21 New Zealand Foods You Have to Try! Ka Pai Kiwi Kai

Join us as we share all of the New Zealand food that you can’t miss whilst travelling in our beautiful country!

Food and travel go hand in hand, of that there is no doubt.

New Zealand is fortunate to enjoy a number of distinctly Kiwi cuisines, making for tasty and exciting travels right throughout the country.

Which New Zealand foods should be at the top of your list though?

Join us as we share the kai you just can’t miss!

Enjoy Uniquely Kiwi Cuisine in Aotearoa

New Zealand is a country made up of two main islands – the North Island and South Island. There are also smaller islands that combine with these two main islands to make up the country.

Aotearoa is blessed with breathtaking and dazzling scenery, friendly, fun-loving people, and wine and food unique to the destination. 

Additionally, it is safe and one of the few countries that are accessible even to novice travellers.

What to Expect of Food in New Zealand

As a traveller in New Zealand, you will have the opportunity to sample and savor local cuisine everywhere you go.

Even though most of New Zealand’s cuisine is cosmopolitan, it has more British and Pacific influences historically.

In addition, a lot of the cuisine in New Zealand uses locally available products such as seafood.  It is fresh and tasty and in many ways is unique to the area, yet somewhat familiar to seasoned travellers.

Our food has some similarities with neighbouring Australia but, is also influenced by Asian, American, and European cuisines.

Māori Kai

The local Māori cuisine has traditional elements of Polynesian cooking. It has also made significant contributions to the food culture of the country. 

There are many parts of the country where you can sample traditional Māori food. A great example is the Pūhā & Pākehā food truck or the Hāngi Master food truck in Auckland. After all, the City of Sails is bound to be your gateway to New Zealand, so it makes sense to try out the local cuisine there as you work your way to the North and South Islands.

Changing Tastes in Aotearoa

It is essential to note that the local food scene isn’t what it was for travellers 20 years ago. While most travellers were used to fish and chip takeaways, the odd Sunday roast or a barbeque with sausages and potatoes, there’s much more variety now.

All this is thanks to diverse chefs from all around the world; they have led the country in developing the unique and authentic cuisines now associated with our incredible country.

New Zealand Food You Have to Try!

For most people, it’s the country’s incredible beauty and the connection it provides with Mother Nature that brings them here in the first place. Its finest drapery in the form of endless waterfalls, breathtaking views of majestic fjords and snow-peaked mountains’ backgrounds are nothing short of spectacular.

But there’s something special to be found in the local food scene. 

Without a taste of these local delecacies, you have not truly experienced the heartbeat of the world’s most coveted travel destination. 

Savoury Food to Try in New Zealand

1. Canterbury Lamb

The South Island provides the country’s most significant exports of lamb, beef, and venison. In fact, it is not uncommon to find NZ lamb served in the most famous restaurants in Europe and America.

However, there really is no better place to try beautiful meat cuts than at the source.

Whilst in New Zealand, you’ll want to try some of our delicious local lamb.

NZ lamb. Photo credit: Beef + Lamb New Zealand

2. Kaimoana (Seafood)

No list about “foods to try in NZ” would be complete without seafood!

The most exciting thing about the seafood in New Zealand is that you can often collect it and prepare it yourself.

Seafood is in ready supply in NZ as being an island nation, most cities are relatively close to the water.

Whether it’s whitebait, green-lipped mussels, bluff oysters, kōura (crayfish), paua, or salmon, you’ll find something delicious to enjoy.

Did you know? Kaimoana is Te Reo Māori. Kai = food. Moana = ocean. It literally means food from the ocean.

Kaikoura is famous for its fresh kaimoana – it’s even in the name!

3. The ‘Kiwi’ Burger

Burgers are found all around the world, though you’ll find there’s something different about a Kiwi burger that differentiates it from the rest.

For instance, they’ll generally be made from high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. This quickly turns a simple burger patty into a first-class meal.

Some of the special local ingredients that go into an NZ burger include pickles, grass-fed beef, tomato, sliced beetroot and a fried egg.

Even McDonald’s serves a Kiwi burger – complete with egg and beetroot!

Pro Tip: One of the best places to visit for a taste of NZ’s national burger is Burger Burger, a local food joint in Auckland or even better, Ferg Burger in Queenstown. They’re both worth the queues!

A burger with beetroot. Photo credit: Farm Fresh Organics

4. Hāngī

It should come as no surprise that this Māori traditional dish features on this list.

