Back in 2011, I took my first solo trip overseas; a full time Spanish course in the south of Spain. Each day, the lessons would have a different underlying theme, and the class would use that theme to try and explain (in Spanish) various aspects of our life back home.
It started with the weather, and the Swiss girl in class talked about the snow, the Swedish girls talked about the grey skies and I talked about the hot Auckland summers and rainy Auckland winters.
Then came sports, and the Swiss girl talked about skiiing, the Russian girl talked about boxing and I of course talked about New Zealand’s obsession with rugby.
Then one day we finally had a lesson about food. The Swiss girl talked about Switzerland’s cheesy raclette, the German girl talked about Germany’s love for sausages, and I……had absolutely no idea what to talk about.
What do people eat in New Zealand? I had no immediate answer, and spent much of the lesson struggling to come up with something that I could share as my country’s national dish.
In the end, I just said we drink a lot of milk (lol). But it left me wondering; what is New Zealand food? What are our most beloved culinary inventions? And what, if anything, would be considered our national dish?
Since then the question has remained largely unanswered, and still to this day I struggle to come up with something when people ask me, “What is the food of New Zealand?”
However, over the last few months I think I’ve finally come up with an answer. I’ve been tripping around the country, exploring some of my country’s iconic foods and indulging in a few old childhood favourites. New Zealand cuisine is simple, but it’s also comforting, delicious, and loved. The list I’ve compiled below is a collection of those special NZ foods; things that all Kiwis seem to know and love, and things that have unarguably cemented their place in Kiwiana food history.
What food is New Zealand known for? Let me show you!
1. Cookie time
Cookie Time’s “Original Chocolate Chunk Cookie” is a timeless Kiwi favourite and the recipe has remained unchanged from when I had my first one over 20 years ago. As kids we always used to break our cookies open and see who could find the biggest chunk of chocolate – and seriously, you can find some massive ones in these things. Another popular thing to do is nuke it in the microwave for about 10 seconds, giving you a softer, chewier cookie oozing with warm melted chocolate. Delicious.
Get it at: Any NZ supermarket, service station or dairy (convenience store). There’s also a Cookie Time cafe you can visit.
Lamingtons are a sponge cake, coated in rasberry or chocolate and then sprinkled with shaved coconut. It’s common to cut them in half and fill them with cream or jam, but in most cases it’s simply eaten as is. A very popular snack enjoyed during morning or afternoon tea.
Get it at: Any supermarket or bakery.
3. Sausage sizzles
I still remember back when I was in primary (elementary) school, we would all arrive on Friday mornings with our precious $1 coins clasped between our palms. This, of course, was for Sausage Sizzle Friday, a weekly lunch event where the school would fundraise by selling stumpy pork sausages in pieces of fresh bread, lathered with tomato sauce and if you were lucky, a handful of grilled onions. However this wasn’t unique to my school; sausage sizzles happened all over the country, and while they began as a fundraising initiative (due to the cheap ingredients) they’re now considered a classic Kiwi comfort food enjoyed at family barbecues, food markets and special events up and down the country.
Get it at: Often sold at sports events and food markets, and quite often there are sausage sizzle fundraisers outside Bunnings and The Warehouse. Of course, the easiest thing to do is to cook them yourself. NZ sausages, onions, fresh white bread and a bottle of Wattie’s tomato sauce – all available at any NZ supermarket.
4. Hokey Pokey ice cream
Hokey pokey is one of the most popular ice cream flavours in the country; a timeless combination of hokey pokey (honeycomb) balls and rich vanilla ice cream. Plus it goes well with everything – cake, waffles, cones, banana splits. It’s the perfect ice cream! And so classically Kiwi. Once you try it, you may find it difficult to eat plain vanilla ever again.
Get it at: This is a Kiwi favourite so any ice cream stand or supermarket will have it. If you’re looking for something special, one of the best hokey pokey ice creams is at Giapo in the Auckland CBD. Giapo does some pretty unique things with gelato and ice cream – just check out their ‘gram! Definitely put them on your bucket list when you get down here.
5. Fish and chips
Food in New Zealand often takes influence from British roots – this is one good example. This takeaway treat has become so ingrained in our culture that it would be criminal not to include it here. Every Kiwi will surely have romantic memories of ripping open a steaming hot bundle of greasy goodness; perhaps a crispy battered fillet of Hoki or Tarakihi, a handful of crinkle cut chips and maybe a few other greasy bits from the menu, all wrapped up in yesterday’s newspaper and paired with a bottle of Wattie’s tomato sauce. It doesn’t get much more Kiwi than this!
