NOT MANY COOKBOOKS KICK OFF with the creation of the universe. Yet that’s where Monique Fiso begins Hiakai, a groundbreaking new book on Māori cuisine. First, there was nothing. Then, in the nothing, there were two lovers, Ranginui and Papatūānuku. Ranginui and Papatūānuku held each other so close that their children were trapped between them. Craving light and day, they eventually forced their parents apart. Ranginui became the sky, Papatūānuku became the earth, and their descendants created and watched over all the life in the sea and on land, from the wheketoro (octopus) to the kūmara, the Māori’s staple sweet potato.
Hiakai means ‘hungry’ or a craving to eat, and it’s the name of both Fiso’s cookbook and her popular restaurant in Wellington, New Zealand, where she champions modern Māori cuisine. Published last year, Hiakai is both a field guide and a vivid culinary history of Aotearoa, the name that New Zealand’s original inhabitants gave to their homeland. It’s also the first haute-cuisine cookbook devoted to Māori food.