Top 10 Foods (and Drinks) You Have to Try in New Zealand

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So you’re traveling to New Zealand. You’ve picked out what adventure activities you’re going to try, what cities you’ll check out, and where you’re going to stay. But have you thought about what you’re going to eat in New Zealand? What is New Zealand food even like?

New Zealand cuisine is a mix of native Maori and European influences. If you go to any of the larger cities (like Wellington and Auckland), you can also expect to find a heavy Asian influence, plus any number of other nationalities represented.

So there are no bounds when it comes to a variety of foods to try. However, there are some patently “New Zealand” foods and drinks that you should make sure to taste.

New Zealand food: Top 10 things to eat and drink in NZ

1. Lamb/Mutton

Thanks to New Zealand’s large sheep population (there’s a ratio of roughly 10-to-1, sheep-to-human), you can find lamb and mutton on just about every menu. And I mean every menu – you can even order lamb at New Zealand Subway restaurants.

Most of it is fresh and New Zealand-raised, so definitely give it a try at least once, even if you think you don't like lamb.

2. NZ wine

Rippon Vineyard in Wanaka, New Zealand
NZ wineries look like this! (This is the Rippon Vineyard in Wanaka)

New Zealand wineries have really taken off within the past 30 or 40 years. You can find wineries – and good ones, at that – scattered all over both islands, and you can sign up for wine-tasting tours in most major cities and wine-growing areas.

Some of the most popular areas to go wine tasting at the source include Waiheke Island, Hawke's Bay, and the Wairarapa on the North Island, and Marlborough and Central Otago on the South Island. But of course you can also try New Zealand wines at restaurants all across the country.

New Zealand is most famous for its Sauvignon Blanc wine – in fact, some critics have said NZ makes the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world – so that's definitely a must-try.

3. Vegemite/Marmite

How does some yeast extract sound? Tasty? Disgusting? Well, in Australia and New Zealand, it’s all the rage to eat on top of your morning toast. Vegemite (the Australian brand) is more well-known, but Marmite (the British and New Zealand version) is basically the same thing.

The dark brown paste is made from yeast extract, a by-product of beer manufacturing. It’s thick, salty, bitter and sticky. I’m told NZ Marmite is slightly sweeter than Vegemite (thanks to some added sugar), but, to my untrained palete, neither tasted great.

It’s definitely an acquired taste, but no trip to NZ or OZ can be complete without the first-taste experience. Try a very thin layer on top of toast with butter.

4. New Zealand venison

Just like other animals are raised for meat in other countries, deer are “farmed” in New Zealand. Venison here, then, is not tough and gamey like wild venison you may have tasted elsewhere in the world. In fact, NZ venison is probably one of my favorite meats!

5. Hokey-Pokey ice cream

Giapo hokey pokey ice cream
Giapo’s Hokey Pokey is the best in the world!

If you’re an ice cream lover (and, really, who isn’t?), make sure to try a scoop of Hokey Pokey at least once. Hokey Pokey is an example of Kiwiana – a term that is used to represent “iconic” New Zealand elements that often turn into kitsch. Hokey Pokey is no kitsch, however.

Essentially, Hokey Pokey is vanilla ice cream with bits of sponge toffee mixed in. Many other NZ treats – candy bars, cookies, etc. – that use the same sponge toffee will often market themselves as being Hokey Pokey-flavored.

If you want to try some of the best homemade Hokey Pokey ice cream in New Zealand, head to Giapo, an artisan ice cream shop in Auckland. Here, ice cream isn't just a tasty treat – it's pure art! Their Hokey Pokey ice cream is delicious and coated in chocolate and bits of toffee, and they offer up lots of other innovative flavors and designs, too, depending on the season. There's often a line out Giapo's door, but I promise that the wait is worth it!

6. Kiwifruit

Originally a Chinese vine fruit, kiwifruit is now a New Zealand specialty. The egg-sized fruit with a fuzzy brown skin and (usually) green flesh tastes like no other kind of fruit I’ve ever had. It’s a bit tangy. A bit sweet. And all sorts of delicious.