Get it at: Any takeaway joint in the country will serve this, just ask around. My favourite fish and chip shop in Auckland has now closed (nooo!) but if you’re looking for something special, my new favourite is the Fresh Fish Market in Tauranga).
You have probably heard tales of the legendary Marmite, which is a standard item in every New Zealand pantry and an absolute must eat in New Zealand. In fact it is so loved that when the Christchurch earthquake damaged the country’s lone Marmite factory in 2012, a national “Marmite shortage” was declared which resulted in a mild panic throughout the nation (call me a traitor, but I actually prefer Australia’s Vegemite anyway).
So, what is it exactly? In very simple terms, it’s a yeast extract combined with a few different herbs and spices. The taste itself is really too hard to describe and is something you’ll just have to try yourself, but be warned, it’s a very acquired taste and if you didn’t grow up eating the stuff it probably won’t agree with you right away.
If you’re a Marmite virgin, the best way to pop your cherry would be an extremely thin spread on toast, perhaps with a dash of butter. However if you’re a little more game you might like to try the legendary…
7. Marmite & Chip Sandwich
Traditionalists would say you need to use Salt and Vinegar chips for this, but I just say go with whatever you want (I like Kettle chips, personally). The recipe is simple enough – white bread, chips and a light spread of butter and Marmite. A common item in every Kiwi kid’s lunchbox.
Get it at: Marmite will be found at every NZ supermarket. You should also note NZ Marmite is very different in flavour to the British Marmite.
A New Zealand delicacy! Tuatua are an indigenous New Zealand shellfish that you won’t find anywhere else in the world (as far as I know). While very similar in shape and size to pipis, tuatuas have a milder flavour than most shellfish and a softer, creamier texture as well. As New Zealand is an island country the vast amount of shoreline means we are spoiled with shellfish, and the native Maori are said to have enjoyed this one quite a bit back in the day. As I’m told, the tuatua was, and still is, one of the ultimate favourites (definitely one of mine as well!).
Get it at: Tuatua can be collected for free during low tide at many sandy beaches around the country (ask a local about the good collection spots). However, the easiest way to get them is simply to buy them at a seafood shop, especially around Auckland where finding them on beaches is becoming increasingly difficult. A dozen will cost you around $8. If you’re cooking them yourself here’s a decent recipe to try.
I still remember my first hāngi. I was around 7 years old, and was at school one morning watching a couple of guys dig a massive hole in the middle of our sports field. Later they lowered in some baskets of food, sitting them on top of hot rocks, and then filled the hole in burying our food beneath the ground. The food slowly cooked over the course of the day, and when lunchtime rolled around I was treated to my first hāngi meal: chicken, pork, potatoes, pumpkin and a few other veges, all cooked beneath the soccer field we used to play on each day. This is a traditional method of Maori cooking that dates back many generations, and is still used today in various Maori communities. If you’re looking to try traditional New Zealand food, this is about as close as it gets.
Get it at: For hāngi food actually cooked in the ground, your best bet is to head to Rotorua; a city with a large Maori population and often considered New Zealand’s centre of Maori culture. The many Maori village tours will include traditionally cooked hāngi meals in their itinerary. Alternatively you can head to Kiwi Kai, a small kitchen in the city that offers hāngi meals, among other traditional Kiwi food and Maori food. If you’re in Auckland, try The Hāngi Shop.
10. Steamed pudding
I know absolutely nothing about this dish, other than the fact that Kiwis like it (somehow it has eluded me for the last 28 years). It was described to me as a “Christmas cake without the fruit” and it’s usually drenched in custard, milk, ice cream, or all three at once. Of course I didn’t know this when I tried it, so like an idiot (as you can see in the photo) I just ate it plain like a muffin or a cake. Still tasted fine to me!
Get it at: Seems to be popular at the Maori/Pacific Island food stalls at the food markets. You can find microwave puddings at the supermarkets too.
