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 gaining a name for itself as a top destination for quality food and wine.
New Zealand cuisine was heavily influenced by the early British settlers, but has evolved over the years as our nation becomes more culturally diverse. Typical Kiwi dinners might include homemade roast lamb with gravy, mint sauce, roast potatoes and other vegetables, or sometimes fish and chips from a local takeaway shop. Barbeques are also popular especially for informal gatherings. A meat pie (often served with tomato sauce or ketchup) is popular for lunch or a snack. 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.
There are approximately seven sheep per person in New Zealand, so it's not surprising that lamb is a popular dish, especially for the traditional Sunday roast dinner. New Zealand lamb is highly sought-after overseas, while New Zealand 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 and mussels, scallops, Bluff oysters, whitebait and salmon are all 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!
Fresh seasonal produce is available all over New Zealand, and while travelling along rural roads you will often see roadside stalls offering bags of fresh fruit or vegetables (usually operating an ‘honesty box’ for payment). The kiwifruit is perhaps the most famous New Zealand fruit – sometimes known as the Chinese gooseberry or simply the kiwi, it has a brown fuzzy skin and green or yellow flesh inside. You can find the best kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty region (especially around Te Puke, home of a giant kiwifruit symbol), as well as avocadoes. The Hawke’s Bay and Otago regions are famous for their stone fruit like peaches, plums, cherries and nectarines, along with pipfruit like apples and pears.
New Zealand is the world’s eighth largest milk producer and New Zealand dairy products are sold around the world and recognised for their quality. Many artisan cheesemakers around the country produce specialist cheeses.
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 distinctive taste of meat and vegetables cooked on hot stones in an earth oven is simply delicious, and the process of “laying a hangi” or “putting down a hangi” is fascinating to watch. In a similar vein, in Rotorua, geothermal activity means that steam shoots out of the ground practically everywhere you look, making steam-cooked meals very popular.
Kai moana or seafood is central to Māori cuisine and much emphasis is placed on gathering it in a respectful way without depleting stocks. Kumara (sweet potato) was introduced to New Zealand by early Māori and is very common. Other traditional Māori foods to try while in New Zealand include rewana bread, and if you’re feeling brave, how about huhu grubs gathered from a tree trunk or fallen log? In recent years New Zealand cuisine has experienced a revival of traditional Māori foods like 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.
New Zealand wine may only have begun drawn international accolades fairly recently, but the beginnings of the industry date right back to the first European missionaries – Samuel Marsden planted the first grapevines up in the Bay of Islands in 1819. The diverse New Zealand climate and terrain are perfect for producing wine, especially in regions with hot days and cool nights, and viticulture is a growing industry. Our Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc wines in particular are well-recognised around the world. Other blends including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris are also made 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 just for the opportunity to taste delicious wines, but also because they are usually located in stunningly beautiful locations! 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.
As well as award-winning wine, New Zealand is known for good quality beer. Beer was the tipple of choice for early pioneers working in the gold fields or logging industries and New Zealand’s oldest breweries have 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, but the craft beer movement is also growing steadily with boutique micro-breweries around the country.