Food isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of New Zealand — try Lord of the Rings or beautiful scenery, as annoying as these clichés are — but it’s a crucial part of any place. Food is so central to the identity of a culture—it brings people together, represents local traditions and history, and fuels the lifestyle. For this post, I decided to reprise the format of a post I wrote while blogging for Temple in Paris, and answer some questions from friends back home about the cuisine in NZ.
1. What exactly are NZ foods?
One doesn’t come to New Zealand for the cuisine, and before I arrived in NZ I had a very vague idea of what to expect food-wise. There are, however, some staples of the Kiwi diet; I’ll detail a few here.
Pies, stemming from New Zealand’s British influence, are very popular. Pies are usually filled with meat, potatoes, and/or vegetables, and can be bought anywhere from a fancy restaurant to a gas station convenience store. If you find yourself on the South Island, Sheffield Pies in, you guessed it, Sheffield, or Fairlie Bakehouse in, you guessed it, Fairlie, both sell phenomenal pies.
Pavlova is a Kiwi dessert made out of meringue and usually decorated with fruit, especially kiwis (the fruit, not the bird or the human!).
Hokey pokey is an ice cream or chocolate flavor that consists of bunches of honeycomb. Absolutely delicious.
Fish and chips are also popular, thanks again to that British influence.
Marmite is the Kiwi equivalent of the Australian Vegemite. A salty breakfast spread, it’s usually on toast or Weet-Bix in a very small amount with a ton of butter. I tried it once and have been scarred ever since.
Lolly cake is another Kiwi dessert, a type of candy-cake concoction I haven’t quite been able to figure out.
Hangi is the traditional Māori way of cooking food using heated rocks in a pit oven underground. For a hangi, Māori usually cook meat, vegetables, and kumara (New Zealand sweet potato). The food has a delicious smoky flavor and usually cooks for a long time.
Tomato sauce is the closest thing you’ll find to ketchup in NZ. It’s sweeter, and served with meat, fish and chips, etc. Aioli is also super popular here, available nearly everywhere and served more frequently than even tomato sauce with chips (French fries) and other fried foods.
2. What is a food that is eaten mainly at social gatherings?
Depends on the social gathering. A hangi, mentioned above, is usually prepared for gatherings at Māori marae (meeting houses) or parties. If you’re hanging out with uni students, however, “sausage sizzles” — daytime barbeques with plenty to drink and grilled sausages served on a single slice of white bread with tomato sauce — are quite popular.
3. Do Kiwis use a lot of natural ingredients? Are their ingredients locally grown or imported?
Surprisingly, New Zealanders use less locally-sourced products than I had expected. Farming is a huge part of New Zealand’s economy, especially dairying, meat farming, and certain types of produce. However, the majority of these products are exported out, leaving Kiwis with very expensive locally-sourced foods or very expensive imported foods (shipping costs aren’t cheap when you’re so far away from everything).
That being said, there are a ton of farmer’s markets in New Zealand, which offer reasonably priced local meats, dairy, eggs, produce, fish, and baked goods. I usually buy my produce for the week on Saturday mornings at Riccarton Bush Farmer’s Market, about a 25 minute walk from where I live. Since imported prices are so high, I can support the local community for the same price or cheaper, and farmer’s markets are popular with almost everyone. Local ingredients are definitely more accessible for a wider range of people here.
I will definitely miss some of the culinary staples of New Zealand, and especially the fact that the food tastes fresher and better than what I’m used to. Also, I may be forced to make my own hokey pokey once I’m home….