Tins of New Zealand Butter

As soon as you go out into the world after a semi-sheltered life in the homeland, you’ll start seeing things you’ve never imagined.

Of course, that’s WHY you go out into the world. You expect to see different people, different buildings, different customs, different food, all the stuff in National Geographic and all that, but you don’t expect the changes in the ordinary stuff of your life. Butter for example.

Butter comes from cows, OK, we know that. But otherwise it comes from a refrigerated shelf at the supermarket. It’s wrapped in waxed paper in an 8 oz sticks marked off with 1/4 and 1/2 and 3/4 cup lines making it easy to measure. It sits next to three others of its ilk in a cardboard package until someone buys it and does something with it. Cookies, maybe or just to spread on bread and jam in the morning. Who knows?

But out there in the world you have to go questing for it. You take a train, then a subway, and find yourself in a little supermarket on a Hong Kong street where you know they have good Havarti straight from Denmark. But butter? Where is it? There must be some here. This is Hong Kong, where everything is available even mango milkshakes at McDonalds.

Finally, not far from the canned tuna (which you also need) you see large, golden cans of — butter. “New Zealand?” you think, looking at mysterious can, “What about cows in New Zealand?” You know nothing about New Zealand, but you’re about to find out something rather intimate about the cattle who roam New Zealand’s pastures. You know that, whatever the fodder on which these cattle feast, French toast cooked in the resultant butter will be better than French toast cooked in peanut oil and you’ll be able to use that biscuit recipe your mom sent you. You load up your shopping basket with the necessaries — this mysterious antipodal butter, several cans of tuna, a jar of mayonnaise, five pounds of Danish Havarit, a can of cocoa.

When you’re finished you have a several pounds of food that will go into your backpack for the return trip. Two nights in Hong Kong and the main purpose is a hot shower and the grocery store. You laugh, thinking that for some this is an exotic destination and you do your share of sight-seeing, too, wandering the labyrinth of streets that circle the mountain on Hong Kong, but you stay in deep in Chinese Tsimtsatsui where hotel prices are lower. You love the Star Ferry, the sight of ocean-going junks with their butterfly sails on the bay, the enormous freight ships with their containers and the cranes lifting them so easily onto the wharf.

The next morning, you hoist up your backpack, get on the subway and head for the hovercraft landing. It’s a wondrous journey on this “boat” that floats above the Pearl River for 75 miles. Along the way — all green hills, rice fields and an occasional old pagoda, perhaps once a lighthouse — are memories, not your memories, but memories belonging to the land, memories of opium pirates and war. All this you expect but a tin of butter? That’s the big surprise.


19 thoughts on “Tins of New Zealand Butter

  1. Funnily enough New Zealand Butter was quite common to buy in England. Not in tins, nicely wrapped in paper, but my mum often bought it.

    • I have to admit that Swiss butter is excellent, and there’s nothing wrong with the domestic product in my fridge, but I think the New Zealand butter was the best I ever had. That could be because the bread (rolls) our school made were sweet and sliced and dipped in egg and sesame seeds, then fried in butter in the wok, for French toast, then drenched in lychee honey, well, maybe it was the whole thing that was so good. 🙂

  2. Yes, indeed, Martha. I’ve never heard of tinned butter! How strange… 😀

  3. That is a long way to travel for butter and cheese! What a wonderous journey. I love how you reflected on the history of the place.

    I’ve never had wanderlust, although my best friend from college has traveled the world. I get to see it through the lens of her camera.

    • There was no butter and cheese in Guangzhou. Milk products were not a Chinese thing at all. We made that trip every couple of months. Our department seemed to think we foreigners would become ill without cheese which they thought was rotten milk and made foreigners smell disgusting. Maybe true! 😀

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