As a country surrounded by water, with long growing seasons and endless fields, it’s not surprising New Zealand has the environment to cultivate some delicious food. Drawing inspiration from Europe, Asia and Polynesia, New Zealand offers a wide range of mouth-watering dishes to enjoy!
Being a ‘foodie’ myself, my favourite part of exploring a new country is getting to taste it’s culture through it’s food and drinks – so here’s a list of my favourite ‘Tastes of New Zealand’!
Fish ‘n Chips
Although the origins of Fish ‘n chips came from England, the early European settlers introduced this tasty dish and is now a popular take-away meal usually enjoyed along the beach on a hot summer day. Fish ‘n chip shops are so popular they are on nearly every street corner in the country, contributing to New Zealand being near the top of the list for fish consumption per capita in the world. My new favorite shop is Mt Vic Chippery – they offer a variety of options allowing you to choose your fish, batter, sauce and fries! Their beer battered Moke and kumara (sweet potato) chips are TO DIE FOR! (P.S. I’ve eaten more fish ‘n chips in the last 9 months than what I have in my entire life!)
One thing to note, most shops charge for dipping sauces, and considering New Zealand’s version of Ketchup (called ‘Tomato Sauce’) is much sweeter and less tart, I personally don’t think is worth the extra $0.50-$1.50 – so I go without!
New Zealand is the world leader for commercially grown feijoas. A small green fruit about the size of an egg, the Feijoa is sweet with a unique aromatic flavour. It is often enjoyed by slicing in half and scooping out the soft, juicy flesh (similar to a Kiwifruit) or slightly boiled and served hot with a scoop of icecream. Feijoa flavored foods can be found all over New Zealand from ciders, to lollies (candy) and even icecream and chocolate. With feijoa season in full swing, I have been enjoying my fair share of these delicious treats – I have to say these may be my new favorite fruit!
Lemon & Paeroa, also known as L&P, is a “World Famous in New Zealand” soft drink popular with the locals. Traditionally made by combining lemon juice with carbonated mineral water from the town of Paeroa, it is now manufactured by multi-national Coca-Cola. A perfect refreshment on a hot summer day!
New Zealand whitebait are tiny young freshwater fish (galaxiids) that are caught along rivers mainly on the west coast of the South Island. These juvenile fish are quite tender, making the entire fish edible – head, fins, gills and all! Typically served as a whitebait fritter, is it mixed with eggs and fried on a grill, often served with lemon, spices and mint sauce. This delicious snack is seen as a delicacy as it is the most costly fish on the market, garnering between $50-$70/kg! Curly Tree along the road to Haast Pass serves these delicious fritters out of their garage for $8 right in front of the river where they are caught each year! Definitely worth the stop not only for the unique treat but to hear the history of whitebait fishing in the area from the lovely owner Moana.
No quintessential Kiwi dinner or BBQ would be complete without a pavlova. The meringue-based dessert is crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and is usually served with a mountain of whipped cream and fresh fruit. It’s origins are hotly debated with Australia, however a pavlova recipe found in a 1929 New Zealand magazine appears to have settled the argument. Believed to be created by a Wellington hotel chef, he named his creation after the Russian ballet star Anna Pavlova who visited New Zealand in 1926.
This sticky, dark brown food paste has a distinct, powerful flavour. Produced by Sanitarium, the New Zealand version of this salty spread is described as having a “weaker” or “less tangy” flavour than the original British version. Made from yeast extract, a by-product of beer brewing, it is often enjoyed as a thin spread over toast. Other similar products include the Australian Vegemite (lighter in taste), the Swiss Cenovis and the German Vitam-R. No matter what variety, I can’t seem to acquire a taste for this stuff!
Hailed as a ‘super food‘, New Zealand’s world-famous green-lipped mussels are not only known for their delicious taste but also their health benefits. One of the largest mussel species in the world, they can reach up to 240mm in length! Best enjoyed with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, the Mussel Pot in Havelock is known to offer an authentic mussel experience. At a price of ~$2/dozen at Pak-n-Sav these have become a staple item in our diet as they are cheaper than most foods you can buy in New Zealand!
