A pie in the Rai


Last Modified: 16-1-2022 23:04

Mussel Pie
Mussel Pie
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

There's a small settlement on state highway six between Blenheim and Nelson with an Anglican church, an area school, for some inexplicable reason considering the size of the place, a couple of fuel stops, a rural supplies store, the concrete foundations of a mussel processing factory that burnt down some years ago, a pub, a public toilet, and a place that does country fried chicken takeaways. You can’t really get lost, as apart from State Highway six, there are only something like three other streets.

Rai Valley is the last place on state highway six within Marlborough, and I have to admit that usually I drive straight through. If I'm wanting a break from driving, Pelorus Bridge is only a few minutes back towards Blenheim, and far more picturesque, but on this hot January day, in spite of Covid restrictions, Pelorus Bridge was teeming with people with a conga like queue to the cafe and my daughter and I were hungry, so Rai Valley was going to be less of a wait than standing in a queue. Trying to find a car park anywhere near the takeaway called the Brick Oven Cafe wasn't easy, as the Nelson bound side of the road was mostly marked as no stopping. In the end, a quick U-turn was the easiest way to get a park. 

The interior of the shop seemed like it had seen better days, and I made a mental note that stopping here in winter might not be a good idea as seating was plentiful, outside, but apart from a handful of bar stools, about the only table I saw inside was marked staff only. The menu was mostly fried stuff, and a cabinet of pies. It almost seemed like a throwback to the 70s when words like 'vegan' probably hadn't been invented. If you didn't want meat, there was icecream. The woman taking orders was slim with long greying hair that probably used to be blonde. Like the establishment itself, it lacked glamour, but lent a sense of authenticity. 

The names of the pies were scrawled on the pie cabinet in black marker, and one caught my eye. 'Famous mussel pie'. I wasn't quite sure famous where, maybe world famous in Rai Valley, but I love mussels, whereas I think fried chicken is a crime against food, and chickens, so the mussel pie it was for me. My daughter is a junk food junkie and was quite content with a combo of chips, chicken nuggets, and soft drink. I just hoped that Oranga Tamariki wouldn't show up on my doorstep later accusing me of neglect. 

While waited for my daughter's meal to be cooked, we sat down at one of the outdoor tables in what little shade was available, and I took my pie out of it's brown paper bag and bit into it.

I think I'm going to have to put Rai Valley on my list of places to make a stop for snacks. The best way I can describe the pie is something like seafood chowder wrapped up in pastry. Seafood chowder is one of my favourite foods, but I've never had it in a pie before. I know that not everyone likes mussels, but I do, and provided in copious quantity in a thick, creamy sauce made the extra price compared to your average frozen supermarket pie well worth it. I found out on the return journey that they do mussel pies in Havelock, which bills itself as the green shell mussel capital of the world, and even had competing varieties on opposite sides of the road, however Rai Valley gets to lay claim to introducing me to the delicacy.

I think I was lucky, as I think I got the last mussel pie in the cabinet.

Next time you're on the road between Blenheim and Nelson, and you realise you’re hungry, and that you’ve already passed Havelock, if you're a seafood fan, you might just want to stop in at Rai Valley and see if they've got a pie for you.

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Cookson, C. (2022). A pie in the Rai. Retrieved May, 29, 2024, from

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