Australia, New Zealand in sticky cake issue

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

It was an unlikely venue for a diplomatic brouhaha -- somnolent Apia, capital of the South Pacific nation of Western Samoa. An unlikely topic too -- a sticky cake. And the adversaries were an unlikely pair too -- Australia and New Zealand, neighbors whose interests often coincide.

But national honor was at stake, all because of a seemingly innocuous party under the palms in Apia being held for Western Samoa's annual independence celebrations.

The idea was for heads of diplomatic missions in Apia to donate examples of their national cuisines to add a little spice to a charity fund-raiser.

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New Zealand High Commissioner (equivalent of ambassador among member-countries of the British Commonwealth) Mike Mansfield said he'd send along a batch of Pavlovas.

Strange. The Australians were dispatching Pavlovas as well -- as their national dish.

The scene was set for a classic example of runaway jingoism.

The Australians weren't at all happy; the diplomats quoted the Australian Encyclopedia as evidence the Pavlova was an Australian invention, first concocted in Perth, Western Australia, by a hotel chef.

The New Zealanders sniffed, equally miffed, that the recipe originated in one of their newspapers 10 years after the supposed Australian discovery.

And what's a Pavlova, the cause of all this ado? It's no more than a copiously calorific meringue base on which fresh fruit and cream are piled.

Go to any coffee shop in New Zealand and Pavlovas are on display. The same is true in Australia. Children in each country are taught -- and fervently believe for the rest of their lives -- that their nation dreamed up the recipe.

Newspapers in each country took up the Apia issue, implying deceit on the other side of the Tasman Sea.``NZ Pavolva heist,'' said a Sydney headline.

About the only thing the two sides agreed on was that the dessert in dispute was first made in honor of one of ballet's most famous stars, the late Anna Pavlova.

Neither side has yielded -- nor would either contemplate so abject a subject as national surrender.

And the greatest beneficiaries of the great ``Pav war,'' as some newspapers dubbed it, were the guests at that Western Samoan party, who gorged themselves on two rival, identical batches of the delicacy.

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