When I was growing up New Zealand didn’t have the café buzz or dynamic culinary scene that it has today. Think more traditional, meat and three vege style and definitely not adventurous, it was more “English” in its influence, with cups of tea and scones and a bit on the safe side.
I still remember finding what I thought was the first “good café” in Nelson where I am from. It was called The Chez Elco. Most of the good restaurants and food industries were established by European immigrants as was the Chez. The first time I walked into that café and smelt the amazing café smells and heard the espresso machine steaming the milk, I knew this was cool. I remember going straight for the double macchiato on the menu as it sounded so exotic and grown-up, then nearly choking with the dark bitter extremely overpowering taste, feeling embarrassed and obliged to finish the tiny expensive little drink or appearing terribly unsophisticated.
It was a shaky coffee beginning for me, but one I hear is familiar to many. I genuinely spent years believing coffee was supposed to taste burnt and bitter. But I do remember more fondly the amazing Chez café display cabinet, which was heavily influenced by the Dutch owner, visually appealing with delicious cakes and tarts, cookies, and slices.
When I moved out of my family home, I was pretty young and not that savvy at cooking (understatement). Food was more for sustenance than pleasure, I would not have dreamt of having friends over for dinner or anything remotely resembling a meal; and I definitely wasn’t at all adventurous. But slowly a switch was turned on, and I realised there was a world of new spices and flavours on top of amazing cuisines out there to explore. Like many young New Zealanders, I eventually saved up enough money to travel and spent 18 months backpacking through South East Asia. It was on a budget but the food was incredible. This cuisine is still a favourite of mine now.
Someone gifted me the infamous “Edmonds Cookbook” which moved with me through all my various housing and while I forget who actually bequeathed it to me, I still value and use it now. Dog eared and stained it is my “go-to back to basic” cookbook that I love recommending to anyone who will listen. First printed in 1908, it was first intended as a marketing tool for Edmonds Baking powder but has now well and truly become an iconic Kiwi classic. (The book has been described as being as much a part of New Zealand kitchens as a stove and a knife).
I am sure everyone has fond memories and family favourites, the baking that might be done for you when you are returning for your vacation or visit your family. Something you look forward to when you visit. Recipes that are handed down through generations and evoke fond memories and nostalgia.
This ramble is my intent at introducing you to some of the café display items we now serve at RAW, and the thought process or history behind just some of the more infamous menu items.
The first and most synonymous is the Anzac biscuits. Anzac biscuits have a long history if you are from New Zealand or Australia. Going back to the early 1920s to be specific. It was the time of the First World War and soldiers from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps were supposedly sent Anzac cookies as gifts of nutrition by their wives because the ingredients last for a long time before spoiling. (Rolled oats, coconut, flour, sugar, butter, golden syrup, and baking soda). We were taught how to make these biscuits at school as young teens in our home economics cooking classes. Not rocket science but it does take attention to the details to get them crunchy and chewy at the same time. And they aren’t too guilty.
Ginger crunch (one of my personal favourites) is a traditional slice that every Kiwi family grew up with. Matt shared his grandmother’s recipe on this one and not known for his subtlety he tripled the ginger ingredient! So, it’s not exactly understated in its ginger flavour. We are so lucky here in the Middle East that we have access to such amazing fresh spices. It may not be the most visually attractive slice but it sure is delicious.
We don’t bake the beautiful croissants on offer at RAW, but we did spend an enormous amount of time making sure we chose the right baker to source all our lovely bread and croissants. Enter Birch Bakery, owned by Nadia and Derrick (the original partners and founders of H.E.A.T.) who we have known for some years. Birch is a sourdough bakery located in a warehouse in Al Quoz where you can buy direct from their front door (pinned on google and open 7 days a week for pick up). They source all their red spring wheat that is 100% sustainably farmed, then stone-ground (zero commodity wheat), and then fermented for 20 hours with no artificial flavours or yeast. They care about their loaves of bread as much as we care about our coffee. We believe they offer the most amazing artisanal fresh bread and some seriously naughty croissants. If you haven’t tried the “morning buns” – be warned! Once you have eaten one of these, it will be hard to drive past RAW without pulling in to grab a takeaway coffee and “oh ok, just one of those morning buns please”. They are SOOO good. A cross between a donut and a croissant and coated in cinnamon. We had been unable to find a good fruit toast so asked if they would bake something unique for us, and its pure guilt-free (well nearly) and even better than the Vogels loaf from home!!! Which is a big call and toasted, it is divine.
The slices we wanted to offer you at RAW, are all from our childhoods and hold fond memories. My Nana always had these tins in her cupboard with a variety of slices. It was obviously rude to run into her kitchen without a hug first, but I’m sure if I could observe my younger self I would be embarrassed by my eager cupboard door openings and tin rifling. Ginger crunch, Anzac cookies, Afghans, lolly cake, Louise cake… these names even make me think of my nana and the smells of her kitchen.
The one exception in our display cabinet not from New Zealand is the influence of Matt’s wife Tess. Tess bakes more than anyone I know and merges her Canadian heritage with her Kiwi self (she does have a Kiwi passport mind you). The peanut butter and chocolate crunch is a one bowl no-cook slice oozing bar with sweet nutty cornflakes. It’s a best seller.
We proudly use Whittaker’s Ghana 72% chocolate for our brownies. Whittaker’s is one of the most famous New Zealand brands, founded in 1896, and remains an owner-operated family-run business. Like us at RAW, they ethically source their cocoa beans, which they roast, and most importantly they do not use any palm oils which is a hidden ingredient in many other well-known chocolates. We also sell the famous “peanut slab” and a couple of other chocolate bars, which might or might not be Matt and my personal favourite chocolates and why we have them available. What is the point of owning your own business and not stocking your favourites?
NBars is a local small business started by Nisha, who was looking for healthy clean and simple, grab and go snacks. She identified a gap in the market so decided to make them herself. Vegan and preservative-free we offer 6 of her range here at RAW. We like to support other owner-operators and Dubai startups, and we have bars displayed right beside the front POS to make it easy to grab with a take-away coffee.
The Edmonds Cook Book is now also available online, so if there are any of the slices that you enjoy, please check out https://edmondscooking.co.nz/ and you will find all our recipes to try yourselves at home. There are sections my sister and other friends have explored in-depth, with chutneys and pickles and piccalilli so don’t limit yourself to the sweet stuff!