I’m stuck between an ancho chili and an avocado. I’d eat an avocado every day if I could. I would also have a constant supply of ancho, chipotle, guajillo, poblano, pasilla, Hatch and serrano chillies at my fingertips.
Right now, avocados are plentiful; and I will happily fill my belly with them! This past Saturday at the market they had huge avos 4 for $5, or smaller ones 7 for $5. These prices and delicate fruit aren’t available year-round, although the avos come from New Zealand. A lot of my dried chili supply comes from overseas – usually Mexico via the USA. I’ve been working on my summer garden, which consists mostly of jalapeño and tomato plants, and if I get a good crop, hopefully I can freeze some to have throughout winter.
Perhaps I chose to live in the wrong country based on these culinary ingredients that I adore so much. But Wellington is home, lack of nixtamalization or not. There’s certainly no shortage of wonderful things to eat here, and the abundance of ingredients NZ has makes for plenty of delicious meals. However, I come from the most taco obsessed city in the USA, and one thing I’ve always found lacking here in Wellington is good Mexican food that fits my tastes.
One of the Austinite’s taco obsessions is the breakfast taco (this is NOT the same as a breakfast burrito). Yes, I know, it sounds weird – eat tacos at 7am? But they’re delicious, and you can pretty much throw a stone and hit somewhere that serves [breakfast] tacos if you drive down any road in Austin. Oh, and you can get them 24 hours a day!
It’s not confirmed that the breakfast taco originated in Austin, and clearly tacos are not a Texan creation. (I just finished reading a book called Taco USA about the history of Mexican food in the United States. Very interesting.) But the popularity of the ‘breakfast taco’ is very Austin; so much so that in recent history, there was a ‘war’ declared by the San Antonio and Austin mayors over these tacos! Whatever the outcome, Austin has become the unofficial home of the breakfast taco, and since I don’t live in Austin anymore, I have missed having them at my beck and call.
It is with these things in mind that when I returned from my 2016 overseas travels, I started a small taco business. For many years, I wanted a taco truck or taco business in Wellington. It was a question of how, without the capital to sign a restaurant lease or buy a food truck.
It’s starting out small – I make ‘Austin’ style tacos and deliver them for lunch to offices and workplaces two days a week. On Saturdays, you can find Easy as Kai at the Frank Kitts Underground Market, making tacos to order from 10am to 4pm. Also available for office catering – lunches, staff parties, etc. The menu is small, but it’s currently a one woman business.
I make everything myself – fresh handmade flour and corn tortillas, salsa, fillings like tofu ‘chorizo’ and refried black beans. Yes, I want to create authentic tacos!
However I also want to create a menu that is seasonal, sustainable, and upholds my food values. With SO many ideas inspired by culinary learnings, travel, research, & eating, I could spend weeks creating recipes that utilise ingredients from Austin, Tex-Mex, Cali-Mex and Mexican food! I want to introduce Wellingtonians to tacos with fresh nopales, but they don’t grow here the way they do in those hot, dry summers of central Texas and Mexico. I want to make salsas with ancho, guajillo, chipotle and pasilla chilis. I want to make mole and al pastor and barbacoa. But I don’t want to have to import every second ingredient to achieve these flavours.
Some of these ingredients are slowly becoming available in New Zealand. Whereas 10 years ago, it was only Old El Paso in the supermarket, you can now find a multitude of other brands. Hawkes Bay has successful chili gardens, with a variety of flavours. Organic produce is still prohibitively expensive, as are some of these ingredients now grown in New Zealand, still considered ‘specialty’. If I choose this path, do I then exclude a large number of people who wouldn’t be able to afford the food?
Luckily, New Zealand is a bountiful place. We have plenty of free range eggs, chickens, pigs, beef and sheep. We have capsicums, courgettes, onions, cauliflower, kumara, pumpkin, potatoes, coriander, tomatoes, chilies and corn, all growing in our own backyard, which if bought in season are affordable. There’s no way around using some imported ingredients - masa, beans, flour and canned tomatoes come from overseas. However I’ve tried to create a menu that reflects the New Zealand bounty, but shows off some Austin taco traditions. And since my taco eating traditions echo my pescatarian background, I’ve created a menu that is mostly vegetarian and vegan friendly, with a small selection of meat options for those who can’t do without.
You may not always see avocado or guacamole on my taco menu, but you won’t see it on every taco in Austin or Mexico either. Sure, it tastes great, but sometimes it doesn’t belong. Try my La Bandera taco with tofu ‘chorizo,’ sautéed capsicums, cabbage, pickled red onions, salsa and vegan taco sauce, and I bet you can’t honestly tell me it needs avocado!
The goal is to make the most of what we have in season and available to us in Wellington, and for this reason, my taco creations may not be 100% Mexican or Austin or Tex-Mex. The intention is to make them reflect the flavour palate, the concept, the deliciousness of what Austin and Mexican food means to me. The menu will change regularly. Have a favourite already? Don’t worry, it will probably make a reappearance next autumn or winter. Don’t believe it’s ‘authentic?’ Working with recipes that I've absorbed from living in Austin, I’ve created some of my own traditions to make the most of NZ ingredients. Recipes and traditions I now want to share with Wellingtonians. Huevos y papas tacos are as authentically Austin as I can make here or there, and I’ve been making them since I was 11 years old!
Curious what the future will hold? Me too! But I’m so excited about this new business venture. I have so much passion for Austin-Mexican food, and I love sharing it with people. It’s delicious, it’s healthy, and it’s my food history. Want to know more about how you can get your hands on some of these Austin style tacos? Come and say hi at the Underground Market from the 14 January, come find me at Newtown Festival on the 5 March or Aro Valley Fair on the 11 March, or visit my webpage and order some tacos for your office.