It’s time to talk about Kai (Food in Te Reo Māori)!
Food connects the world and sampling new, exotic dishes is one of the many things travelers look forward to when exploring a new country. In a country with such a young human history, the ‘traditional cuisine’ is especially interesting.
New Zealand’s traditional food consists of a very unique mixture of Māori dishes and dishes introduced by the (mostly British) settlers a few hundred years ago.
Influences from all over the world added to the mix in recent times and created a mouthwatering variety of delicacies.
Not a traditional Māori dish, but pretty typical kiwi: Fairy Bread <3
There are plenty of articles about all the wondrous foods you can try in New Zealand, including the all time favorite Marmite, the beautiful Pavlova or Fairy Bread (toast with butter and sprinkles!). Previously, we have already introduced you to the Kiwi’s favourite, culturally significant pies & desserts. Today, we’d like to give you a quick overview about the traditional Māori cuisine, which you’ll have a chance to enjoy on your trip to New Zealand if you visit a Marae (Māori meeting ground)!
History of NZ Cuisine
When the Māori came to New Zealand, they introduced and cultivated a range of Polynesian vegetables to New Zealand, including Kumara, Yam and Taro. Also, the Kiore (the Polynesian rat), and the Kuri (the Polynesian dog) were brought to the islands.
They were also great fishermen, hunters of local birds and seals, and gatherers of local fruits, berries, fungi and seeds.
The European settlers, who arrived in New Zealand in the 19th century brought in new crops, which were cultivated by the Māori. These included wheat, potatoes carrots and many more. They also began raising domestic animals like sheep, goats, pigs and poultry.
We did some research for you and came up with a list of foods and dishes that originate from the Māori culture and are still prepared today.
Traditional cooking methods: Hangi & the Boil Up
Cooking food in the earth oven called ‘Hangi’ is probably the most well known and used style of cooking all around the Pacific, including New Zealand. Different meats and (root) vegetables, such as kumara, are (traditionally) wrapped in big leaves and placed in a pit filled with hot rocks. There, the food is buried and left to cook for a few hours. In regions with a high geothermal activity, you can also find hangi food cooked using hot steam coming out of the earth.
The ‘Boil Up’ (or also called Pork and Puha) is another traditional Māori method of cooking.
To make Pork and Puha, meat, potatoes, kūmara, spinach and puha (watercress / sow thistle) are boiled in a pork stock. The stew is usually accompanied by bread.
Māori breads: Rewena Bread & Fried Bread
Rewena paraoa is a traditional Māori sourdough potato bread, which is still commonly prepared. It has a sweet taste and is made with a potato starter, that ferments and causes the bread to rise and gives it its unique flavour and texture. You can buy it on many weekend markets and in speciality bakeries.
Another Māori favorite is fried bread (or just fry bread), for which the dough is deep fried instead of baked. It can either be made sweet or savoury to go along with soups & stews.
In a country where you will never be more than 140km away from a beach, Kai Moana (seafood) is THE thing to go for! Important foods include whitebait, a small freshwater fish, which is commonly lightly battered, fried like an omelette and served with lemon and garlic aioli. Shellfish and the seaweed karengo also also have been an important part of the Māori diet. We recommend you to try Toroi, a dish of fresh mussels with pūhā (watercress / sow thistle) juice!
Like Kai Moana, wild foods from the land also have an important place in the traditional Māori cuisine since the early days. Some examples are Pikopiko (fern shoots), Karaka berries and last but not least, Huhu Grubs. Huhu Grubs are not for the faint of heart, but count as a delicacy! The larvae of the Huhu Beetle are found behind the bark of fallen trees and are said to taste like peanut butter. When cooked, their texture resembles fried chicken skin with an almondy taste on the inside. Yum!
We hope we could give you a little overview about all the amazing things you can try when visiting New Zealand! So if you get the chance to sample a few of these dishes, give it a go and enjoy!
These articles were created as a contribution to further the understanding of the Māori culture for visitors coming to New Zealand. Everything on our blog was written to our best knowledge, and all of this information was collected using sources we trust.
Nevertheless, neither we, nor our sources are always perfect (although we try!). So if there is anything that sparks your attention, if you have any comments, concerns or suggestions, just flick us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we are happy to re-check and correct them if necessary!