Non-kiwi foodies may look no further than this post for the most comprehensive guide on what to eat while in New Zealand. If you've never been to Aotearoa, the "land of the long white cloud," then you have probably never heard of the majority of the items appearing on this list.
I devoted 10 months of my travel time to living in and eating my way through New Zealand. Inevitably, I ended up sampling almost every food for which New Zealand is famous or infamous.
I still find myself day dreaming about eating some of New Zealand's foods again. This guide describes all of them.
Fresh From the Sea
Pāua is a sea snail called "abalone" in other parts of the world. Their meat is a bit tough and charcoal black, but quite good with some garlic and butter.
The best part is their gorgeous inner shells.
Pāua shells are so pretty, they are polished and sold in gift shops all over the country!
Kina is a spiny sea urchin that can be cut open to reveal a buttery treat inside. Eat it as is or spread across bread.
It's an acquired taste and texture not unlike mussels or clams but the opposite of chewy—it'll melt in your mouth!
John Dory Fish ("Dory")
This is one of the most difficult to catch types of fish and also the most tasty. It sells for top dollar at fancy restaurants and food stores. I was lucky enough to try it after Jono caught one while free diving at Spirits Bay in Northland.
Yellowtail King Fish ("Kingies")
A fairly common fish in New Zealand waters and good eating especially when fresh! It gets up to 2 meters in length and is a huge part of sport fishing.
I had so much delectable cray thanks to Jono's diving skills.
He picked these guys off the bottom and then cooked them up for me. It's popularly eaten by locals who know someone like Jono to get them for free (sport catchers are not allowed to sell them).
They are as huge as lobster over in New Zealand!
White Bait Fritters
White baiting involves netting at the mouth of rivers that dump into the sea during the early New Zealand spring. Nets can be set up to catch automatically or dredged manually through the water.
The most common way to eat white bait is as a fritter. White Bait Fritters are a must at some point when traveling around New Zealand. I had them on the South Island in Arrowtown before I had Jono's homemade version. Yum!
I wrote about these guys in my post about the 90 Mile Beach. We had found them just beneath the sand there. Essentially, they are little gastropods, like clams, but they are super sweet and buttery.
They are a true delicacy and also excellent bait for catching snapper!
Every sport fisherman in New Zealand is after snapper—but they are pretty hard to come by in certain areas because of overfishing.
The best place to catch them is on the West Coast, especially up in the Northland area where Jono and I caught 8 in an hour on his long-line.
Don't miss these like I did if you're on the southern tip of the South Island. The Bluff is famous for these absolute, top quality oysters. Even the store bought variety were excellent and very much worth the price tag of $18-$30 NZD per dozen.
Picked from the Land
Sheep are everywhere in New Zealand. They spread out on green pastures all year round. New Zealand lamb meat is world renowned.
If you ever see lamb that comes from New Zealand in a supermarket near you, definitely give it a try. Buts there's nothing like trying the real thing in the country where it's from!
In the US, we call them kiwis. But you can't say that in New Zealand or everyone will think you're referring to their population. Instead, you must say "kiwi fruit." "Where are the kiwis?" would cause other shoppers to give you some confused looks.
Kiwi fruit is best served by a kiwi at Field Days in Hamilton where it comes with a little spoon designed for eating them.
Feijoa is possibly my favorite food from New Zealand. It's a fruit with a taste that is a bit difficult to describe. The texture is pear-like and the taste is a bit tart but mainly sweet.
Many locals in Hawkes Bay have feijoa trees on their property. Come autumn, they will literally be giving them away by the crate full.
If you're up for something especially sweet, try feijoa ice cream, smoothies, or yogurt! Yum!
Any of New Zealand's honey varieties are worth a try. But New Zealand and Australia have a unique variety called mānuka.
Mānuka honey is so famous and sought-after, there are actually counterfeit versions of it sold internationally!
Lollies (candy) are sweet treats that come in a vast range of options. I became particularly obsessed with Party Mix made by Pascall's.
It's a bag of all kinds of popular New Zealand candies, including fruity jet planes, vanilla milk bottles, puffed bananas, marshmellow-y pink figures, and chewy drops.
The only thing missing are chocolate fish (another popular lolly).
New Zealanders love their lollies so much they even put them inside cake!
New Zealand's original chocolate brand is called Whittaker's. This chocolate company makes chocolate in many forms.
My favorite is their big, thick blocks (at least twice the thickness of Hershey's bars) in which they shove all kinds of goodies, resulting in many varieties: White Chocolate, Fruit and Nut, Peanut Butter, Berry Biscuit, Rum and Raisin, Coconut, etc.
