The Top New Zealand Food, Snacks and Traditional Meals
Trying the local cuisine is part of the parcel that is travelling, so why not try some of the famous New Zealand food while you’re exploring Aotearoa?
Admittedly, New Zealand isn’t world-famous for its culinary delights, but there are certainly some meals, snacks, desserts and even drinks that Kiwis are extremely proud to claim as their own. As a country with around 15,000km (9,320 miles) of coastline, it comes as no surprise that seafood is a staple of the Kiwi diet. Additionally, food or “kai” has been a significant part of the Māori culture for hundreds of years producing must-try traditional meals, whether it’s hāngī, fried bread or kawakawa tea.
So, what New Zealand foods are worth sampling? Get a taste of the New Zealand food culture through our list of New Zealand’s famous food.
Let’s start with the traditional Māori hāngī! More than just New Zealand cuisine, hāngī is Māori cuisine at its finest. This involves meat and vegetables slow-cooked in an underground oven. Although it was a common cooking method for hundreds of years in New Zealand, today, a hāngī is saved for more special occasions (mainly because it takes all day to prepare!) Prepare to be overfed but extremely satisfied at hāngī buffets served at Maori cultural experiences.
Where to try: Hāngī is available to try in many of the Maori cultural tours around New Zealand. Check out the 10 Places to Experience Maori Culture in New Zealand listing some places to try a hāngī.
Another traditional New Zealand food is crayfish! Crayfish or lobster is a Kiwi favourite mostly because it is something many fishermen and divers pride on catching themselves. Known to sometimes cost up to NZ$80 for a full crayfish, it’s not exactly the most affordable food, but it’s definitely worth a try when the opportunity presents itself. Then you’ll understand why Kiwis go “cray” for crayfish!
Where to try: Try some crayfish in Kaikoura. Restaurants include Nins Bin, Cods & Crayfish and Kaikoura Seafood BBQ Kiosk.
Ok, New Zealanders love their seafood so we’ll just hop straight onto another foodie delight from the ocean. Kina is the local name for a type of sea urchin with a hard spiky outer shell and thin fleshy (and edible) insides. It has been a New Zealand delicacy for centuries.
4. Kiwi Burger
You’ll either think it’s weird or genius but it’s still a staple of New Zealand cuisine. What makes a Kiwi burger “Kiwi” is the fact it has beetroot and a fried egg along with your standard burger patties, lettuce and whatever else goes between two burger buns. Don’t knock it until you try it!
Where to try: Just about any pub or restaurant with a burger menu, even McDonald’s. However, they are not always listed as a “Kiwi burger”. Just look out for burgers with eggs and beetroot.
Another New Zealand famous food are Jaffas! Jaffas are a confectionery favourite among New Zealanders. Jaffas are small sugar-coated chocolate balls with a subtle orange flavour. You can pick up Jaffas at any supermarket or dairy (convenience store).
Where to try: Available at any supermarket or convenience store.
Ask an Australian and they will swear that Oz invented the pavlova. Ask a Kiwi and they will tell you differently. Either way, pavlova is a much-loved dessert in New Zealand made with meringue, whipped cream and fresh fruit. While this dessert can be found on the odd dessert menu in New Zealand, Kiwis traditionally consume this refreshing dessert for Christmas. Try making some yourself following the recipe in our 5 Traditional New Zealand Recipes.
We’ll sneak a beverage in early on this list just because it’s very proudly Kiwi. L&P stands for “Lemon & Paeroa” named after the North Island town it was invented in. It is as common as any soft drink in New Zealand, tasting a bit more lemony and sweeter than Sprite.
Where to try: You can pick up L&P from any supermarket, dairy or fast food joint, but nothing matches the full experience of posing in front of the giant L&P bottle in Paeroa, Waikato.
8. Whitebait Fritters
Don’t visit the West Coast of the South Island without trying whitebait fritters. Whitebait is a collective term for immature fish, usually around one to two inches long. You’ll see heaps of keen “whitebaiters” setting up temporary shacks and jetties along the river mouths of the West Coast between mid-August and November. What they catch is used to make whitebait fritters; think of them as a fishy omelette. However, be aware that this typical food in New Zealand is controversial as overfishing may endanger the stock of local fish in New Zealand’s rivers.