11. Fairy Bread
Every kid’s birthday party in New Zealand will have three things: potato chips, cheerios and fairy bread. This party treat is made by sprinkling hundreds-and-thousands (you might better know them as ‘sprinkles’ or ‘jimmies’), over a slice of buttered bread and then cutting them into triangles. It’s also worth noting hundreds-and-thousands are not just any type of sprinkle; they refer specifically to the tiny rainbow-coloured spheres (as opposed to the many other shapes and colours available).
As I’m told, the cool kids now use Nutella instead of butter; somewhat of a fairy bread on steroids. Stuff like this is pretty typical New Zealand food – making something out of nothing in the pantry, like the Marmite chip sandwich above. Delicious though!
Get it at: I doubt you’ll find this for sale anywhere, so just pick up the ingredients at a supermarket and make them yourself.
12. Mince & cheese pie
Every time I eat a mince and cheese pie it instantly brings back memories of the rainy days at high school, rushing to the tuck shop (school canteen) at lunchtime to warm the senses with a steaming hot pie. And of course, like every Kiwi kid I have memories of hurriedly biting into the pastry and having the scorching mince leave a little burn on my lip as I impatiently gobbled it down.
A good, classic mince and cheese will be served hot, filled with mince and gravy, have a generous layer of cheese under the crust and be finished with a nice, flaky pastry on top. Not all pies are created equal, but if you do find a good one it will leave you with a big fat smile on your face, guaranteed.
Get it at: Any bakery in the country. If you want the best, try the mince & cheese from Greenland Bakery & Cafe in Auckland – the current title holder of New Zealand’s #1 pie (in photo).
13. Whitebait fritter
Whitebait is a delicacy in New Zealand and currently demands the highest price of any fish in the country. The preferred method of cooking is the whitebait fritter; a simple combination of eggs, flour and whitebait, fried like an omelette and then topped with lemon, salt and pepper. As you can see from the photo it’s a very tiny fish (as they’re not fully matured) and the the strong fishy flavour can be a little off-putting to some. However a perfectly cooked fritter with just the right amount of crisp will quickly turn you into a loyal fan.
Get it at: During whitebait season (Aug – Sept) many cafes and restaurants will have whitebait fritters on the menu. You can also purchase fresh whitebait at seafood stores to cook your own (frozen whitebait is sometimes available in off-season but can be difficult to find). For the enthusiasts, head to the South Island’s west coast, a region famous for it’s incredible fritters.
14. The Original Kiwi Dip
The Original Kiwi Dip is a simple mixture of a Maggi Onion Soup packet and a can of reduced cream (usually a splash of vinegar, too). This dip is so loved throughout the country that both the soup and cream are marketed as official ingredients (as you’ll see in the photo above). Purists would argue that it must be enjoyed with Bluebird chips, another Kiwi favourite, however the dip tends to go well with pretty much anything.
Get it at: Both ingredients are cheap and easy to find at supermarkets around the country (both have instructions on the side too).
15. Chocolate Fish
This chocolate covered, fish-shaped strawberry marshmallow is one of New Zealand’s most iconic pieces of confectionery. While obviously not seafood, it’s almost an icon of New Zealand food culture as we are an island and take much of our culinary influence from the ocean. Chocolate fish have always been a favourite Kiwi treat – as a kid you would sometimes get a sticker or a lollipop for being good, but receiving a chocolate fish was always the ultimate prize.
Get it at: Any corner store, service station or supermarket.
Feijoas are actually native to South America but are commonly grown as a garden plant in New Zealand. Every summer you’ll find feijoas trees fruiting out of control, and it’s common for people to give bags full to their neighbours as a healthy tree produces far too much fruit for one family to consume alone.
The taste and smell is extremely unique; somewhat tropical with a texture mildly similar to that of a kiwifruit. Works beautifully in juices and smoothies too.
Get it at: The season runs from around March to June each year. Reasonably cheap from any fruit shop or supermarket.
17. Peanut Slab
Whittaker’s has been serving up chocolate to Kiwis for over a century now and are famous for their creamy, full flavoured milk chocolate. Over the years they’ve developed a wide range of different products, however their greatest creation would certainly have to be the original Whittaker’s Peanut Slab.
Instantly recognisable from it’s bright gold wrapper and stumpy oblong shape, this block of roasted peanuts and Whittaker’s famous milk chocolate is a true Kiwi icon, and probably the most beloved chocolate bar in the country. Do try it.
Get it at: Every supermarket, corner store and gas station will definitely have them.
