With award-winning wineries, quality craft-beer bars, a world-class restaurant scene and a multitude of farmers' markets, eating in New Zealand is a real treat. Its Pacific location gives it an interesting mix of flavors, as European influences mesh with Asian and Polynesian.
When it comes to food – or kai, in the Maori language – there’s nothing quite like tucking into a traditional hangi dinner. It’s a hearty repast, fit for a warrior, cooked underground on heated rocks. Today’s hangi feast most often comprises slow-roasted meats, potatoes and stuffing, though there are many variations.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the seafood. The locals are spoiled for choice on this front – being an island nation definitely has its advantages. Fresh prawns, lobster, mussels and oysters are in abundance all year round, but fish and chips on the beach can be just as satisfying, especially for those on a budget.
Must-try food and drink in New Zealand:
1. Wine & craft beer
Producing a huge variety of top-quality wines (many more than just the famous Sauvignon Blancs), New Zealand is full of vineyards and cellar doors to visit. Microbreweries are well represented too; the Kiwis more than pull their weight in the global small-batch craft beer movement, especially in Wellington.
There are plenty of places to try crayfish, but Kaikoura, near the top of the South Island, is the best. This sperm whale-watching capital of the world was in fact named after the crayfish (Kaikoura translates to ‘eat crayfish’ in Maori), and there’s a slew of places along the beach to sample the day’s fresh catch.
With sheep playing a huge part in New Zealand’s agricultural economy, it’s no wonder succulent lamb can be found in most restaurants. If you’re a meat lover, don’t leave New Zealand without tasting the lamb (if you’re indulging in a hangi feast, chances are you will).
4. Kiwis, Feijoas & Tamarillos
Though none of them actually originated in New Zealand (Kiwis came from China; Feijoas and Tamarillos came from South America), these fruits have become synonymous with New Zealand and are all fairly major exports. While kiwi fruit is well known to most of us, it’s the feijoas and tamarillos you should take advantage of while in New Zealand. Abundant, versatile and an acquired taste, they pop up everywhere from roadside stalls to front-garden giveaways to gourmet cafe dishes.
Even though the creator of this desert is hotly contested by their trans-Tasman cousins, the pavlova – a dessert with a meringue-like base and topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit - was the invention of a Wellington chef to honor Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova's tour of Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s. It’s a must-try for sweet tooths.