced in Hawke’s Bay. From the cheese, to the milk, to the meat and the veges, Hawke’s Bay is the hero of every dish. Money spent with On Your Plate stays in the Bay economy to circulate multiple times. Meals average out at about $9 per person.
This new wave of fast-food does the thinking and the shopping, leaving you to sail in at the finish line and take all the glory. “When we deliver the box it’s like we’ve gone shopping for you, but to the Farmers Market,” says Kate.
On Your Plate began deliveries in September 2016 with Kate’s mum their first customer. They had 54 in total that first week. Their weekly total is now around 100. And to meet that demand they’ve created six part-time jobs.
“It’s fast in the way it comes to you, but it’s healthy and because you make it you can take pride in it,” says Kate. “People now know how good food can taste, so traditional takeaways just don’t cut it anymore.”
Mum Jess Scott has tried the full gamut of instant fare, predominantly due to the arrival of baby Paddy in September. From good wishers bearing casserole dishes to gourmet food bags to grab and go, heat and eat type meals Jess has tried the lot.
“I hate having to think about what to cook, it’s that mundane Mum thing: everyone’s favourite is spaghetti bolognese but it gets so boring,” she says. Other factors in embracing this fast-food revolution are value for money, taste and nutrition, and reassuringly a commitment to supporting the little guy over “big empires”.
“Takeaways aren’t a treat anymore, they are a convenience, we go out to cafes, we eat at restaurants, there’s so much choice. Eating a decent meal in the comfort of our own home, when we haven’t had to think too much about it, that’s luxury,” Jess says.
Hard habit to break
Some traditions are just too entrenched to ever change. Curry Night is still a must-do in many people’s weekly routine.
Even those using a scheme like My Food Bag can’t give up their regular hit of Indian, the most popular take-out in our BayBuzz survey. Kurian Madappattu, manager at Namaskar in Havelock North, says, if anything, a regular takeaway curry has grown in popularity.
“In the past two years it’s become more and more popular. We have our regulars who come every Friday or Saturday night, and never miss a week!” The most popular curry at Namaskar is butter chicken, which makes up half of all curries sold.