18. Bluff Oysters
Down at the bottom of New Zealand lies the small town of Bluff, world famous for it’s rich, succulent oysters, which are often considered the best on the planet. If you’re an oyster freak like me you’ll go crazy for these things, however they don’t come cheap or easy; you’ll need to wait until they’re in season (March – August) and they’ll cost you around $25 a dozen.
The taste is very different to the regular Pacific oysters; a much more intense, fishy, almost metallic flavour. I prefer them raw with just a dash of lemon, but they also fry beautifully with a light layer of flour and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Get it at: Any seafood store and some supermarkets, only when in season (March – August).
19. Griffin’s biscuits
Griffin’s is a New Zealand biscuit company that has created several Kiwi favourites over the years. As a kid my biscuit of choice was always the strawberry filled Shrewsbury, however I would say either Mallowpuffs or Toffee Pops would take the title of New Zealand’s favourite. Their many other creations, such as Gingernuts, Squiggles and Macaroons all have their loyal followings as well. I guess you’ll just have to try them all.
Get it at: Any NZ supermarket.
20. New Zealand Mussels
New Zealand green lipped mussels are native to New Zealand and can be found on restaurant menus all around the world. What better place to try them than in the motherland itself? Eating a steaming hot pot of mussels is a definitely one of New Zealand’s great pleasures – pulling apart fat juicy shellfish with mussel sauce dripping all over your hands and face and then wiping the bowl clean with a bowl of fries or a few slices of fresh bread. How can you not love that?
Get it at: Cooking your own mussel pot is easy enough, and mussels are reasonably cheap from NZ supermarkets. If you’re in Auckland, the Belgian cafes do a mussel pot special each Monday. However, if you just look around you’ll find mussel pots on quite a few menus around the country.
21. Pineapple Lumps
Pineapple Lumps are chocolate coated, pineapple flavoured chews and were invented in the small town of Oamaru back in the 50’s. Since then they’ve become one of New Zealand’s favourite confectioneries, and because similar candies are difficult to find elsewhere they are often a popular gift to send to Kiwis expats overseas. Incredibly addictive.
Get it at: Any NZ supermarket, corner store or service station. You can also get them on Amazon (for a price).
Boil-ups are particularly popular in Maori communities in NZ and are cooked by boiling different ingredients together like a soup, usually with a pork base. Popular ingredients are pumpkin, potatoes, pork and watercress. It’s also common to add Maori style dumplings, known as ‘doughboys’ into the mix. Perfect if you’re craving a bit of hearty, home cooked comfort food.
Get it at: More of a home cooked meal, but you can buy yourself a nice little boil-up meal at Kiwi Kai in Rotorua (in photo). The Hangi Shop in Auckland also sells it, although I haven’t tried theirs (yet).
23. Fried bread
Fried bread is another treat very popular within Maori circles, in fact I’d never even heard of it before until I went down to Rotorua looking for it. Whether you partner them with a soup or stew or just lather them with butter and jam, these things will make your stomach very happy indeed. If you’re looking for a soup to try them with, I had mine with a seafood chowder and that was a near perfect combination.
24. Goody Goody Gum Drops ice cream
Goody Goody Gum Drops is a NZ ice cream flavour, consisting of classic bubblegum flavoured ice cream mixed with small, gummy fruit lollies. It’s one of the iconic New Zealand desserts and will be sold everywhere. Every kid used to have a different way of eating it; some would spit the lollies out and eat them all at the end, some would spend most of the time sucking on the gumdrops from each mouthful and others would just gulp the whole thing down. Whatever your style, this flavour definitely makes dessert time a little bit more fun.
Get it at: Any NZ supermarket.
25. Rewena bread
While tripping around the country putting this post together I stumbled upon this popular Maori bread, something I’d never heard of before. As the story goes, the Maori cooked up the receipe for rewena after the British introduced them to flour, and since then it has become a favourite among the Maori community in NZ. The bread is made with flour and potato, and follows a recipe similar to that of a sourdough. A nice, subtle difference to your regular loaf of white.
26. Spaghetti on toast
The Italians would probably cringe at the sight of this – New Zealand’s hilarious attempt at merging two of their flagship foods. It would be sad if it wasn’t so delicious.