9. Manuka Honey
A classic food of New Zealand: world-famous manuka honey! Highly-sought on the international market, manuka honey is acclaimed for its medicinal purposes. The purer the manuka component of the honey is, the healthy (and more expensive) it is. Manuka honey also makes a great souvenir to bring back home.
Where to try: There are plenty of opportunities to try this sweet treat around New Zealand, from supermarkets to dedicated honey shops. Some major honey shops include Huka Honey Hive in Taupo, Waireka Honey in Manawatu, Arataki Honey in Hawke’s Bay and Garston Hunny Shop near Queenstown.
Kumara isn’t just a sweet potato; it is an epic sweet potato. Kumara was brought to New Zealand by the early Māori settlers and still remains a favourite vegetable in New Zealand. The best way to try kumara is in a hāngī (see above), but there are heaps of ways you can incorporate kumara into your own cooking. We’ll make it easy for you; check out Why Every Traveller in New Zealand Should Cook With Kumara.
Where to try: Kumara is available to purchase in supermarkets. Otherwise, kumara fries are a popular feature on restaurant and takeaway menus across New Zealand.
11. Hokey Pokey Ice Cream
Kiwis prefer hokey pokey ice cream (that’s ice cream with pieces of caramelised honeycomb) over pretty much anything. If there’s only one ice cream flavour you’re going to try in New Zealand, make it hokey pokey!
Where to try: While you can find hokey pokey ice cream wherever ice cream is served. A few recommendations include Giapo in Auckland, Patagonia Chocolates in Queenstown, Rush Munro’s of NZ in Hastings and Rollickin Gelato Cafe in Christchurch.
A seafood delicacy that we just couldn’t ignore, paua is the local name for a large sea snail. You can eat paua in a variety of ways from plain old raw to curries to paua fritters. What’s more, paua shells are the national choice of ashtray for all you smokers out there! Alternatively, paua shells are often used in New Zealand jewellery and other decorative souvenirs.
As New Zealand’s biggest export meat and highly praised all over the world, lamb is a must-try in New Zealand. Roast lamb or lamb cutlets will be on the menu of most high-end restaurants and even in some pubs. Trust us, some of the most delicate New Zealand dishes will incorporate lamb. For more information on trying lamb in New Zealand, see Where to Try Traditional New Zealand Food?
14. Savoury Pies
… Or just “pies” in New Zealand. Pies with savoury fillings like mince and cheese, steak and cheese, and even fish pies are the go-to lunch at any gas station or bakery. Kiwi pies warm the soul and fuel you for a great New Zealand road trip!
15. Fish & Chips
The definition of “New Zealand food culture” has landed. With more than 15,000km of coastline and a hell of a lot of Kiwis who like to fish, you can bet on some good “fish n’ chips” in New Zealand! A simple meal of fried battered fish and chips (fries), fish & chips can be found in most towns in New Zealand. For our top fish & chips picks, again, see Where to Try Traditional New Zealand Food?
16. Southland Cheese Rolls
A speciality of the south, Southland cheese rolls, also known as Southland sushi, is virtually unknown outside of the Southland and Otago regions. The concept is simple: a slice of bread with cheese rolled up like sushi with a generous helping of butter then grilled to perfection. It’s cheap and something to warm you up on a cold Southland day. Ask any South Islanders about New Zealand famous food and cheese rolls is bound to “roll” off their tongue.
17. Bluff Oysters
It’s time to put those shucking skills to the test because you’re going to want to try Bluff oysters. Another speciality of the south, Bluff oysters are otherwise known as dredge oysters. The Bluff oyster season runs from March until August where oysters are dredged from the cool clean waters off the coast of Bluff and shipped off to just about every seafood restaurant and fish & chips shop in the country. For a real Bluff oyster experience, don’t miss the Bluff Oyster Festival typically taking place on the last weekend of May – see more famous festivals in our guide to the Top New Zealand Events.
Where to try: At most restaurants selling seafood during the Bluff oyster season. Otherwise, places to try fresh from the source include Fowlers Oysters, Oyster Cove and Galley Takeaways in Bluff.
17. Real Fruit Ice Cream
Another type of ice cream to keep an eye out for is real fruit ice cream. More specifically, keep an eye out for signs screaming “real fruit ice cream” on the roadside during the summer seasons when many berry farms crank up the whippy machine to serve vanilla whip mixed with fresh fruit. There’s nothing more refreshing to break up your road trip.
