Did you hear about the Kiwi who went to a culinary school? They rolled him out because he kept trying to “spread” Marmite on everything, even the desserts!
In New Zealand, we take our food as seriously as that Kiwi. You may or may not share his passion for this distinctive spread, but one thing is for sure: New Zealand is an underrated foodie’s paradise.
Don’t believe us? Strap your bib on, then! From fresh seafood to desserts that satisfy the sweetest tooth, we’ll take you on a culinary journey, exploring the top famous foods you absolutely must try when you’re in New Zealand.
1. Bluff Oysters
New Zealand is often hailed as the world’s capital of seafood, and Bluff oysters are a testament to that.
Harvested from the cold waters of the Foveaux Strait, these oysters are renowned for their creamy texture and intense flavour with a distinctive metallic finish, unlike any other oyster in the world.
Always try to eat Bluff oysters during the harvesting season, which runs from March through August. During this time, they are at their freshest and most flavorful.
This dark, sticky spread made from yeast extract might have a “love it or hate it” reputation, but it’s undeniably a quintessential part of New Zealand’s culinary identity, thanks to English influences.
Marmite has a unique umami flavour that’s rich, salty, and slightly bitter. It’s typically spread thinly on toast, added to a sandwich for an extra punch of flavour, or even used in cooking to add depth to a dish.
If you’re trying the spread for the first time, start with a thin layer spread on a piece of buttered toast. The butter helps to balance out the strong flavour, making it more palatable for first-timers.
3. Fish & Chips
Another thing we got from our English cousins! Fish & chips is a symbol of our rich coastal culture and our love for simple, delicious food.
In New Zealand, fish & chips often consist of fresh, locally caught fish coated in a crispy batter and deep-fried to golden perfection, served with a generous side of hot, crunchy chips.
The fish is succulent and flaky on the inside and crispy on the outside, and the chips are the perfect accompaniment, providing a delightful contrast of textures.
For the most authentic fish & chips experience, ask for your fish & chips to be wrapped in paper, then take them to a nearby beach to enjoy.
4. Green-Lipped Mussels
Named for their unique green-coloured shell edges, these mussels are not only larger than most other mussel varieties, but they also boast a delightful sweet and briny flavour that’s truly unmatched.
Green-lipped mussels are a staple in traditional Maori cuisine, and today, they’re enjoyed in a variety of dishes across New Zealand.
Whether they’re steamed with white wine and garlic, baked with cheese and herbs, or tossed in a hearty seafood chowder, the flavorful meat of green-lipped mussels is sure to leave a lasting impression on your palate.
Visit a mussel farm where you can learn about sustainable mussel farming practices, pick your own mussels, and have them cooked to perfection on the spot.
This dessert is a staple in every Kiwi’s household and is a must-try for anyone with a sweet tooth.
It’s a simple yet indulgent treat comprising a sponge cake coated in chocolate icing and then generously dusted with desiccated coconut. The result is a fluffy, moist, and slightly tangy cake with a lovely contrast of textures from the crispy coconut coating.
It’s perfect as an afternoon tea treat, a dessert, or even as a birthday cake. It’s this flexibility that has cemented lamington as a beloved favourite among New Zealanders.
Try making it at home! Homemade lamingtons allow you to experiment with different flavours—you can add a layer of jam or cream in the middle, or even switch up the chocolate icing for a lemon glaze.
6. Golden Kiwi
This fruit is a national treasure and a source of pride for Kiwis.
The golden kiwi is distinct from the common green kiwi as it’s sweeter, has a golden flesh, and has a thinner, smoother skin that is edible. It’s packed with more vitamin C than an orange and is a great source of dietary fibre and vitamin E.
The texture is soft and juicy, almost like a ripe peach. The unique, vibrant flavour of the golden kiwi makes it versatile for many culinary uses—it can be used in salads, desserts, smoothies, or even enjoyed as it is.
Have a golden kiwi for breakfast. Slice it in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon, or slice it into rounds and add it to your cereal or yoghurt.
This dessert is often the centrepiece at holiday gatherings and special occasions across the country. It’s a meringue-based dessert with a crisp crust and a soft, light inside, typically topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream.
The beauty of pavlova, besides its heavenly taste, lies in its simplicity. The contrast between the crunchy exterior and the marshmallow-like interior, combined with the freshness of the fruit and the lightness of the whipped cream, creates a harmony of textures and flavours that’s simply irresistible.
Try topping your pavlova with fresh passionfruit or feijoa for a truly Kiwi twist, or drizzle it with a bit of manuka honey for an added layer of sweetness and complexity.
One cannot simply leave New Zealand without trying lamb. New Zealand lamb is renowned worldwide for its superior quality and taste. It’s all thanks to our grass-fed, free-range farming methods that result in lamb meat that’s tender, flavorful, and rich in omega-3.
From the classic roast lamb with mint sauce to a succulent lamb rack or a hearty lamb stew, each dish offers a unique culinary experience that’s sure to leave your palate wanting more.
Order lamb at a local farm-to-table restaurant where the lamb is sourced directly from nearby farms. Don’t miss the opportunity to pair it with a glass of local New Zealand red wine!
9. Maori Hangi
No culinary exploration of New Zealand would be complete without experiencing a traditional Maori hangi. The food, often a combination of meat, such as lamb or chicken, and root vegetables, is wrapped in leaves and placed in a pit with hot stones.
The pit is then covered with earth and left to cook for several hours. The result is tender, juicy meat and vegetables infused with a unique, smoky flavour that’s impossible to replicate in a conventional kitchen.
Participate in a community hangi where you can not only enjoy the delicious food but also learn about the rich history and cultural significance of this tradition.