If you like the green version, try New Zealand’s Golden Kiwifruit, too. It's a sweeter, yellow version of the fruit specially produced in NZ, and it’s my favorite.

7. L&P

This soft drink is strictly a New Zealand product; you won’t find it anywhere else in the world, unless it’s in a NZ specialty store. L&P stands for Lemon & Paeroa, and traditionally was made by mixing lemon juice with carbonated mineral water from the town of Paeroa. Today, it’s manufactured by Coca-Cola.

To describe its taste is difficult. It’s not quite like other lemon-lime soft drinks, mostly because it lacks the lime part and all the sugar. It also can be a bit of an acquired taste, but I’d still recommend buying a bottle and giving it a try.

8. Fergburger

Fergburger in Queenstown
A giant Fergburger

This heavenly burger joint in Queenstown has some of the biggest, most delicious sandwiches and burgers in New Zealand. My mouth is watering even just thinking about it. The playful menu includes sandwiches with names like “Mr. Big Stuff,” “Little Lamby” and “Cockadoodle Oink” (the last of which is a chicken and bacon sandwich).

If you’re not very adventurous, just go for the original Fergburger, made (like all of its burgers) with New Zealand beef, and piled high with lettuce, tomato, onion, aioli, and tomato relish. The sandwich will be roughly the size of your head, so perhaps find someone to split it with so you can also get a heaping order of fries.

Fergburger has become such a cult phenomenon that waiting in line for a sandwich is a touristy rite of passage in Queenstown. (Though here's a secret: you can call ahead to order, too.)

9. Kumara

A kumara is nothing more than a sweet potato. So why is it on this list? It is one of the many root vegetables popular in Maori culture to be cooked in hangi, or earth ovens. If you have the chance to attend a hangi, do (there are touristy Maori cultural events all over both islands, especially in Rotorua, that honestly are worth your time).

A hangi is made by digging a pit, lighting a fire, and then covering the fire with stones. Once the fire burns out, food (including kumara) is wrapped in leaves, placed on top of the hot stones, and then covered with earth to cook for hours. The resulting meal is soft, smoky, and mouth-wateringly good.

10. Green-lipped mussels

Green-lipped mussels in New Zealand
Green-lipped mussels

A New Zealand specialty not to be found anywhere else in the world, green-lipped mussels are delicious. These specific mussels are large and fatty, and have dark green shells with (can you guess?) a green lip, giving them their name.

If you like seafood, definitely seek these out. Plus, I’ve read that the fatty acids in these mussels have special anti-inflammatory powers.

5 honorable mentions: The sweet stuff

When it comes to New Zealand food, we can't forget dessert! Other than hokey pokey ice cream, here are some other sweet treats to try in NZ:

1. Pavlova

Though it seems no one can to say for certain, pavlova, a meringue-based dessert, appears to be a New Zealand invention; another example of Kiwiana. The cake is basically a giant meringue, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. It’s usually topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit, and is a popular NZ dessert.

If I had to describe pavlova in word, it would be: sweet. Very sweet. But also quite light. It’s said pavlova was invented for and named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova when she toured through Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s.

2. Peanut Slabs

New Zealand classics
L&P and a Peanut Slab

Another New Zealand specialty that I fell in love with are Peanut Slabs by Whittakers. The original is just a creamy milk chocolate bar with tons of peanuts. But they also make other flavors with dark chocolate and white chocolate – their hokey pokey is good, too!

3. Tim Tams

These cookies are a must-try in New Zealand or Australia (technically they’re Aussie-made). Original Tim Tams consist of two chocolate biscuits sandwiching a layer of chocolate mousse, which are then dipped in creamy milk chocolate. Mmm.

Try doing a Tim Tam slam, where you bite off both ends of your cookie, dip one end into hot tea, suck the tea up through the cookie until it’s saturated, and then pop the whole thing into your mouth. It just melts away.