Wattie’s spaghetti in tomato sauce is exactly what it sounds like – a can of spaghetti in tomato sauce. Kiwis grow up on this stuff, and one of the favourite ways to eat it is to turn it into a wannabe pizza: more commonly known as spaghetti on toast.
Take a piece of toast, cover it with spaghetti, sprinkle it with cheese and then zap it under the grill. Seriously, I bet even the All Blacks eat this stuff.
Get it at: All ingredients found at any NZ supermarket.
Due to the name people often associate this fruit with New Zealand, even though it’s native to China and produced mostly by Italy. However you will find a lot of Kiwifruit down here in New Zealand and it’s cheap, too. Try the yellow/golden version for a milder, sweeter flavour.
Get it at: Any supermarket or fruit shop.
Yes, it’s true – we have a lot of sheep, and we eat a lot of them too.
While lamb is enjoyed all over the world, you won’t find them much cheaper or fresher than you will down in New Zealand. Every eatery will have their own offerings of lamb chops, lamb steaks, lamb racks and lamb burgers, and you owe it to yourself to try all of them while you’re on our shores.
Get it at: You’ll find lamb chop meals on menus all over the country. McDonald’s had a lamb burger but it was a flop so it’s gone now – you’ll need to go to a cafe to find one of those. Most cafes and restaurants will have some part of the lamb on their menu 🙂
While the name might suggest a Middle Eastern origin, make no mistake – this cookie is 100% a Kiwi food original. A classic recipe afghan consists of a chocolate cookie baked with cornflakes mixed in, coated with chocolate icing and then finished off with half a walnut on top. It has quite a unique texture as it’s both crunchy and smooth, and despite all the chocolate it’s not actually as sweet as you might expect. Looking at the picture it might seem like just a regular chocolate cookie, but most Kiwis will easily be able to tell an afghan from the very first bite.
Get it at: Every bakery in the country should sell them. If you can’t find them there, Griffin’s makes quite a decent afghan and you can buy a pack of these at any NZ supermarket.
30. Manuka Honey
Manuka honey is a New Zealand (and Aussie) produced honey, made with pollen from the manuka tree that grows throughout New Zealand. Apparently it does all sorts of magic things for your health, none of which I can vouch for.
It has a much richer, heavier flavour than regular honey (quite a distinct smell too) and I’ve noticed that people love receiving this as a gift, probably because it’s so expensive outside NZ. If you’re looking for an edible souvenir for mama, this could be the one.
Get it at: Any NZ supermarket.
31. Anzac biscuits
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, representative of our troops who fought during World War 1. The story that I know goes like this: wives and mothers used to send biscuits to their sons and husbands during the war, careful to use ingredients such as oats and golden syrup that wouldn’t spoil during the journey. After the war the biscuits were aptly named Anzac biscuits, and have been known as such ever since.
Over the years the recipe has changed quite a bit, from a hard flat biscuit to a softer, chewier one, and these are still extremely popular throughout the country today.
Get them at: Can be found at supermarkets, some bakeries, and are also sold for fundraising on Anzac Day (April 25). If you’d like to try baking them yourself, give this recipe a go. It’s not hard!
L&P is a drink that originated in the small New Zealand town of Paeroa. I don’t have the full story; all I know is there was something special about the mineral water there which eventually led to it being bottled and sold. Later it was mixed with lemon, and the drink Lemon & Paeroa was born.
L&P is hugely iconic in New Zealand, similar to what Inca Kola is to Peru, and if the country were ever to officially name a national drink I’ve no doubt this would be the one. Make sure you try it!
Get it at: Anywhere with a drinks fridge.
Pavlova is a New Zealand dessert best described as a big meringue cake topped with fresh fruit and cream. The inside is soft, like a marshmallow, and together with the crispy outside provides quite a special collision of different flavours and textures. Very sweet, so if you’re a dessert lover this will definitely rate highly on your list. A Kiwi icon!
Get it at: Quite hard to find actually. You can buy undecorated ones from supermarkets but they’re not the greatest. If you have an oven handy, have a go at baking one yourself – it’s actually quite simple. A thank you to my Mum who baked the one in the photo especially for this post!
Well, there it is; my answer to what people eat in New Zealand.
What do you think? Have you been to New Zealand? Which of these did you try? If you’re a Kiwi, what did I miss? Let me know in the comments below!
Heading to New Zealand? Follow these tips:
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Looking for a guided tour? Check out these options from some great local operators: