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Whitebait heaven

As a young girl on a roadtrip with my Dad, fishing for whitebait was pure joy, writes MiNDFOOD food editor Dixie Elliott.

Whitebait heaven

The whitebait season is about to begin in New Zealand.

It begins on August 15 and goes through until the end of November, which means fishermen do not have long to catch these delicious little fish.

In Australia it is sometimes possible to buy frozen New Zealand whitebait. If that is not available then there is the larger, very tasty whitebait used by Italians in their cooking.   

I can remember introducing my children to whitebait when they were about four and five years old.

For days I had been psyching them up about how delicious these fish were and I was going to make them special fritters that they would love. But when the plates were put in front of them there were no cries of excitement.

Anyway, I left them to their dinner while I rushed out to do another task. I returned a short while later to find that they had proceeded to remove the eyes from all the whitebait in the fritters. All around the edge of the plate where tiny little dots.

Many years ago, I did a little touring holiday with my Dad up the west coast of New Zealand.

We had a fantastic time staying in local pubs and taking in the magnificent scenery. We made a stop at my Aunty Doris’ and Uncle Maurice’s batch on the way, in a little town called Quityatown on the banks of the Haast River.

Their batch was one of many small, very basic – no running water – batches. All the batches had names like Quityabarking, Quityafighting, Quityabitching

At 3.30 a.m. everyone would be up, wrapped up warm and on the track up to the river with nets, buckets and frying pans under arms.

With waders on you would go out into the river with your very large rectangular shaped net and hopefully put it down in the perfect spot and it would then fill with whitebait. I remember how excited I was to fill a whole bucket with whitebait.

Each group of fishermen would build a fire on the riverside and get the frying pan heated up. We would all have whitebait fritters for breakfast – eyes in tact. They were so good.

Enjoy the whitebait season.

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