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Cook Islands family recipe proves to be the winning ticket for two decades

Friday 10 March 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Culture, Entertainment, National


Cook Islands family recipe proves to be the winning ticket for two decades
Beigh Mariner with some of the delicious Cook Islands cuisine offered at their stall. Photo / Candice Luke/23030903

Paper plates piled with barbequed chicken, chopsuey, a Raro donut and that famous pink potato salad make up the perfect hot plate at this year’s Polyfest which concludes today in New Zealand.

The Cook Islands food stalls are among the many island cuisine stalls at the Auckland Secondary Schools’ festival excited to be back in business after years of disruption.

For almost 20 years, South Auckland’s Raro donuts needs have been serviced by a humble food stall run by members of the Gateway Apostolic Church in Māngere Bridge.

Plated meals come complete with bbq chicken, yummy chopsuey a fried Raro donut and mainese - a traditional Cook Islands potato salad with a distinctive pink colour, thanks to one key ingredient: beetroot.

“If you know us from the Māngere Markets, you know we have the best Raro donuts. That’s our point of difference,” says Beigh Mariner, who has been with the team for nine years.

Passionate about serving her community and the ministry of work she does, there are also a few extra perks of the job.

Asked about her own preferences, she is quick to answer.

“I love the mainese. That’s my favourite with the hot plate of food altogether,” she says, handing a customer a pineapple pie.

Another traditional sweet dish on the menu is poke, made of fruit or vegetables and arrowroot starch, with a soft and chewy texture, served with coconut cream. Today’s option is pumpkin poke.

Gateway church member Ina is helping in the stall for her first time this year. Photo/ Candice Luke/23030901

Mama’s special mainese recipe

Herne Bay Ruaporo and his sister Nga Kino credit their parents for starting the stall all those years ago, handing down their expertise to their children and church friends who have become their family.

“It started as a family fundraiser, then they did it with church members and it’s carried on regardless of most of them (the original team) moving on.

The mainese recipe was perfected by his mother, Mii Amaru, who is now 92 years old.

“Mum will be joining us on Saturday but we thought we would give her a rest for the first few days of PolyFest.”

Though the market stall is an icon of the local Pacific food scene, they don’t keep their recipes secret.

“It’s the homemade dressing. We do it from scratch. The eggs, the oil, garlic and we use lemon just to give it some zing.”

Ruaporo is not worried about oversharing, as it is the chef who prepares the food that makes it extra special and delicious, he says.

“The secret is in the hands. You do it with love.

“Everything that you do is about your values, your culture, your identity. Pretty much us as Pacific Islanders. This is what we do. This is what we love.”

  • Candice Luke/NZ Herald