This cooking method uses hot steam to cook root vegetables, pork, chicken, potatoes and beef. The ingredients are placed into a basket after being wrapped in leaves before then being laid on hot stones inside a hole dug into the ground. 

Food cooked in a hāngī or “earth oven” has a characteristically smokey taste after being cooked for hours.

As a traditional cooking method, hāngī is still one of the cornerstones of conventional Māori celebrations in the land of the long, white cloud.

If you keep your eyes peeled, you will also sometimes find hāngī on the menu some speciality restaurants and by some road-side stalls. Commercially, Rotorua is your best chance of tasting this unique local meal.

5. Kūmara 

The New Zealand sweet potato (kūmara in Te Reo Māori), is one of the traditionally cooked foods you’ll find in a hāngī.

However, different cooking methods have evolved the Kumara into a much-loved snack in NZ. Whether it’s turned into chips, croquettes, or wedges, you can be sure New Zealanders appreciate it in all its different forms.

You’ll find a number of different kūmara in stores, but it’s the purple-skinned, creamy-fleshed one that is most traditional.

Stuff kūmara. Photo credit: Fresh

6. Meat Pies

If there’s one easy, on-the-go lunch option that New Zealand is famous for, it is without a doubt our amazing meat pies!

With buttery, flakey pastry and a wide range of flavourful fillings, our pies really are a winning lunch option for practically all palettes.

Traditional flavours include mince, mince and cheese, steak, steak and cheese, and chicken and vegetable, but modern pies extend far beyond the classics.

In many bakeries you’ll find unique flavour combinations like chicken, cranberry and camembert or lamb, mint and kūmara.

Kiwis reckon that a pie is the perfect well-rounded meal and we’re sure you’ll agree!

Meat pies. Photo credit: Food52

7. Southland Cheese Rolls

A southern classic, cheese rolls are found in bakeries and cafes right around the South Island.

You won’t find them anywhere else in New Zealand though!

Fresh white bread is stuffed with cheese, cream, evaporated milk and onion soup powder making for a simple but tasty local delicacy.

These are an affordable must-try snack on any Aotearoa adventure!

Did you know? You can make your own cheese rolls at home? The recipe is easy to follow, quick to make, and best of all, super affordable.

Southland cheese rolls – a staple in the South Island. Photo credit: Countdown

8. Sweetcorn Fritters

Though corn fritters originated in Native American communities, New Zealand has its own version of this versatile snack and boy are they delicious!

Incredibly easy to make at home, corn fritters can be served at any time of the day.

Made with creamed corn, flour, baking powder and and egg, these fritters are a great taste of New Zealand regardless of where you are.

We recommend teaming them up with crispy bacon, fresh sour cream and sweet chilli sauce – yum!

Corn fritters by Nadia Lim. Photo credit: Stuff

9. Whitebait Fritters

A real New Zealand delicacy, whitebait fritters are made using fresh kaimoana (seafood) and generally sandwiched between fresh white bread.

Though an expensive product, whitebait is a Kiwi institution and really must be tried whilst exploring the country – especially if you can get your hands on a fritter during the season.

Keep your eyes peeled as you’re travelling as it’s always exciting to watch fishermen and woman hauling in nets filled with fresh whitebait!

Did you know? Many visitors to Aotearoa are surprised to learn that the term ‘whitebait’ does not refer to one particular type of fish – instead, it is a general term used to describe small freshwater fish and are tender and edible. Here, it relates to five different species of the fish family known as Galaxiidae. These juvenile fish are caught in the springtime from rivers when they are about 4-5cm long.

10. Marmite on Vogels

Vogels toast is a bit of a Kiwi institution – and when you add marmite and lashings of fresh New Zealand butter, it reaches the next level.

Though you’re unlikely to find this tasty snack on a cafe menu, it is a distinctly local meal that you’ll be able to enjoy from your own kitchen.

Vogels freezes well, so you can even take a couple of loaves home in your suitcase at the end of your holiday.

Marmite on Vogels – a kiwi classic. Photo credit: Paul’s Breakfast

11. Maggi Onion Soup Reduced Cream Dip

If there’s one savoury food that goes home in the suitcase of expat kiwis (that have made a short trip home), you can be sure it’ll be the the two key ingredients that go into this crowd-pleasing dip….

Packets of Maggi onion soup and tins of Nestlé reduced cream.

When these two simple ingredients are combined, the resulting concoction is one that is highly prized by Kiwis!