Hokey Pokey Icecream
Hokey Pokey became a national favourite when the Tip Top Ice Cream company began heavily marketing it in the 1950’s. New Zealand’s most popular icecream flavor, Hokey Pokey consists of plain vanilla icecream with small pieces of honeycomb. New Zealanders love it so much 5 million litres of hokey pokey ice-cream are devoured each year! I still prefer chocolate, but I opt for this flavor every once in a while for a change-up.
Lollies – Chocolate Fish, Pineapple Lumps & Jaffas
A Kiwi favourite, the Chocolate Fish is a pink or white fish-shaped marshmallow dipped in a thin layer of rippled milk chocolate to resembles fish scales. A common reward or token of thanks, it has coined the expression “Give that man a Chocolate Fish!”
A confectionery chef at the Regina Confectionery Company in Omarau created Pineapple Lumps from the leftovers of an early banana flavored version of the Chocolate Fish. A soft, chewy pineapple flavored center smothered in a semi-brittle coating of chocolate make these treats a national favourite!
Derived from the Jaffa orange, Jaffa’s have a soft chocolate centre with a hard covering of orange flavoured, red coloured confectionery. A must-have for movie goers in New Zealand! Kiwis sure love their lollies!
Pāua is the Māori name for large edible sea snails known in North America as Abalone. Considered a treasure in the Māori culture, the shells often represent the eyes in Māori carvings and are polished for use in jewellery. Pāua are gathered recreationally and commercially but strict catch limits are set for both. Amateur fisherman can only harvest 10 Pāua per day by free diving – using scuba equipment is illegal! The meat is typically sliced and fried with spices, or minced into a patty, and has a chewy texture similar to squid. Surprisingly good when it’s seasoned up!
Although the origins of Lamingtons are from Australia, a strawberry variety – or Pink Lamginton – is popular at ‘bring a plate’ functions throughout New Zealand. A square of soft sponge cake, it is traditionally coated in chocolate and topped with a layer of desiccated coconut. The essential ingredient in New Zealand’s variety – Strawberry Essence – is produced by Kiwi owned company Hansell’s giving it the unique strawberry flavour. A regular item in the ‘morning teas’ at my work, these have become a favorite of mine!
A traditional cooking method with the Māori, to ‘lay a hangi’, involves digging a hole in the ground, heating stones with a large fire, placing a basket of food on top of the heated stones and covering it with a wet cloth and a layer of earth. Food such as fish, chicken and root vegetables (such as kumara or sweet potato) are wrapped in leaves (tinfoil today) and left to cook in the ground for several hours. This cooking method produces tender, ‘fall off the bone’ meat and delicious vegetables infused with a smoky, earthy fragrance. This method of cooking is still used today and in thermal areas like Rotorua, you can take in an authentic Māori hangi experience!
Similar to Fish ‘n chips, Meat Pies are a popular take-away item and can be found in every petro station, dairy (convenience store) and take-away shop. New Zealanders enjoy these so much, the average consumption of meat pies is 15 per person per year – that’s over 60 million pies!! The annual Bakels New Zealand Supreme Pie Awards aims to recognise the best pie manufacturers in the country and encourages innovation, resulting in a wide variety of flavours like Mince & Gravy, Butter Chicken, Steak & Cheese, Curry Chicken and Beef & Oyster (believe me that last one tastes as bad as it sounds :P) Trisha’s Pies in Island Bay is a local favorite pie shop of mine!
New Zealand has a wide range of Craft Brewery’s from all across the country offering a full range of ale & lager styles. Located in an ideal latitude for barley and hops cultivation, New Zealand’s breeding program has developed new unique hop varieties, many of which are used in craft beers around the country. If you’re a premium brew fan, check out this interactive map of New Zealand’s craft breweries, designed for you to print and take with you on the most EPIC beer tour across the country! My favorite craft beer is Moa simply for the name as the giant extinct flightless bird has become a fascination for us since we learned of its existence.
ANZAC and Afghan Biscuits
The history of the ANZAC biscuit is often assumed that wives had sent these brittle biscuits over to solders during World War I. However, the real story is they were sold as fundraisers for the war effort, thus creating their connection to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC). Made with simple ingredients like oats, flour and sugar, they lack a usual key ingredient – eggs – due to the shortage during the war and the ability to extend it’s shelf life.
The origins of Afghan Biscuits is a bit of a mystery as the name is thought to have nothing to do with the country Afghanistan, but with the dark colour of the biscuit. It’s distinct crunchy texture is due to the staple ingredient – corn flakes – and is topped with chocolate icing and a single walnut. These cookies make me a frequent visitor to the cafe in my office building when I’m craving something sweet!
Roast Lamb with Mint Sauce
With a sheep to person ratio of 20:1 it’s not surprising lamb is an iconic meat in New Zealand. As one of the country’s top meat exports, New Zealand ‘s world renowned lamb is known for its distinct, succulent flavour – a result of being raised on open green pastures. Paired to compliment the meat’s distinct flavour, mint sauce is a popular dipping sauce served at many Sunday Roasts around the country. The Ranch in Te Anau serves this dish up and believe me it is DELICIOUS!
One of New Zealand’s top seafood delicacies, Bluff Oysters, are world famous for their large, juicy flavour. Caught in the Foveaux Strait, based around the town of Bluff at the bottom of the South Island, these oysters garner a high price at ~$23 a dozen in supermarkets during their season from March to August. Despite the high price, for those who enjoy oysters as much as we do, they are worth it as a special treat! What I found unique about New Zealand is, it is extremely difficult to find a place that serves them on the half shell. In grocery stores they are also pre-shucked and sold in a small plastic container. Sort of takes away from the fun on shucking them yourself and eating it off the shell, but I guess it also takes away the mess!
Ordering a coffee in New Zealand requires a whole new language. Long Black, Flat White and Short Black are just a few of the terms used within New Zealand’s dedicated coffee culture. Priding themselves in high quality coffee, no where can you find a cafe serving plain drip brew – everything is carefully crafted to your order. So if you’re visiting New Zealand and looking for your caffeine fix, check out these translations to help get you through your order.
World Famous Wine
New Zealand’s unique combination of soil and climate make it possible to produce wine of superior quality and distinct taste. New Zealand wine received world-wide attention in 1985 when David Hohnen released his first vintage of Cloudy Bay that quickly gained popularity in the UK and America. The wine industry has exploded since then with 10 wine regions across the country producing 250 million litres a year across 9 varieties. Known for its full bodied Otago Pinot Noir and a light and tasty Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand wines continue to gain world wide attention with 7 brands making the Top 50 Most Admired List. I like to pair my wine with one of New Zealand’s delicious cheeses – my favorite so far is the Moeraki Blue Cheese from the Whitestone Cheese factory we found in Omarau.
Typically shortened to just ‘kiwi’ outside New Zealand, with the name ‘kiwi’ being associated with its loveable flightless bird, the delicious fruit and it’s people – it’s important to make the distinction when talking about kiwifruit here. Originally called the ‘Chinese Gooseberry’, kiwifruit was first planted in 1904 and due to the unique volcanic mineral rich soil and endless sunlight, the fruit has flourished in New Zealand becoming one of it’s most important exports. While visiting the Kiwi 360 exhibit in the Bay of Plenty, it was amazing to see the variety of products that could be made with kiwifruit. From chocolate, to juice and even wine and liquor, Kiwis have come up with some great ways to use this superfruit!
What are your favourite New Zealand cuisines? Leave a comment below so I can try it myself! 🙂