Food and Wine in New Zealand
New Zealand is famous for its clean green image and fertile farmland. Agriculture is the largest earner in the New Zealand economy and with farms for everything from sheep and beef to plums, grapes and oysters around the country, it’s no wonder New Zealand is also a top destination for quality food and wine.
Traditional and unique ‘Kiwi’ food
New Zealand cuisine was heavily influenced by the early British settlers, but it’s evolved over the years as we became more culturally diverse. The traditional Kiwi dinner used to be homemade roast lamb with gravy, roast potatoes and other vegetables, with fish and chips from a local takeaway shop on Fridays.
Barbeques are always a popular option, especially for informal gatherings. A single-serve meat pie (often served with tomato sauce or ketchup) is popular for lunch or a snack on the go.
Perhaps the most famous New Zealand dessert is the pavlova, a large meringue covered in whipped cream and fruit – the origins of this are hotly contested by New Zealanders and Australians! Make sure you try ‘hokey pokey’ ice cream while in New Zealand – vanilla icecream with small lumps of honeycomb.
These days New Zealand food goes way beyond fish and chips or ‘meat and three veg’ – we’ve developed a distinct Pacific Rim cuisine that draws on our local produce and multicultural heritage. When dining in New Zealand, expect to indulge in plenty of seafood (like greenlipped mussels, crayfish, Bluff oysters and fresh fish), award-winning cheeses and of course our famous lamb.
But whether you’re eating a whitebait fritter on the side of the road or sitting in a fine dining establishment, you can expect a laidback, friendly atmosphere wherever you eat; we Kiwis love to keep things casual.
Meat and seafood
There are approximately five sheep per person in New Zealand, so it’s not surprising that lamb is a popular dish, especially for the traditional Sunday roast. New Zealand lamb is highly sought-after overseas, while our venison (deer meat) is also becoming increasingly popular.
With 15,000 kilometres of coastline, fresh fish and seafood are easy to find in New Zealand. Mussels, scallops, Bluff oysters, whitebait and salmon are all readily available. (Be aware of fishing catch limits if you’re planning to gather your own seafood.) Fish and chips is a popular fast food (or ‘takeaway’ food) for most New Zealanders, and we pride ourselves on it being better than the English version!
Fruit and vegetables
Fresh seasonal produce is available all over New Zealand. As you travel along rural roads you’ll often see roadside stalls with bags of fresh fruit or vegetables, usually with an ‘honesty box’ for payment.
The kiwifruit is perhaps the most famous New Zealand fruit. Also known as the Chinese gooseberry or simply the kiwi, it has a brown fuzzy skin with green or yellow flesh inside. You can find the best kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty region (especially around Te Puke, which boasts a giant kiwifruit as its mascot), as well as avocadoes. The Hawke’s Bay and Otago regions are famous for their stone fruit like peaches, plums, cherries and nectarines, as well as apples and pears.
New Zealand Dairy
New Zealand is the world’s eighth largest milk producer. Our dairy products are sold around the world and recognised for their quality. Many artisan cheesemakers around the country produce specialist cheeses.
Māori food specialties
Food (or kai) is an important part of Māori culture and hospitality. Perhaps the most famous Māori meal is the hangi, a meal steam-cooked under the earth on hot stones. You must try a hangi while you’re in New Zealand. The process of “laying a hangi” or “putting down a hangi” is fascinating to watch. The distinctive smoky, earthy taste of meat and vegetables cooked this way is simply delicious. In Rotorua, geothermal activity means that steam shoots out of the ground practically everywhere you look. As a result the local Māori people developed a technique for steam-cooking their meals. It’s definitely worth trying if you get the chance during your visit.
Kai moana or seafood is central to Māori cuisine and emphasis is placed on gathering it respectfully and sustainably. The first Māori people also brought kumara (sweet potato) with them to New Zealand and it’s very popular.
In recent years New Zealand cuisine has experienced a revival of traditional Māori foods like rewana bread, puha, watercress, different varieties of potato and native edible plants like horopito, kawakawa and pikopiko. Look out for these distinctive tastes on a menu near you. And if you’re feeling brave, how about huhu grubs gathered from a tree trunk or fallen log?
New Zealand Wines
The beginnings of the New Zealand wine industry date back to the first European missionaries. The Reverend Samuel Marsden planted the first grapevines in New Zealand in the Bay of Islands in 1819. Our climate and terrain is perfect for producing wine, especially in regions with hot days and cool nights. New Zealand pinot noir and sauvignon blanc wines in particular are well-recognised globally, but you’ll find award-winning examples of every variety around the country.
The main wine-producing regions in New Zealand are Northland (from the Bay of Islands to Matakana), Auckland (including West Auckland and Waiheke Island), Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, Martinborough, Marlborough, Canterbury and Central Otago.
Visiting a New Zealand vineyard is a must-do during your stay. Not only will you have the opportunity to taste delicious wines, but they are usually located in stunningly beautiful spots! Most New Zealand wineries are open for tasting and also offer fine dining restaurants. There are a range of wine tours available in these areas.
New Zealand Beer
As well as award-winning wine, New Zealand is known for good quality beer. Beer was the tipple of choice for pioneers working in the gold fields or logging industries. New Zealand’s oldest breweries date back to those early days and they’ve been going strong ever since. Large-scale New Zealand beers like Steinlager, Monteith’s, Speight’s and Tui are available in pubs and hotels wherever you look. However, the craft beer movement is also growing steadily, with boutique micro-breweries popping up around the country.