4. Jaffas

These little candies, popular in Australia and New Zealand, are a staple in movie theaters across both countries. Similar to MnMs, these round chocolate candies are dipped in orange-flavored candy coating. They are manufactured these days by a division of Cadbury, and can be found all over New Zealand. I may have become addicted to them while I was in NZ…

5. Pineapple Lumps

Also an example of Kiwiana, Pineapple Lumps are another New Zealand specialty. They are essentially a chocolate-coated candy with a chewy, pineapple-flavored center. You can find bags of this NZ treat in any grocery or convenience store.

Have you tried any of these New Zealand foods? What are your favorite things to eat and/or drink in New Zealand?

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Top things to eat and drink in New Zealand

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26 Comments on “Top 10 Foods (and Drinks) You Have to Try in New Zealand

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  1. Great list! Feijoas would be up the top for me, they’re a NZ institution lol – must be eaten straight from the tree or at worst from a roadside stall. Hangi is another one to add on – basically meat and veges traditionally cooked in an underground fire pit for hours. So yum!!

    I think you missed one of the BEST seafood (kai moana) that you can only find in the Deep South! Bluff oysters are a true delicacy known worldwide.
    Followed at a very close second by Blue Cod. A beautiful white, flaky, moist fish loved by most kiwis.
    These 2 delicacies should be washed down by one of the 2 best beers in NZ. You are either a Speights or a DB drinker in NZ! There is always a great debate which is the best ?

      I will have to remember this for my next trip! I’ve definitely had Blue Cod in NZ, but haven’t tried Bluff oysters!

    Awesome blog Amanda! Great to see someone talking about my country’s favourite foods and you’re from USA wow!.. I am a born and bred New Zealander and I must say most of your info is spot on.. Regarding meat pies,,, yes they practically are a staple here… not that our personal trainers want us to say that!! They are not just an Auckland thing either they are all over the country… Mince and cheese is a favourite and we even have a national best pie award every year!! Ferg burger must be just a South Island thing cos most us up here in the north island have never heard of it!! And as for Fish and chips YES! totally NZ..Every region every town has their favourite fish and chip spots that they swear by.. but common sense tells us that the real gems are the ones right by the sea… My fave is Raglan Fish and Chips ..literally on the wharf at a little seaside town called Raglan on the North Islands west fresh off the boat cooked to perfection.. and you can eat it right there on the wharf and watch the boats come in and people fishing and sometimes there’s even a live musician or two playing …it’s awesome! Some of us were bought up with vegemite or marmite and it is a homely comfort food for many Kiwis…I had it on my toast as a toddler and so did my sons .. both spreads still have their haters though among kiwis so it’s a love it or hate it thing!
    Your comments about our sweets (or ‘lollies’ as we call them!) are absolutely right …although the Tim Tams are not Kiwiana as such…just yummy..
    Our kumara is a red skinned white fleshed vege and is an integral part of a hangi or a boil up…
    Love that you love our country…keep up the good work!!

    Where does a vegetarian or vegan eat to enjoy with the locals

      In the bigger cities especially, you’l find plenty of vegetarian-friendly (and even vegan) places to eat. I don’t have any to personally recommend, but they exist in NZ just as in most other Western countries.

    I’m a kiwi in malaysia I miss nz pies and fish and chips and fresh seafood oooh especially lamb yummmm yummmmm can’t wait to go back home and stuff my face lol

      The fresh seafood in NZ is awesome! I ate as much of it as I could. I also fell in love with NZ venison on my last trip there!

