Locusts, grubs and other bugs for lunch in Hokitika

The annual Wildfoods Festival took place in Hokitika on Saturday, offering punters the chance to try foods a little more off the beaten track than usual. Star Media video journalist Geoff Sloan and NZ Herald senior reporter Anna Leask attended on a mission to test out the weirdest and wildest offerings.

Pickled worms - check.

Giant locust jelly shot - check.

Cricket cookie - check.

Snails - check.

Mountain oysters - check. Regrettably.

We had a list of weird and wild things we were determined to brave at the weekend’s Wildfoods Festival in Hokitika - but I was adamant I would never do the mountain oysters.

I’ve avoided them every time I’ve been to the festival, adventurous enough to try everything on-site except the famed cooked sheep’s testicles.

But while watching my other half chomp into the grotesque-looking blob on a toothpick and hearing that “it just takes like chicken”, my competitive streak kicked in and I wasn’t going to be left on the sideline.

The first mouthful he had was “gristly and weird” but “tasted okay” - whatever the “oyster” was cooked in gave made it a little moreish. When he bit into the next, he exclaimed, “This bit tastes much better. Like chicken with a sausage-y texture”.

Bugger it. Pass it here. Give me a bite.

I can do this.

Deep breath...

I can confirm while it did have the texture of a sausage - an overcooked one - the taste was nothing like chicken. More like a stale, manky old piece of luncheon meat. Not offensive, but not something I needed any more of.

We stood and watched the steady queue of people choose their respective small, medium or large appendages and their hilarious reactions to the taste, smell and feel of it in their mouths.

There was a lot of swearing, a lot of reaching for drinks, a lot of dramatic dry-retching.

And as we made our way around the 40-plus stalls, there was a lot more of that

The famed festival - which sees thousands of people from all over New Zealand descend upon the beautifully low-key West Coast town each year - was first held in 1990, instigated by a local woman whose gorse-flower wine was in hot demand.

Photo: Geoff Sloan
Photo: Geoff Sloan
The annual celebration of local wild foods has grown steadily since then, and bounced back bigger and better after the pandemic.

Stalls are a mix of professional food trucks, locals selling all manner of concoctions and clubs, organisations and schools running fundraisers.

The boyfriend and I joined my Hoki-based aunt and cousin for what was a blimmin’ good day in the sun.

Live music played all day, with incredible local reggae, roots and rock band Nekta, Shihad frontman Jon Toogood’s solo set and Ladyhawke keeping the crowd entertained as they munched, chomped and imbibed through the hours.

And the team from The Hits had the crowd cracking up, sending night show host Brin out into the wilderness to try his share of bugs and the like - all beamed onto the big screen throughout the day.

We eased into our “must-try” list with a shot of Red Bull containing a pickled garden worm.

Then we meandered past the offerings of venison wraps/burgers/kebabs, dumplings, kava and barbecue to the more off-piste menu items.

Mountain oysters ... never again. Photo: Anna Leask / NZ Herald
Mountain oysters ... never again. Photo: Anna Leask / NZ Herald
Nachos made with Himalayan tahr - tahrco’s, if you please - were an old favourite with a gamey twist.

Locusts two ways - deep-fried or in a jelly shot. The former was “just crunchy and easy to eat”, while the latter took me three or four attempts to “shot” given it was huge and its eyes kept staring at me...

A BugTime cookie with real chunks of cricket, roasted mealworms and chocolate-dipped bugs were all surprisingly tasty and marked down as “would do agains”.

Snails - garlicky and delicious to me, but “kinda like warm snot” to others around the stall, eliciting squeals from teenage girls as they hooked the slimy wee beggars out of their curly shells with toothpicks.

Huhu grubs were another offering I quite enjoyed, a little peanut-buttery, a little cashew-esque. Some punters braved the big fat live grubs, but after hearing a guy in front of us in the queue regale his girlfriend with his dramatic “bite” story, we opted for the non-living version.

As an aside, watching the guys harvest the grubs from pieces of wood was also pretty fascinating. The process of thumping the wood to dislodge the wiggly critters then pulling them out in one piece drew a pretty good crowd throughout the day.

A punter tries to hold down her lunch at the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. Photo: Geoff Sloan
A punter tries to hold down her lunch at the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Our favourite creation of the day was another wild take on some of our personal faves.

The smoked wild goat birria taco and dipping broth was one of the most amazingly flavoured things I have ever eaten in my life.

And the boy was a big fan of the smoked pulled beef brisket bao bun, served with huhu grub aioli.

We also sampled a venison burger with “foraged components”, Hungarian fried bread, and an absolute five-star wild highland beef and milk stout pie from the famed West Coast Pie company.

“They are literally the best pies I have ever had in my whole life,” one festival-goer in his 20s babbled next to me.

There were countless options and there was no way we could get through them all, but by the end of the day most stallholders looked like they’d sold out or come pretty close to it.

The natural fruit icecream, Dutch donut, wallaby kebab and seafood stalls - particularly anywhere with paua (fritters, creamed, dumplings, shots or pickled all in the mix) - had people queueing all day.

And the stall offering pretzels with venison blood aioli, among other wild takes on everyday kai, was booming all day.

By the end of the day, we were stuffed, sunned and stoked we’d managed to find all the strange and wacky things we’d wanted to try.

It was a fantastic day and a “must-do” for all Kiwis who want to be a little more adventurous with their lunches.

By Anna Leask