Food + Drinks

Dine Like A Local: Must-Try Foods When Visiting New Zealand

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New Zealand is often referred to as “The Land Down Under” along with its northern neighbor, Australia. Rich in culture and heritage, many foods come from an aboriginal background using only locally sourced foods and seasonal variations. You may not be aware New Zealand is part of the Polynesian Triangle—along with Hawaii and Easter Island—bringing a certain taste and culture to its cuisine, along with the fact that the Pacific Ocean surrounds it.

Here we’ll discover native dishes with a Poly-Asian influence along with fresh seafood and delectable desserts. Without any further adieu, here are some favorite dishes and treats enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

The Maori Experience

The Maori tribe is an important cultural part of New Zealand’s heritage and their cuisine is a favorite among these indigenous people. As they say, when in Rome, but in this case, when among the natives, you should always sample some of their traditional favorites you won’t find elsewhere in the world.

Hangi

Their method of cooking meat and vegetables in an underground oven known as Hangi has been used for thousands of years. Remembering their Polynesian neighbors to the North, this is remarkably similar to a Hawaiian Luau. Since traditional Maori Hangi takes many hours to prepare, it’s usually reserved for special occasions and made in large quantities. Prepare yourself to be overfed and well-indulged when enjoying this delicious and traditional dish. Enjoying Hangi is more of an experience than just a meal, as there are several events you can plan to attend that feature Hangi.

Kumara

Kumara is a sweet potato planted and enjoyed by the early Maori settlers for centuries. Usually served inside Hangi as mentioned previously, there’s plenty of other ways to enjoy this starchy vegetable. Baked, boiled, or fried, be sure to sample this native favorite while you’re in New Zealand.

For budding chefs or those staying in accommodations that allow cooking, you can purchase Kumara at grocery stores like Countdown Otaki.

Sensational Seafood

With over 9,400 miles of coastline and plenty of folks who love to fish, New Zealand is home to some sensational selections of seafood. It’s hard to pick out just one or two among so many tasty items to choose from. Below are a few favorites to consider.

Crayfish

Also known as a “poor man’s lobster” in America, the taste and texture of crayfish are surprisingly similar to their more expensive crustacean cousin. You’ll still pay a fairly hefty price in New Zealand for a full crayfish since they’re enormous compared to the tiny ones caught in the Louisiana Bayou and other parts of America.

Many restaurants in New Zealand are extremely proud of their unique presentations of crayfish. A couple of spots to sample this popular type of seafood are Sails Restaurant or Harbourside Ocean Bar and Grill.

Kina

Kina is the local name for a type of spiny sea urchin commonly captured on the coast. While the exterior appears painful with its spiky outer shell casing, the interior is fleshy, edible, and delicious.

Served in a variety of ways be sure to enjoy this local favorite in an upscale restaurant located close to the shoreline. Another way to experience the Kina is in their natural environment when going snorkeling in the Bay of Islands.

Paua

Paua is the Maori name given to a type of sea snail or abalone. Considered a delicacy like other types of snails, they’re often consumed raw but also enjoyed in curries or fritters.

Similar to abalone, they also have a beautiful shell used for jewelry, ashtrays, and more. You’ll often find Paua in quaint seafood spots offering fish and chips like George’s Takeaway.

Delectable Desserts

Hokey Pokey Ice Cream

If you’ll be eating ice cream while you’re visiting New Zealand, but sure to do the Hokey Pokey. This creamy treat is made with caramelized honeycomb which gives it a unique, sweet taste that sets it apart from traditional ice cream. Whether it’s served in a cone or cup, locals enjoy Hokey Pokey either by itself or alongside other desserts.

While you’ll usually find Hokey Pokey almost everyplace ice cream is served, be sure to check out Giapo Ice Cream in Auklund where they specialize in making and serving this sweet treat.

Jaffas

Jaffas are candy-coated chocolate balls with a distinctive orange flavor and there’s even an annual race held to honor them in New Zealand. Held in Dunedin, the Cadbury Jaffa Race is popular among locals and tourist who enjoy watching the competition.

The event begins on Baldwin Street during the “World’s Steepest Street Party” including live music and entertainment. Three different races are run for charity with up to 25,000 candies released down the steepest street in the world. Held annually in July, you don’t have to compete to enjoy them since they’re available at most grocery and convenience stores.

Manuka Honey

Manuka honey is made from the native bush by the same name. It’s a sought after item on the international marketplace known for its many medicinal qualities. There are plenty of places to sample this sweet and healthy treat from dedicated honey shops to supermarkets and health food stores.

Pavlova

While it sounds a little bit like the Greek pastry known as Baklava, New Zealand’s Pavlova is a completely different dessert platform. Along with other types of signature dishes native to this region, there’s a heated debate among local restaurants about who is responsible for the creation of this particular cuisine, New Zealand or Australia.

Pavlova is often filled with meringue, whipped cream, kiwi, and other seasonal fruits and it’s simply scrumptious. You’ll find this tasty pastry in local bakeries and served in many restaurants.

So there you have it! A great list of eats and treats to try when you’re visiting stunning New Zealand. Let’s face it, part of the fun of traveling is enjoying the local cuisine and in this case, the more unusual and unique, the better.

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