    Man I feel homesick now! I’m a Kiwi living in Germany (about to go back for the first visit in two years). I stumbled across this page while trying to figure out what foods to horde back!! and yea, now I’m homesick, but thank you reminding me what I’m missing 🙂

    I love FergBurger. Dunedin also honoured a close second with Velvet Burger. There is really no equivalent in the Far North where I’m living 🙁

    I know this was a “top 10”, but not sure if you’ve tried any of this unique/delicious KaiMoana (Seafood)

    PAUA – otherwise known as abalonie, is quite a delicacy and an a New Zealand speciality! In order to get it yourself, you need to free dive – the locals know where, and you’re only allowed to take a max of 10 per person. There are countless ways to have it – creamed, fried with garlic and onion are my favourites – it’s definitely worth trying and incredibly popular in the Far North of NZ

    PIPIs/Tuatuas – a small white shellfish found at low tide! I’ve had them cooked in white wine and cream with pasta, as well as done shelled in the frying pan with garlic and chili flakes (the more tastier option)

    I don’t recommend either in a fritter, but that’s just me, some people love them!

    CRAYFISH – essentially lobster without the claws! I know Kaikoura had Happy Hour on Crayfish and in the Far North, lots of people free-dive for them them (with gloves). I’m not so keen on that activity though! But so tasty 🙂

    and just for fun – Kiwi Dip is a tasty classic as well. A can of reduced cream, mixed with a sachet of Maggie Onion Soup mix and a bit of lemon juice left to set in the fridge for an hour – perfection!

      Yum, all of that seafood sounds delish! I can’t say I’ve tried any of it, though, since I’m not a huge fan of seafood other than fish. But maybe next time!! You certainly have me intrigued.

    I never been into New Zealand. If ever I did have a trip there, I would love to try the ones listed above. I am so anxious to taste them all.

    Thank you for including three Cadbury products, Chocolate Fish, Jaffas, and Pineapple Lumps, in your list of the top sweet stuff in NZ. We really appreciate the loyalty and passion our Kiwi customers have for our iconic New Zealand products.

      No worries! They’re all delicious. And, actually, I’m not Kiwi customer! I’m from the U.S., meaning I’m missing goodies like Jaffas like crazy.

    Is that you in the top picture? Looks like a BurgerFuel burger you’re eating! God, I loved those.

    How can you forget pies? Maybe it’s more an Auckland thing then a rest of the country, but I can’t think about NZ (or Australia) and not think of pies.

    And Feijoas? I had never even hear of them before I got to NZ….

    I am reading so many food posts lately…droooool….

      Yes, that’s me in the top photo! A couple of years ago, when my hair was red. And yes, that’s indeed a Burger Fuel burger! Second only to Fergburger, I think.

      And I know I left some NZ favorites off this list. But it’s so hard to choose just 10! (I ended up with 15 because there was too much I wanted to include!)

    I miss that L&P 🙂

    The chocolate fish… hmmm…. We got this chocolate fish in the middle of cave tubing in the Waitommo caves, after a lot of walking in the cold underground river. That chocolate covered marshmallow was like the tastiest marshmallow ever for me… I wonder will it taste as good as my memory, if I’m not exhausted and cold when I eat it 🙂

    I want to mention NZ fish and chips here. I think Kiwis take it for granted, but their fish and chips are the best in the world (rrr… part of the world that I’ve visited I mean). Even the worst fish and chips was already tastier than those I bought in North America.

    And salmon sashimi from Lake Pukaki’s salmon farm (the highest salmon farm on earth). Maybe not exactly in normal tourism route, but this is our NZ food highlight. The sashimi was so fresh and tasty.

      You’re right, NZ does have good fish and chips! (Or “fush und chups” haha.)

    Great list of NZ food. You rarely see food in the discussion when reading about NZ. I totally forgot about Fergberger, that place was AWESOME. Great burgers and so ridiculously huge. I thought I was back in the good ol’ US of A. Wine, absolutely. Loved going around to the various wineries. What I loved most about them was the friendliness of the wine makers and owners. No pretentiousness, no snootiness, it was great for people like us who aren’t wine connoisseurs, and we ended up learning a ton about wine, which was super cool.

    Next time you go you HAVE to try the mussells. They are so good, so fresh, and so cheap. I’d also like to throw my hat in for their Indian food. I was surprised and delighted at the amount and quality of Indian restaurants all around New Zealand.

    Great post!!

      Thanks so much, Adam! I’m glad you liked the post. And yes, next time I’ll definitely try the mussels.

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