Everyone has a favorite!
These are licorice sticks with milk chocolate or white chocolate centers that SNAP! when you bite into them.
A vaguely pineapple-flavored chewy "lump" coated in chocolate. These are best eaten after spending time in the freezer. When you bite into a frozen lump it'll sound like glass chattering in between your teeth! It's wild!
Picnic bars are basically a chocolate candy bar with a whole picnic inside: chocolate, peanuts, caramel, biscuit, chewy nougat, and puffed rice.
Although it got a little destroyed in my bag from the tough climb up Mt. Ngauruhoe, a picnic bar was still the perfect mid-tramp reward.
A traditional pavlova has at least one meringue layer that is topped with whipped cream, chopped fruit, and a passion fruit drizzle. Read all about the process here.
Hokey pokey are lumps of honeycomb toffee. Hokey Pokey ice cream is a staple and a must if you want to fit in with New Zealanders who grew up eating this stuff by the pint.
You will literally have to be a blind person not to notice this brand name ice cream around the country. It's everywhere in coolers in shops and advertized on curbsides.
Real Fruit Ice Cream
If you prefer to steer clear of factory-made ice cream, go for homemade, real fruit ice cream found at farm stands and shops on road sides all over.
Speight's is a brewery in Dunedin pumping out a range of craft lagers. Their chain includes a restaurant also with some very good food.
L&P, Lemon & Paeroa
This is a lemon-flavored "fizzy drink" (soda). The label displays the comic slogan "World Famous in New Zealand"
Wine making and vine growing is a huge industry in New Zealand. You will easily find bottles from Marlborough Sounds in your local wine or liquor store.
I had the chance to go to a free wine tasting while in Hawkes Bay thanks to Jono's former job at a local winery.
Foreign Cuisine Made in NZ
New Zealand does not do many foreign foods, but the ones they do attempt come out pretty good. Here are two notables:
There's a large population of Chinese immigrants, especially immigrants from Hong Kong living in New Zealand. Jono's relatives are from Hong Kong, and so we went out to several authentic Chinese restaurants when I was living with him in Napier.
Delight Plus was one of these restaurants and it sure is delight-ful! I still crave it—especially gai-lan—from time-to-time.
Also, if you're passing through Auckland, definitely head to chinatown for some top notch dumplings at Barilla Dumpling.
Turkish kebab at Cafe Anatolia in New Zealand was not anywhere near comparable to the kebab I had in Berlin, Germany. But I digress. This kebab was damn good and can be found in the heart of downtown Napier.
The lamb is the best choice, of course, since this is New Zealand.
Other Staple Foods
New Zealand's on-the-go food of choice are its pies: mince pies, bacon and egg pies, chicken vegetable pies, and—my favorite—kumara (sweet potato) pies.
Kiwis grab pies like we grab a slice of pizza in New York!
Picture a granola bar that's as light as a feather and tastes like plain Wheaties flakes. That pretty much describes Weet-Bix—a high in fibre, low in sugar, grainy cereal bar that dissolves quickly in milk. I could never really grasp the allure while I was there.
Try their cheese. Any of it. Just do it.
Fruit Pastes and Spreads
Rutherford and Meyer New Zealand made fruit pastes can be found in stores around the world because they are so scrumptious! Nothing is better than fig paste on a water cracker with a slice of fresh fruit and a bit of cheese!
Not unlike Australia's vegemite, marmite is another spread that I can only describe as weird. Kiwis will tell you, "it's what's for brekkie" (that's kiwi for breakfast!).
It's not anything like American Pizza—it's Hell Pizza. The decor of this chain restaurant is exactly what you'd expect and the pizzas follow a seven deadly sins theme.
There is no plain, thin crust cheese pizza like I can easily find all over New York. All of Hell Pizza is super diverse in its ingredients and taste. For instance, try Gluttony with onion garlic, salami, ham, mushroom, pineapple, "capsicum" (kiwi for bell peppers), tomato, and bacon. Awwww yea!
The above is all of the unique foods I experienced in New Zealand—and more! New Zealand has tons of unusual and famous foods to try, from the familiar to the adventurous!
I'm sure I missed a few notables, though. So, if you're a kiwi and you're reading this, do make some additions in the comments. I have to keep up with my claim that this is THE most comprehensive New Zealand food guide!
If you've tried any of the above as a tourist, I'd love to hear your thoughts, too!