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. So there are no bounds when it comes to a variety of foods to try. However, there are some patently “New Zealand” (or, at least South Pacific) foods and drinks that you should make sure to taste.
New Zealand food: Top 10 things to eat and drink in NZ
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.
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.
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. I’m no wine connoisseur, but wine tasting is a nice, relaxing activity that’s worth a try.
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, after experiencing Vegemite for the first time, I decided to leave the Marmite be. 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.
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! The deer are raised in large pastures
Giapo Hokey-Pokey ice cream
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 – 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!
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 – a sweeter, yellow version of the fruit specially produced in NZ. It’s my favorite.
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.
This heavenly establishment in Queenstown – I refuse to call it a “burger joint,” because it’s so much more than that – 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 “Bun Laden” (the last of which is a falafel sandwich dressed with lemon yogurt and chipotle chili sauce).
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.)
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.
A New Zealand specialty not to be found anywhere else in the world, these 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. (They are pictured at the top of this post – yum!)
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:
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.
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!
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.
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…
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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