If you’re seeking a truly Kiwi sweet treat, look no further than jaffas. This iconic New Zealand candy, with its perfect combination of a solid, crispy chocolate centre covered by a layer of hard orange-flavoured candy, is a must-try for any visitor.
The burst of chocolate and orange flavour you get when you bite into a jaffa is something you won’t forget. However, the best way to enjoy jaffas is to roll them in your mouth until the orange shell melts away.
Try using jaffas in your baking. Crush them up and sprinkle them on top of a chocolate cake, or mix them into your favourite brownie recipe for a delightful surprise.
11. Lolly Cake
This iconic Kiwi treat is a staple at local bakeries and a favourite at children’s parties, but its appeal extends far beyond just the kiddie corner. For many Kiwis, it’s a reminder of simpler times, of shared laughter, and of sweet memories.
Lolly Cake is a no-bake dessert made with malt biscuits, sweetened condensed milk, butter, and the star of the show—fruit puffs, or Eskimos. These are soft, marshmallow-like candies that add a burst of fruity flavour to the cake.
Lolly Cake is extremely easy to make at home, so why not give it a try? Try using different types of lollies for a fun twist, or add some cocoa powder to the mixture for a chocolatey variation.
This shellfish, known elsewhere as abalone, is highly regarded as a gourmet treasure in New Zealand. Paua is unique to New Zealand waters, and its rich, savoury flavour combined with its slightly chewy texture, makes it a standout in our cuisine.
It can be sautéed in butter, minced into fritters, or even used in pies. Its distinct oceanic flavour, reminiscent of a combination of scallops and squid, makes it a prized ingredient for seafood lovers.
If you’re trying paua for the first time, go for a paua fritter from a local fish and chip shop.
Kumara is a Kiwi staple with Maori roots that dates back over 700 years. The kumara has a unique, slightly sweet flavour and is richer in texture than your average sweet potato.
It’s found in a variety of local dishes, from traditional Maori boil-ups and roasts to modern fusion cuisine.
Kumara is not only delicious, but it’s also packed with essential nutrients like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and fiber. Whether it’s baked, roasted, mashed, or made into fries, kumara is a versatile and wholesome addition to any meal.
Try kumara chips at a local fish and chip shop. They’re thick-cut, perfectly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and make a fantastic local alternative to traditional fries.
14. Whitebait Fritters
Without a doubt, whitebait fritters hold a spot in the culinary hall of fame in New Zealand. These delicate and flavorful fritters are made from whitebait, tiny juvenile fish that are a seasonal delicacy in our waters.
The subtle, sweet taste of the whitebait combined with a savoury batter makes these fritters a favourite among locals and tourists alike.
Try them from a roadside stall or at a local food market during the whitebait season. You’ll get them freshly cooked and piping hot, often served with a squeeze of lemon and a side of bread.
15. Anzac Biscuits
The Anzac biscuit is a simple, oat-based biscuit with ingredients able to withstand a long journey by sea. Don’t worry—it’s still tasty and nutritious.
They’re enjoyed throughout the year but are especially significant on Anzac Day, a day of remembrance in New Zealand.
Anzac biscuits are sweet and slightly chewy. The rolled oats give the biscuits a hearty texture, while the coconut adds a touch of exotic flavour. They’re perfect with a cup of tea or as a snack on their own.
While Anzac biscuits are delicious as they are, don’t be afraid to put your own spin on them. Try adding a handful of dried fruit or nuts for added texture and flavour, or drizzle them with a bit of dark chocolate for a decadent twist.
16. Mince and Cheese Pie
This simple yet satisfying delicacy is a staple in almost every New Zealand bakery. Inside a flaky, golden pastry crust, you’ll find a filling of savoury minced meat and gooey melted cheese.
The meat is rich and flavorful, often seasoned with herbs and a hint of Worcestershire sauce for a bit of tang. The cheese adds a creamy, indulgent touch that takes this pie to the next level.
Head to a local bakery early in the morning, when the pies are fresh out of the oven. Ask for a pie to go, then enjoy it at a nearby park or beach.
17. Hokey Pokey Ice Cream
One simply cannot leave New Zealand without trying the iconic Hokey Pokey Ice Cream. The Hokey Pokey Ice Cream is creamy vanilla ice cream interlaced with chunks of honeycomb toffee, also known as ‘Hokey Pokey’.
The result is a unique blend of smooth, indulgent ice cream and crunchy, sweet toffee that leaves you wanting more.
While Hokey Pokey Ice Cream is readily available at most supermarkets, nothing beats getting it fresh from a local ice cream parlor. Ask for your Hokey Pokey Ice Cream in a cone, then take a walk along the beach or through a local park as you enjoy it.
This green, egg-shaped fruit, also known as the pineapple guava, is a favourite among locals for its distinctive sweet, tangy flavour. The inside of a feijoa is jelly-like, encased in a soft, light pulp, and it tastes like a combination of pineapple, guava, and strawberry.
Feijoas are not only delicious, but they are also packed with vitamin C and dietary fibre. They can be scooped straight from the skin and eaten raw, made into jam, baked in a pie, or used in a crumble.
For a truly Kiwi experience, try a feijoa cider or feijoa wine.
This prized crustacean, often referred to as the lobster of New Zealand, is known for its sweet, delicate flavour and succulent texture.
Crayfish can be savoured, steamed to allow the natural flavours to shine, barbecued with a drizzle of butter, or even used in a luxurious seafood chowder. Regardless of how it’s cooked, you’ll understand why crayfish is a favourite amongst locals.
Try catching your own crayfish! Catch your own crayfish, and then have it cooked on board for the freshest seafood meal you’ll ever taste. Trust us, crayfish caught and cooked fresh from the sea is an experience that’s hard to beat!