Known as the “The Land of the Long White Cloud” in the language of the native Māori, New Zealand is a country famous for its stunning coastlines, beautiful national parks, hospitable locals, and delicious cuisine. The island nation is rich in natural resources, creating a food culture that takes advantage of the abundance of fresh ingredients at its disposal.
In no particular order, here are fifteen of the best-known foods in New Zealand:
Famously boasting a population of more sheep than people, New Zealand is one the largest exporters of lamb to the rest of the world. While sheep are not native to the island nation, they were introduced in the late 1700s by British explorer James Cook.
Over the next few hundred years, sheep farming became a well-established industry and a huge part of the country’s economy, with exports of wool and meat representing a large part of their earnings. Today, lamb dishes are served throughout New Zealand and the product is well known for its high quality as well as the humane treatment of the animals by farmers.
The famous ingredient is served in a variety of ways. Some of the most popular preparations include roasting, braising, or grilling the popular meat and serving it alongside roasted seasonal vegetables.
In addition to an abundant livestock population, New Zealand is also blessed with a large variety of delicious ingredients from the sea. One of the more popular is crayfish, or as it is known in the Māori language of the native people, koura. Found only in New Zealand, koura resembles a small lobster than can grow about 6 inches in length.
Prepared in a way similar to lobsters and shrimp, usually by boiling them in a pan until bright red, this crustacean can be found throughout the coastal regions of the country. The best place to enjoy koura might be in the town of Kaikoura on the southern island of New Zealand, which is a Māori name that literally translates to “eat crayfish.”
Known for its sweet flavor, the taste has been compared to a tiger prawn. If you’re interested in harvesting your own ingredients, the crustacean is not currently protected and citizens are legally allowed to gather up to 50 per person each day.
Another popular seafood in the nation is the green-lipped mussel. Named for the touch of green that can be found on the edges of their shells, the mussel is often served steamed or grilled. The beloved shellfish has become popular internationally for its anti-inflammatory properties and is even sold in supplement form to help those suffering from joint pain.
Fish and Chips
Originally a British colony, the cuisine of New Zealand has been highly influenced by its former rulers. Fish and chips, originally a specialty of the English, were thought to be introduced by British settlers in the early 20th century.
Chip stands can be found across the country today with cod, blue warehou, or elephant fish being a favorite accompaniment, especially when fried to golden perfection. Often served wrapped in newspaper, a side of tomato sauce will often be provided as well.
Another dish of British origin, the meat pie has become a huge part of New Zealand cuisine. According to one study, the average Kiwi, as New Zealanders call themselves, eats 15 meat pies a year.
A flaky pastry that’s filled with varying combinations of meat, cheese, gravy, or vegetables, the dish is baked until golden brown before being served. The perfect snack to take on the go, some of the more popular varieties include steak and cheese, mince and cheese, chicken and vegetable, and bacon and egg.
One of the country’s most popular exports, mānuka honey is made by bees that have gathered nectar from the mānuka tree, which is native to New Zealand. The honey is prized for its antibacterial properties with some studies showing that it can aid in the healing of wounds, provide relief from a sore throat, and even reduce gingivitis.
Due to the product’s high cost, a large number of manufacturers outside of the country have started to produce honey with the mānuka. However, these items often lack or do not contain the same antimicrobial properties. This has led to the establishment of the Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association in NZ and the creation of a unique honey rating system that measures the overall quality.
Short for Lemon & Paeroa, L&P is a uniquely Kiwi soft drink introduced in 1907. Originally made with lemon juice and mineral water from the town of Paeroa on the North Island, it began to be mass-produced in the late 1940s by Menzies and Company.
The flavor of the soft drink has been compared to Sprite and lemonade. Today, the beverage is now produced by Coca-Cola in the country’s largest city, Auckland, and is one of the most popular drinks in New Zealand.
Settling in New Zealand in the early 1300s and making up an estimated 17 percent of the country’s population (as of 2022), the Māori people’s influence is heavily present in the nation’s food culture. One dish that has particularly deep roots is hāngī. The word hāngī refers to a traditional Māori method of cooking that uses hot rocks buried in a pit oven.
Often consisting of meats such as pork, lamb, chicken, or seafood and vegetables like sweet potatoes, yams, and pumpkins, hāngī is utilized at large gatherings and special occasions. Burying the food in a pit dug into the ground, rocks and wood cover the few feet wide hole. The wood is then lit on fire, and after several hours of cooking, the feast begins.
Brought to New Zealand by the Māori hundreds of years ago, the kumara, also known as sweet potato, is now commonly grown in the country’s northern regions. Combining traditional British foods with ingredients often used in Māori cuisine, kumara fries represent a unique blending of influences from the two largest ethnic groups in the country to create a snack beloved throughout the nation.
Another food with Māori origins, paraoa parai, a fried bread, is a staple food made from a mixture of flour, water, salt, milk, yeast, and sugar. It’s often enjoyed as an accompaniment to stews and can also be eaten as a sweet dessert when topped with sugar or syrup.
Translating to “floating bread,” paraoa parai gets its name from the technique used to make it. Squares of dough are deep-fried in oil and will float to the surface when fully cooked.
Another treasure of the sea, pāua, also known as abalone, can be found throughout the coastal areas of the country. The Māori people prized the sea snail for both its beautiful shell and delicious meat.
Today pāua is considered a delicacy and is enjoyed in a variety of preparations including fried as well as thinly sliced and grilled on the barbecue with garlic and butter.
Citizens are permitted to gather up to 10 pāua per day but there remain strict guidelines that must be followed in the harvesting of the food. For instance, it’s illegal to dive for pāua using scuba equipment and they must remain unshucked until brought back to the shore.
While kiwifruit might be the most famous food to come out of NZ, it actually originates in China with the first recorded description appearing in the 12th century. The fruit was brought to New Zealand in the early 20th century where it grew in popularity and began to be produced commercially.
Today the country is the second-largest producer of it in the world with the popular Hayward varietal making up most of the kiwifruits sold.
Hokey Pokey Ice Cream
One of the most popular desserts in the nation, hokey pokey is a flavor of vanilla ice cream that has small bits of honeycomb toffee mixed in. The toffee is made by heating sugar and golden syrup together before stirring in baking soda to help create a light airy texture.
Interestingly, the term “hokey pokey” has been used for hundreds of years in the UK and the United States as a slang term for ice cream in general. However, in New Zealand, the term has come to be associated exclusively with this specific honeycomb toffee flavor.
If you ask any self-respecting Kiwi where the world’s best pavlova is made, the answer has to be New Zealand. A meringue-based dessert that originated in the early 20th century, it remains a hot debate as to whether the pavlova was invented in New Zealand or Australia.
Named after a famous ballerina, the dessert is prepared similarly to a meringue with the final product consisting of a hard outer shell and soft marshmallow-like center. Pavlova is often garnished with fresh fruit and whipped cream.
A small confectionery chocolate with a hint of orange flavor that’s coated in a crunchy red shell, Jaffas are a beloved movie theater snack enjoyed throughout the nation. Originally released in 1931, Jaffas have become deeply embedded in Kiwi culture.
Every year in the New Zealand town of Dunedin, a Jaffa race is held in which 30,000 pieces of the sweet treat are released down the world’s steepest residential street.
Taking inspiration from the rich history of the Māori people and combining it with today’s modern influences, New Zealand cherishes its natural abundance in a way that’s deeply reflected in its food culture. Whether you’re a fan of the land or the sea, there will be no shortage of fantastic dishes to try the next time you visit this breathtaking country.