New Zealand always enchants visitors with its incredible landscapes, rich Māori heritage, and welcoming hospitality… but a trip here is also delicious! New Zealanders have their own ideas about must-try cuisine. Leaving pretentiousness at the door, tuck into some tasty treats you won’t find anywhere else.
For a real Kiwi dinner, it doesn’t get much more authentic than the hāngī. This communal Māori tradition involves baking a variety of meats, seafood and vegetables to perfection in an earth oven, creating a buffet of succulent flavours. Preparing a hāngī is an all-day commitment, usually reserved for special occasions today, but a Māori cultural encounter will often include New Zealand’s most traditional dining experience.
One side you’ll want at a hāngī, or just a snack you’ll want to try anywhere, is kumara, best described as a flavourful sweet potato introduced by the first Māori settlers. A Kiwi burger with a side of kumara fries might be the best fast-food lunch you try in New Zealand. What defines a Kiwi burger? Don’t worry, nobody’s serving up a patty of the beloved bird. A Kiwi burger is a regular burger served with a fried egg and a slice of beetroot. The combo is best enjoyed with an ice-cold L&P, a strong, sweet lemon soda unique to New Zealand.
With over 15,000 kilometres/9,230 miles of coast, we can’t talk about food in New Zealand without talking about seafood. Yes, a paper full of crispy, fried fish and chips (don’t try and say it with a local accent—Kiwi hospitality is warm, but there are limits) is never far away. Oysters, mussels, and crayfish are also favoured throughout the country, especially in seafood hotspots like Kaikoura. Beyond these staples, however, don’t be afraid to order a kina from a local fish and chip shop. The soft, tasty inside of a sea urchin has been a favourite snack, particularly in New Zealand’s north, for centuries.
The whitebait fritter is a staple along the South Island’s spectacular West Coast. Whether you’ve stopped to admire Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki, or just stepped off the TraNZAlpine in Greymouth before heading into glacier country, this fried patty of freshly hatched fish remains a local favourite, despite concerns about overfishing in recent years. A less controversial, but no less unusual delicacy is paua. This is a uniquely Kiwi species of sea snail whose beautiful blue, green, and silver shell is used in jewelry and souvenirs throughout the country. What’s not so widely known is how tasty the former occupants of those shells are.
Did someone say sweets? New Zealand goes its own way for every course, and dessert (or road snacks) are no exception. Pick up a packet of (chocolate coated) pineapple chunks, chocolate fish (encasing delicious marshmallow), or Jaffas to feed your sweet tooth. The country has even chosen its unofficial favourite ice cream, a caramelized honeycomb flavour known as hokey pokey. If you can’t find it at a local ice creamery, you’re probably not in New Zealand!
Finally, we can’t talk about New Zealand flavours without talking about New Zealand wine. Its Sauvignon Blanc is deservedly famous, best enjoyed with all that seafood. But the country is almost as serious about its Pinot Noir, the ideal accompaniment for its favourite red meat, lamb. Though modest in production, the Martinborough and Central Otago regions have staked a solid claim on the New Zealand market with Pinot Noir in recent years. Almost 70% of New Zealand’s vineyards are found in the Marlborough region, the country’s main producer of Sauvignon Blanc, near Nelson on the South Island. Hawke’s Bay comes second, adding Merlots, Syrahs, and Chardonnays to the mix.
This article was originally published in Vol. 29 of Globetrotting Magazine.
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