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New Zealand Food - What Do Kiwis Eat and Drink?

New Zealand Food

New Zealand has a high rainfall, fertile soil, and a lot of land in relation to the size of its population, meaning the country is self-sufficient in food. 

Most New Zealanders are descended from British settlers, so New Zealanders eating and drinking habits strongly reflect British culinary traditions - but of course with distinctive differences.

Meat and three veg - the typical, traditional New Zealand meal.
Meat and three veg - the typical, traditional New Zealand meal.

Traditional New Zealand food

The traditional New Zealand family meal can be summed up as "meat and veg," typically mutton or beef plus three or four different vegetables. The range of vegetables chosen from is wide, but nearly always includes potatoes, as well as carrots, green peas, pumpkin, spinach, and beetroot, to name a few.

Most New Zealanders live in a bungalow on a plot of land with a lawn out the front and often a vegetable garden at the back. My father was, like many Kiwis, the outdoors type and a keen gardener who, during our childhood in the 1960s to 1980s, grew nearly all the vegetables we needed. The vegetables were usually boiled. Some, such as beetroot, were preserved in vinegar by mum when dad harvested them and the jars opened throughout the next few months. The main (or only) condiments were pepper and salt.

Meat

Sheep provide New Zealanders with cheaper meat, known as mutton.
Sheep provide New Zealanders with cheaper meat, known as mutton.

As for the meat we ate, it was all from the butcher (our town had no supermarket back then) and often the cheaper mutton, or the slightly less cheap lamb, rather than the more expensive beef. Sausages were another common presence on the plate, eaten with mustard or tomato sauce. The casserole was another New Zealand family favourite, usually served on a weekend evening.

Meals featuring fish or chicken were interspersed. Friday was usually fish and chips day, when mum would take a cooking holiday, and dad would bring home fish and chips.

Meat pies are another staple fast food in New Zealand. A meat pie is typically a hand-sized round or oblong pastry filled with shredded cooked meat.

Dairy

Cheese, a higher-end product of New Zealand's dairy industry.
Cheese, a higher-end product of New Zealand's dairy industry.

New Zealand has a huge dairy industry, with consumption of dairy products to match. Milk, butter and cheese are used extensively in New Zealand cooking. Cheese and potato is a very common combination, often baked together in a dish in the oven.

In recent decades, New Zealand has developed a more sophisticated cheese industry, the most popular accompaniment being wine—another product that New Zealand has made a name for itself with over the past half-century.

Fruit

Kiwifruit is New Zealand's best known export fruit.
Kiwifruit is New Zealand's best known export fruit.

New Zealand is well-known around the world as a major producer of kiwifruit. However, New Zealand is also a major producer of apples, grown mostly in Hawkes Bay, which is one of New Zealand's sunniest regions. New Zealand grapes, in the form of wine, as well as avocadoes, are also big export crops.

Fish and Chips

Fish and chips are the great traditional New Zealand take-out food. American-style fast food came to New Zealand in the 1970s and has made great inroads into what was once fish-and-chips' territory, but even today, few if any New Zealand towns are without at least one fish and chip shop.

In the good ol' days fish and chips were wrapped up in a sheet of white paper then in newspaper.

Maori Food Culture

Kumara and pototoes: New Zealand staple foods.
Kumara and pototoes: New Zealand staple foods

Maori and pakeha food cultures have virtually fused in today's New Zealand. The original Maori settlers brought root vegetables, most notably the sweet potato known as kumara, from their Pacific Island homeland.

The kumara has become part of the staple diet of all New Zealanders, and is an essential part of any vegetable garden.

The Maori also used the rich array of ferns, berries, roots, seeds, fish (whitebait) and birds that New Zealand's wilderness was rich in. A great many New Zealand native bird species are flightless, making them easy prey for humans. The biggest of them all, the moa was once one of the world's biggest birds, the largest species standing at about 3.6 m (about 12 feet). Early Maori society was based on moa-hunting, but the bird was hunted to extinction within the first century of Maori settlement of New Zealand.

A  hangi in progress, with food being placed underground.
A  hangi in progress, with food being placed underground.

Maori cooking was typically hangi, or cooking by pit oven, using heated stones, and burying the food between bark and large leaves until it was cooked.

Maori agriculture is little different today from New Zealand agriculture in general. For more information, see the Tāhuri Whenua Incorporated Society the National Maori Vegetable Growers Collective website.

New Zealand Food Today

While "meat and three veg" is still alive as a staple part of the New Zealand diet, things have diversified greatly in the past few decades, especially with the burgeoning of the New Zealand wine industry.

Gourmet food has a much higher profile in New Zealand than it used to, reflecting the global influences channeled by the internet and the popularity of international travel.

Furthermore, Asian New Zealanders have also made their mark on New Zealand cuisine, with few towns or cities being without an Asian restaurant or food store.

Must-Try New Zealand Foods

If you're visiting New Zealand, there are a few foods that you should make a point of trying. If you like seafood, in particular, then New Zealand has a lot of unique offerings.

Crayfish (AKA rock lobster) is prized for its succulent flesh, which has a certain sweetness to it.

Paua, a native New Zealand abalone.
Paua, a native New Zealand abalone.

Paua (a kind of abalone) is a strong-flavoured shellfish with a shell whose inner surface is used for decorative purposes. It is typically served as fritters, but requires careful cooking to prevent the flesh getting tough.

Kina is a native New Zealand sea urchin. If you like the flavour of foie gras, then you will probably enjoy the rich, tangy, earthy taste of kina.

Whitebait is the collective name for the young of five species of fish in New Zealand. Due to overfishing, whitebait is not as plentiful as it used to be, and is now quite expensive. In spite of this, whitebait do not have a particularly distinctive flavour. What taste they do have is readily overpowered by the batter they are often cooked in, so careful preparation is required.

Bluff oysters are oysters from the cold waters of Foveaux Strait, which runs between the South Island and Stewart Island. The season is short: March to August, and demand is high. Bluff oysters therefore often take some effort to acquire, or at least some money, so are for the most dedicated gourmands only.

Green-lipped mussel is a native New Zealand mussel that is better known for its supposedly anti-inflammatory properties, for which reason it is usually sold as a health product. However, this large shellfish (which grows up to 24 cm long) is popular on dinner plates too for their size and succulence.

New Zealand scallop is another shellfish loved of foodies love but, again, are often in short supply due to their being seasonal and in high demand.

Snapper, arguably New Zealand's best-tasting fish.
Snapper, arguably New Zealand's best-tasting fish.

Snapper is possibly New Zealand's favourite fish, with pinkish-white, soft, flaky flesh, with few bones, and a slightly sweet flavour. This species of sea bream is found mainly in and around the North Island.

Salmon is an introduced fish in New Zealand, but has been part of the landscape for over a century. Salmon fishing in New Zealand rivers is one of the country's greatest pastimes. The salmon season is from October to April, when New Zealand rivers become second home to anglers. However, much of New Zealand's salmon is farmed. King salmon is especially recommended for its rich oiliness and delicacy of flavour.

Manuka honey, a New Zealand product with a reputation for health and great flavour.
Manuka honey, a New Zealand product with a reputation for health and great flavour.

Manuka honey is another New Zealand delicacy that should be tried if you're visiting—not least because you can pick up this rare, delectable honey quite a bit cheaper in New Zealand than overseas.

Kia mākona! (Maori for "Enjoy your meal!", "Bon appetit!")

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