18. Chocolate Fish
We told you New Zealanders are obsessed with seafood, so much so that it inspires their confectionary items. Chocolate fish are chocolate-coated marshmallows shaped like a, well, you guessed it. You’ll find this traditional New Zealand snack at any supermarket or dairy. You’re also likely to be offered one as a quick energy boost on tourist activities. Speaking of tourist activities, have you seen our 101 Things to Do in New Zealand yet?
Where to try: Any supermarket or convenience store in New Zealand.
18. Greenshell Mussels
You’re right, it has been a while since we featured any real seafood on this list of the best foods in New Zealand… Another fishy favourite you can delight in is greenshell mussels! Also known as green-lipped mussels, these native shellfish can be found all over New Zealand but are particularly famous in the “Greenshell Mussel Capital”, the town of Havelock on the South Island.
Where to try: The Mussell Pot in Havelock, Greenshell Mussel Cruise in Havelock (available on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook), Leuven Belgium Beer Cafe in Wellington and Blackbeards Smokehouse in the Coromandel.
19. New Zealand Wine
Do you know what goes well with all that seafood? Sauvignon Blanc. Luckily, Sauvignon Blanc or “Sav”, as the locals call it, dominates the prolific wine industry in New Zealand, which takes up more than 22,085 hectares (54,570 acres) of land across the country. Some of the top wine regions include Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay, Otago and Gisborne, so be sure to stop by the wineries for a tasting.
Where to try: See our 10 Best Wine Tours in New Zealand for inspiration.
20. New Zealand Barbecue
You haven’t experienced summer in New Zealand without a Kiwi “sizzle up”! New Zealanders love the act of cooking sausages, steaks or whatever meat and fish they can get their hands on, either on an outside gas barbecue or a hotplate barbecue. Hell, you can even find coin-operated barbecues in most New Zealand parks!
Where to try: Barbecues are very much a local and community food experience in New Zealand, but you’ll often have them at the end of adventure tours, like white water rafting, or at community events. Look out for “sausage sizzles” outside of supermarkets when kids are fundraising.
This little fruit might be native to South America, but much like the kiwifruit (which should also be on this list, right?), New Zealand has claimed it for its own. Stocked in the supermarkets and farmers’ markets between March and May, feijoas pack a strong flavour that you’ll either love or hate. Additionally, you’ll find many New Zealand fruit drinks with feijoa in the mix.
Where to try: The seasonal fruit can be picked up in supermarkets between March and May.
22. Rēwena Bread
One of the more difficult Māori foods to find, rēwena bread is a sourdough bread made with a potato starter also known as a “bug”. Some bakers even use kumara as a potato starter (see point #10). Another type of bread popular with Māori is fried bread, which you can try at some Māori cultural tours.
23. New Zealand Cheese
You might already know about New Zealand’s bountiful dairy industry so it comes as no surprise that artisan cheese is pretty big in New Zealand. Head to the supermarket to put together a cheese platter during your travels or check out one of the cheese factories where tastings are encouraged.
The fern latte art atop your mug is a staple of a morning (and most afternoons) in New Zealand. The coffee culture is huge here, so get wised up on your lattes, flat whites, espressos, chai lattes, and even “fluffies” if you’re travelling with kids. Check out our favourite coffees in the cafe capital, 5 Cool Cafes With the Best Coffee in Wellington.
Where to try: Caffe L’affare in Wellington, Millers Coffee in Auckland, The Flight Coffee Hangar in Wellington, Lyttelton Coffee Company in Christchurch and Arrosta Coffee Roasting Co. in Palmerston North.
25. Craft Beer
Everyone is a brewer in New Zealand or at least it feels like it with more than 160 breweries and microbreweries across the country, not to mention all of the hobbyists. It’s not hard to find a really hoppy craft beer at any bar or licensed restaurant in New Zealand but if you want to really dive into the trade, be sure to jump onto one of the 10 Best Brewery Tours in New Zealand.
More About New Zealand Food (or Kai)
That’s it for our ultimate list of the New Zealand food you have to try. If your mouth is still watering, get some more gastronomical inspiration in our following food guides: