Matt Heath: Mutton pies and cheese rolls - nothing beats southern cuisine

Publish Date
Monday, 9 October 2017, 8:04AM
NZ Herald
NZ Herald

There is a growing consensus that South Island food is better than North Island food. (Matt and Jerry Breakfast Poll, 6/10/2017,5 call sample). As a proud southerner living in beautiful Auckland City I believe I am in a unique position to weigh in on this key issue.

First some background. The cornerstones of South Island cuisine are of course the mutton pie, the cheese roll and the dagwood sandwich. While most know the first two, the third is shrouded in mystery.

Every light news cross to Otago or Southland mentions the cheese roll. Even the skinniest of reporters will claim they love them. Even though you know they didn't actually eat one. Cheese, onion soup powder, evaporated milk and white bread. So good for you. Natural and delicious too, especially on a cold day.

In the South it makes perfect sense to eat mutton Pies. But for some reason they've never made it across the Cook Strait. Recently when asked about the mutton pie Auckland broadcaster Jeremy Wells claimed 'I'd rather be smashed in the face with a mutton pie than put one in my mouth '.

This attitude is disappointing. Northerners are missing out. There's nothing like a good South Island mutton pie or two. Especially on a cold day. They're so good for you. Even healthier as the filling of a pie sandwich. (Interestingly my mate Ricky the Rooster reckons the pie sandwich originated in West Auckland).

The third cornerstone of South Island cuisine - the dagwood sandwich - is harder to define. It's long been a widespread option down south but unknown in the north.

If percentage knowledge of the dagwood sandwich was graphed against New Zealand running South to North. It would start high at Bluff, hit 100 per cent over Dunedin then slowly taper to nothing by Picton. Completely flat lining across the entire North Island. Strangely the dagwood remains invisible to North Islanders even when they move to the south.

A few weeks back I asked All Black captain Kieran Read about the dagwood sandwich. Kieran was born in Papakura. But joined the Canterbury development squad straight out of school.

The great man has been down there a lot ever since. He's played 138 games for the Crusaders. The man loves Canterbury and is loved by Cantabrians. Yet he has no idea what the dagwood sandwich is.

Prop Wyatt Crockett on the other hand is Christchurch-born and as such knows the dagwood sandwich intimately.

So what exactly is the South Island dagwood sandwich? Well it's hard to say. It's contents are non specific.

It often has either ham, chicken or some other meat in it. You'll generally get grated cheese, lettuce, tomato maybe some beetroot. Mayo and or mustard or some other condiment not of your choosing. If you're unlucky you'll get grated carrot. It's a big hearty sandwich. The dagwood is found in southern tuck shops, bakeries and cafes. Great on a cold day.

Interestingly in the US the dagwood is multi layered. It is often referred to as a dagwood club sandwich. Like it's South Island relative it's contents are random. However the US dagwood always has an olive pierced by a wooden skewer rammed through it. This would never happen to the single levelled South Island dagwood.

The origins of the dagwood date back to the 1930s. Dagwood Bumstead from the comic strip Blondie was frequently illustrated making enormous multi layered sandwiches. How the dagwood came to the South Island and lost its levels is a mystery. But thank God it did. So good. Especially on a cold day.

We live in a country that runs south to north. As a result we have a variety of climates. There is a world of difference between Invercargill and Whangarei. There is also a world of difference food wise. We southerners should be proud of our cheese rolls, mutton pies and dagwood sandwiches.

I love Auckland. What a town. But maybe it's time the North bowed down and accepted that South Island food is better. Especially on a cold day. In the words of All Black Wyatt Crockett 'don't run down the dagwood mate'.

Oh yeah. Bluff oysters and Christchurch souvlakis are good too.

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission.