Boasting a thriving agricultural economy, the cuisine of New Zealand largely involves the use of local products from both the land and the sea. It is closely related to their neighboring country Australia, but also influenced by European, American and Southeast Asian cuisine. The Maori cuisine, which refers to the food of the indigenous Polynesian inhabitants of New Zealand, is another factor that has affected the country’s food culture. At present, traditional New Zealand food is still popular in some parts of the country while restaurants and takeaway food has become a major part of the food preferences of modern New Zealanders.
Visiting New Zealand soon? Here’s a list of food you might just find useful. Happy eating!
Although it sounds Middle Eastern, the afghans we are talking about here are the original New Zealand crunchy chocolate cookies. These are made of flour, cornflakes, butter and sugar, and these ingredients are mixed with cocoa and coated with chocolate icing. The finishing touch is a topping of chopped walnuts. Traditional afghans do not have any leavening or rising agent, making its texture dense and rich. Surprisingly, these cookies don’t taste too sweet despite their chocolate content. Easily available in New Zealand bakeries, afghans are best paired with a hot cup of coffee or tea.
If Australia has Vegemite, New Zealand has Marmite. These food pastes are both made of yeast extract combined with various herbs and spices. The difference is that Marmite is more syrupy, compared to Vegemite, which has a thick texture. Marmite, which was first produced in New Zealand in 1919, is traditionally eaten with bread or crackers. Also known for its very concentrated taste, it is usually spread thinly and then layered with butter or margarine. In 2012, an earthquake hit the city of Christchurch, which damaged the country’s only Marmite factory. It caused a nationwide panic when a Marmite shortage was declared.
Since New Zealand is surrounded by waters, seafood is a main food product in the country. This includes indigenous shellfish like the tuatua, which has a milder and softer texture compared to other kinds of shellfish. Eating tuatua is believed to be a Maori tradition, but these tasty shellfish are presently enjoyed by New Zealanders all over the country. In restaurants, these are served as chowders and sometimes, as fritters.
Hāngi is a Maori cooking method that uses steam to cook chicken, beef, pork, potatoes, and other root vegetables. These food items are usually wrapped in leaves and placed in a basket, which is then laid on top of heated stones inside a deep hole. Some call hangi an “earth oven.” Whatever you call it, this method of cooking gives the food a unique smoky taste. The whole process can be laborious, taking as long as seven hours. Today, hangi food remains an important part of traditional celebrations in New Zealand. Several specialty restaurants offer hangi food in their menu, like Kiwi Kai in Rotorua and The Hangi Shop in Auckland.
5. Lolly cake
There are kinds of foods that kids welcome with wide eyes and makes adults remember their own childhood. In New Zealand, it would be the lolly cake, a classic Kiwi dessert made with ingredients such as candies, marshmallows and other sweets. Traditional lolly cake recipes also use crushed malt biscuits mixed with melted butter, as well as sweetened condensed milk. After rolling the bread in dessicated coconut, it’s good to be served. Lolly cake is best paired with coffee and, when wrapped in a nice packaging, can also be given as a gift.
6. Hokey Pokey
Another Kiwi kid classic is the Hokey Pokey, a vanilla ice cream mixed with caramelized sugar. You can make your own version of this popular New Zealand dessert using ingredients such as caster sugar, golden syrup, baking soda, egg, and cream. No need for an ice cream machine, your electric beaters and your freezer at home will most likely do the trick. Meanwhile, if you want a quick Hokey Pokey fix, just head to the nearest supermarket or ice cream parlor. Approximately five million liters of Hokey Pokey are consumed in the country each year, proof of its popularity among New Zealanders.
7. Green-lipped mussels
Can’t get enough of New Zealand seafood? Have some green-lipped mussels, a kind of shellfish with coral-colored meat full of nutrients like calcium and vitamin B-12. These days, it is easily found in other parts of the world, but there’s no better place to taste it than its native country—freshly-caught and cooked right away. Low in fat and calories, green-lipped mussels are popular in restaurants where it is served as a chowder. Although the medicinal benefits of green-lipped mussels are not yet proven, some New Zealanders believe that it has beneficial effects for those suffering from asthma and arthritis.
Almost every restaurant in New Zealand serves lamb, a succulent and tender meat that is usually roasted with garlic and rosemary. Lamb is undeniably cheaper in this country, where the sheep population is larger than the number of its human inhabitants. Its meat is a great source of protein, as well as zinc and vitamin B-12. Due to the local preference for lamb meat, McDonald’s New Zealand even offered a lamb burger on its menu some years ago. Other popular Kiwi lamb recipes include lamb chops, lamb steaks, and lamb racks.
9. Sausage sizzle
A sausage sizzle in New Zealand may refer to two things: a snack, and a local fundraising event. The snack is basically made of sausage on a white bread, drizzled with tomato sauce or mustard and topped with fried onions. Meanwhile, the fundraising event is where these snacks are usually sold, often held in a covered area or a collapsible gazebo. Locals use sausage sizzles as a means to raise money for different causes, like in schools and sports clubs, and even at some political events. If ever you find yourself craving sausages in New Zealand, head over to the Bunnings Warehouse where they sell sausage sizzles every weekend.
10. Whitebait fritter
Considered a New Zealand delicacy, a whitebait fritter is made of translucent juvenile fish cooked with egg and flour to produce a crispy omelet. It is expensive compared with other types of fishes harvested from the country’s shores, but it is a unique culinary experience that every foodie shouldn’t miss. Don’t be fooled by its strong fishy look, because when it is perfectly cooked, the whitebait fritter can be tasty and crispy enough to appeal to the palate. Most restaurants offer it on their menu during the whitebait season from August to September. You can also buy it from seafood stores and cook it on your own.
11. Manuka honey
If you’re looking for an edible remembrance of your trip to New Zealand, you should definitely take home a bottle of manuka honey. It is made with pollen of the manuka tree, which can be found throughout the country. Compared to honey produced from other flowers, the manuka variety has a heavier flavor and distinct smell. Some locals believe that this type of honey can heal sore throats, digestive illnesses and gingivitis. To make sure you’re buying authentic manuka honey, go to a local health food store or better yet, get a bottle straight from a local farm.
In New Zealand, sweet potatoes are more commonly known as kumara. Traditionally cooked in a hangi or earth oven, this root vegetable has evolved into other well-loved Kiwi snacks like kumara wedges, kumara croquettes and kumara chips. Kumara are very low in fat and rich in fiber, making it an ideal diet food. It is also said that the stronger the color of the kumara, the higher the antioxidant content. If you’re planning to stock up on kumara, don’t put them in the fridge. Instead, store them in a cool and dark place to keep them from sprouting.
13. Mince pie
One of the most popular takeaway foods in New Zealand is the mince pie, a pastry filled with meat and gravy. Depending on the variety, it can also contain onion, cheese and mushrooms. In The Great New Zealand Pie Guide, it was said that approximately 15 mince pies are consumed by every person in the country per year. Kiwis celebrate their love for mince pie during an annual pie competition held every year since 1997. Meanwhile, The Bakels New Zealand Supreme Pie Awards give recognition to the best manufacturers of mince pie in the country.
14. Fish and chips
New Zealanders don’t claim ownership of fish and chips, but this popular takeaway item has been an important part of the local food culture for many years. Often wrapped in a newspaper, it is best enjoyed hot, and sometimes even accompanied with a can of beer. Some of the most common fishes used by takeaways and restaurants are snappers, hoki and tarakihi. If you wish, you may also get a serving of squid rings and scallops to go with your fish and chips. It could be pretty greasy and cholesterol-filled, so make sure you still control your intake!
15. Wine and cheese
Wine and cheese lovers will never be disappointed in New Zealand. A quick trip to a local supermarket can already introduce you to the cheese varieties and wine products available in the country. However, if you want a more expansive range of choices, a trip to a wine shop and an artisan cheese producer would be better. One of the most common cheese variety in New Zealand is cheddar cheese, which is best paired with a fruity red wine. Another good pairing is brie and camembert with champagne. Meanwhile, if you wish to go on a wine tour while visiting NZ, go to Central Otago, Gisborne or Marlborough.
Feijoa, also known as pineapple guava and guavasteen, is a popular egg-shaped fruit grown in New Zealand. Boasting of an aromatic flavor and a juicy flesh, it is usually cut in half and then eaten raw. However, during wintertime, some New Zealanders prefer eating feijoas after it is stewed in a pot with sugar. It is also a good alternative ingredient for juices and smoothies because it is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, as well as fiber and potassium. You can easily find feijoas in supermarkets and in local fruit shops.
New Zealand, along with its neighboring country, Australia, claim to both have created the pavlova, a meringue dessert with a crispy outer layer and a soft center. Made of egg whites and caster sugar, it is usually served with fruits like kiwi, passion fruit and strawberries, as well as whipped cream. Pavlovas are popular during Christmas and other summer celebrations, but it is widely available all year round. The debate about the origin of this dessert continues up to this day. However, it is undeniable that both New Zealand and Australia have embraced pavlovas as a part of their respective food cultures.
18. Fried bread
A healthier New Zealand alternative to doughnuts is Maori fried bread. It usually sold in local bakeshops and night markets, but if you want to make your own, all you will need are simple ingredients such as yeast, sugar, all-purpose flour and salt. Also known as “paraoa parai,” the fried bread is best paired with a hot soup or stew on a cold day. Meanwhile, for a quick snack, you can just lather it with butter and jam. This kind of snack is a staple in most Maori households, and eventually found its way into commercial markets.
New Zealand is known as one of the world’s top kiwifruit exporters. The fruit can be consumed raw, but it is more popular to New Zealanders as a pavlova garnish. Containing vitamin C and vitamin K, it is also used commercially for juices and as a tenderizer for meat. Kiwifruit is particularly abundant in New Zealand’s North Island. However, it is widely available in fruit shops and supermarkets around the country. Tip: if you prefer a milder and sweeter flavor, try the yellow or golden variety of the kiwifruit.
20. Spaghetti on toast
It is not a secret that spaghetti originated from Italy, but did you know that the New Zealanders have put their own twist to this Italian favorite? They call it “spaghetti on toast,” which is basically a piece of toast topped with spaghetti and cheese. It is grilled, and then served hot. You can either make your own using Wattie’s canned spaghetti, or go to a local diner where it is served for breakfast.
A taste of New Zealand
Tasting the local food is a necessary part of every travel experience. When in New Zealand, you will never run out of interesting food to try. Go and let your tastebuds have an adventure too!