To enjoy this dip, simply mix it up and chill it in the fridge for a little while. Then go wild with a packet of potato chips.

And best of all? These ingredients have a long shelf-life, so you can take them home with you too! With them, you’ll be able to enjoy a taste of New Zealand from anywhere in the world.

Easy and delicious – Maggi onion dip. Photo credit: RecipeTin Eats

12. Fish and Chips

A real kiwi classic, nothing beats fish and chips, eaten fresh from the newspaper wrapping on the beach!

Whether you prefer snapper, tarakihi, gurnard or blue cod (which is a real treat, caught fresh from the South Island), it’s hard to go past a beautifully battered piece of fish.

Smother it in tomato sauce, pair it with some hot chips (and maybe a cheeky hot dog) and you’ve got the easiest (and most affordable) dinner around.

Yum!

Award-winning fish and chips from Oceanz Seafood in Siverdale at Orewa Beach by Doug Sherring

Sweet Treats – New Zealand Food You Have to Try!

13. Bakery Treats – Biscuits and Slices

Though New Zealand bakeries aren’t globally held in high regard, any visitor to our country knows better.

Not only can you pick up a tasty pie (which, in New Zealand, practically ticks off all your vital food groups) but we have an amazing array of baked desserts.

The list of tasty baked goods is long and the bar is consistently high.

To get you started though, we recommend you try each of the following:

  • Lolly cake – firm fruity marshmallow-like sweets in a reconstituted-biscuit mixture, covered in coconut.
  • Custard square – custard, pastry and vanilla icing.
  • Ginger crunch – a gingery biscuit base with rich icing on top.
  • Afghan biscuits – chocolate cookies with cornflakes, topped with chocolate icing and a walnut.
Lolly cake – easy to make and delicious. Photo credit: Countdown

14. Pavlova & Cream

A popular dessert in New Zealand, the pavlova is a bone of contention between Aotearoa and Australia.

Ask any Kiwi though and they’ll tell you – this sweet treat is undoubtedly local.

Made from simple ingredients (mostly egg white and sugar), this marshmallowy dessert is topped with cream and fresh fruit. It can be served at any time of year but is a particular favourite during the warmer seasons as it is served chilled.

This is another recipe that is uses readily sourced ingredients, so you make make it regardless of where you live.

A class Kiwi pav. Photo credit: Food Lovers

15. Ice Cream

Trust us when we say you haven’t had ice-cream that’s as good as New Zealand’s before!

It really is to die for.

One of the biggest industries in NZ, the dairy industry has given rise to serious competition between Italy’s gelato and local artisan frozen desserts. 

Of course, it’s vital to know the country’s most beloved national flavours…

Though there are many, we recommend starting with these classics:

  • Hokey pokey – vanilla ice cream with honeycomb pieces.
  • Goody goody gum drops – bubble gum ice cream with jelly jubes.
  • Mint choc chip – mint ice cream with dark chocolate chips.
  • Orange choc chip – orange ice cream with dark chocolate chips.
  • Jelly tip – vanilla ice cream with dark chocolate and raspberry jelly.

From corner dairies serving up ice cream by the scoop to modern dessert masters, don’t leave the country without sampling your fair share.

Real Fruit Ice Cream

As you travel around New Zealand, you’ll likely notice signs for ‘real fruit ice cream’ – take our word for it, you’ll want to stop!

Real fruit ice cream is generally served up by orchards (and the odd fruit and veggie shop).

They’ll load up either ice cream or frozen yoghurt and then add your choice of fruit (we particularly like a banana/mixed berry combo, made with frozen yoghurt).

It’s the perfect mid-afternoon treat!

Fresh fruit ice cream and frozen yoghurt. Photo credit: Waikato

16. Unique New Zealand Fruit

Certain parts of the country are known for producing high-quality, tasty fruit (the Hawke’s Bay and Kerikeri, for example) – whilst in those regions you’ll want to stop off at local orchards to stock up.

Throughout the country though, you’ll find a number of Kiwi specialities in super markets and at fruit & veggie stores.

Feijoas

Feijoas originated in South America but quickly became associated with New Zealand. They grow exceptionally well here and are found hanging off branches in many Kiwi gardens.

This tasty fruit is readily available in the Autumn (March to June). To eat one, you slice it open and then scoop out the flesh with a spoon.

Many liken them to guavas or quince, but their complex flavour also brings to mind strawberries and pineapple, with a pear-like gritty texture, and a hint of mint.

