Although only a small island nation, New Zealand's gastronomic reputation far outweighs its relative size. Globally renowned for its blend of European, Asian and Polynesian influences, New Zealand cuisine is driven by the seasons and heavily influenced by local produce and climate variation - resulting in a unique, fresh food culture unlike any other.
Regular national and regional festivals offer a wide range of gourmet food and boutique wine, while farmers markets - held regularly in most towns - highlight fresh local produce. For those just visiting these markets are an ideal starting point for experiencing New Zealand cuisine.
Strong indigenous roots give a unique take on modern kiwi fare, and traditional Māori meals are becoming prevalent on restaurant menus. Notable Maori chefs include Charles Royal (behind the best selling cookbook, Charles Royal and his cuisine) and Grant Kitchen (from restaurant Te Kai Maori).
As the organic movement continues to grow, so too does an awareness of food origin and quality. New Zealand lamb appears in fine dining establishments worldwide but this isn’t the only thing Kiwis do well. Just-picked produce and freshly caught seafood are staples in any restaurant, and enterprising chefs are continually finding new ways to treat ingredients.
As mentioned above, farmers markets display a variety of fresh produce along with homemade preserves, bread, wild honey and free-range eggs. Many New Zealanders do their entire weekly shop at these kinds of markets where an emphasis is placed on raw unprocessed ingredients at a reasonable price.
New Zealand is a laid back culture and this is reflected in the way food is prepared. Summer means barbeques outside, while winters bring simple hearty meals by the fire. While it’s upmarket eateries and fine-dining restaurants continue to focus on gourmet gastronomy, no-fuss kiwi home cooking is popular. Many travellers enjoy an authentic experience and boutique lodges and country bed and breakfast’s offer the opportunity for private dining.
Stemming from its British colonial heritage, 'meat and three veg', pies and fish & chips were the original family fare. British influence continued in New Zealand until well into the 20th century when an influx of European and Asian immigrants kicked-off an expansion of the kiwi palate.
Fine-dining is reasonably new, up until the late 1960’s family’s rarely went out for dinner. While basic British meals are no longer a go-to, fish & chips wrapped in newspaper have remained a classic kiwi staple, and are served across the country with tomato sauce. Other iconic foods are hokey-pokey ice cream, mussels, Lemon and Paeroa (a lemony soda drink), pavlova, reduced cream and onion dip and vegemite.
Today, New Zealand cuisine is a fusion of cultures but continues to be heavily influenced by the Pacific Rim. Synonymous with fresh, quality food it’s gastronomic reputation is one of innovation and excellence.
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Written by: David Kettle