Pole to Pole
Feijoas by Twisted Citrus
Kiwifruit

Another imported fruit that quickly gained a name for itself in New Zealand is the kiwifruit.

Originally from China, this fluffy little fruit (which resembles the kiwi’s feathery body) quickly took off here.

With an original green kiwifruit (which is quite tart and has thicker skin) and golden kiwifruit (sweeter, with a thinner skin) being joined by a new range of unique flavours, there really isn’t anywhere better to get your hands on this quirky fruit.

Green kiwifruit. Photo credit: Liebherr

17. Kiwi Lollies

Whilst in New Zealand, you have to pick up a few packets of lollies to munch on. Other parts of the world call them sweets, but we know better.

The following are just some of our classic Kiwi favourites…

  • Pineapple Lumps – a pineapple-flavoured firm marshmallow covered in dark chocolate. Especially good straight out of the freezer!
  • Jaffas – orange chocolate with a crunchy candy-coating.
  • Chocolate Fish – raspberry-flavoured marshmallow covered in chocolate.
  • Jet Planes – Fruit-flavoured gummy lollies.
  • Milk Bottles – milk-flavoured sweets.
  • K-Bars – Fruit flavoured toffee.
A range of classic Kiwi lollies. Photo credit: Funworks Lolly Shop

18. Whittaker’s Chocolate

With a booming dairy industry, you’d expect all products made of milk to be high in quality – that’s absolutely the case in New Zealand.

Whittaker’s is one of the country’s most trusted brands for good reason. They make fantastic chocolate in an ethical manner.

Formally known as J.H. Whittaker & Sons, this company that started by selling chocolate in 1896 (from a horse-pulled van) is now the largest chocolate brand in Aotearoa. Third-generation Whittakers are still the sole shareholders in this world-class confectionary business.

Now, they carry a tremendous range of flavours, all made locally in New Zealand. Creamy and delicious, they’re a must-try on your travels.

The best chocolate in NZ. Photo credit: Stuff

Uniquely Kiwi Drinks to Try

19. L&P (Lemon & Paeroa)

L&P (originally known as Lemon & Paeroa) is a soft drink manufactured and sold in New Zealand.

Originally created in 1907 by combining lemon juice and carbonated mineral water (from the town of Paeroa, in the North Island) it is now made by Coca-Cola.

This sweet drink is unlike anything else on the market and really must be tried whilst travelling the country.

Whilst you are travelling, be sure to stop by the giant L&P bottle in Paeroa and snap a photo – we’d love to see it in New Zealand Travel Tips!

L&P: World famous in New Zealand since ages ago.

Coca-Cola
L&P. Photo credit: Fly

20. Wine

If you like a good tipple, you’ll enjoy your travels in Aotearoa.

Many parts of the country are known for producing exceptional wines, including Waiheke Island, Central Otago, Marlborough and the Hawke’s Bay.

Most famous for our Sauvignon Blanc, there are a great deal of excellent wines in the country.

According to Food & Wine, the following are the best drops to try whilst in NZ (that aren’t Sauvignon Blanc):

  • 2015 Cloudy Bay Te Wahi Pinot Noir Central Otago ($75)
  • 2017 Decibel Malbec Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay ($25)
  • 2017 Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir Bannockburn, Central Otago ($85)
  • 2016 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay Kumeu ($59)
  • 2019 Loveblock Pinot Gris Marlborough ($23)
  • 2017 Mt. Edward Riesling Central Otago ($17)
  • 2016 Trinity Hill Homage Syrah Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay ($113)
  • NV No. 1 Family Estate Cuvée Methode Traditionelle Marlborough ($34)
  • 2016 Seifried Würzer Nelson ($15)

21. Coffee – Flat Whites to be Exact

New Zealander’s run on coffee – it’s official.

The flat white was first created in Aotearoa so there really is no better place to try it.

In some ways a flat white is similar to a latte, though it is smaller and has different ratios of milk to coffee. A good flat white is made of of one-third espresso and two-thirds milk. Unlike in a latte, a flat white comes with steamed milk (rather than frothed), leaving a smooth crema on top.

Whilst in New Zealand, it really is worth seeing what all the fuss it about.

A flat white by the Kitchn.

And there you have it – the ultimate list of food to try in NZ!

New Zealand is a fantastic travel destination for so many reasons.

There’s so much to see and do in the country, and perhaps best of all, so much to eat!

Enjoy chowing down in Aotearoa.

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