My recommendations for the best New Zealand food to try after a year of living in the country.
You may have noticed by now on this blog that I have a slight fondness for New Zealand. I’m enamored with the friendly people, the scenery, the Maori culture, and the wildlife, but would you be surprised to hear that I am also partial to New Zealand food and drinks?
Kiwi food is not generally described as world-renowned (except for maybe its lamb!), but I found the cuisine on this island nation to be tasty and unique.
I put together a list of what to eat in New Zealand for you guys, and I even included a little video at the end of me trying a few of them. Let this guide your tastebuds to finding the best New Zealand food, from the classic to the quirky.
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The Best New Zealand Food & Drinks to Try – From the Quirky to the Classics
One of the most popular New Zealand drinks is L&P. I’m not big on carbonated drinks in general, except for ginger beer (THE BEST) and a Sprite or 7UP once in a blue moon. With that said, I was surprised to discover how much I liked L&P while I was in New Zealand, which is the “soda” of the country or at least where it originated from, in Paeroa to be exact.
L&P stands for Lemon & Paeroa and can be found as a soft drink in almost every bar and restaurant. Its name comes from how it was created, combining lemon with carbonated mineral water in the small North Island town of Paeroa. L&P is not quite American lemonade and it’s not quite traditional soda, think of it more like refreshing carbonated lemon water without a ton of sugar. Perfect to cool off with on the warmer days!
A beloved Kiwi food item that started in 1991 comes from none other than “Mackas,” also known as McDonald’s. Every few years McDonald’s locations around the country bring back the classic Kiwi Burger to everyone’s glee. This Kiwi burger a favorite New Zealand fast food option.
If there’s one thing you should know about Kiwi cuisine it’s that they like to put eggs on everything – breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it doesn’t matter. So, it’s no surprise that the Kiwi Burger includes a fried egg, as well as beetroot, another favorite item to put in burgers in New Zealand.
Since I just can’t quite describe the Kiwi Burger as well as this advert does, I’ll leave you with this to watch. It’s the epitome of Kiwi TV commercials, aka pure awesome.
And for any of you who were worried, the burger is made with good old-fashioned beef, not the very lovable fluffy Kiwi bird.
New Zealand Candy
As we continue with my list of what to eat in New Zealand, let’s discuss one of the most important topics, New Zealand Candy!
Where do I even begin with this one? Candy is one of my favorite quirks I love discovering when I’m in a new culture. I’ve discovered some pretty strange and unimaginable flavors in my traveling days, and New Zealand doesn’t disappoint with its classic candy choices.
What was interesting about New Zealand candy was the fact that I hardly recognized any brands or candy names when I first arrived, I usually at least know a couple that are on the shelf. The first time I found myself in the middle of the candy aisle at a local supermarket it was like I had stepped into a mysterious new land – Lord of the Rings wasn’t filmed here for nothing.
A few classic New Zealand candy options that are a must-try include chocolate fish, pineapple lumps, Jaffas, Perky Nana, a block of Cadbury Black Forest chocolate. And of course, as you’ll learn below, Whittaker’s is always a good bet when it comes to Kiwi candy.
Although I much prefer the really tasty craft beer you can find in New Zealand, mainly based in Wellington, I would be amiss to not at least mention some of the classic lager brands that are the most popular New Zealand drinks. Does anyone else love tasting the local beers (usually lagers) of the places they travel to or is that just me?
In New Zealand, those local beers would be Speights, Export Gold and Tui. I would describe these three in different ways.
When it comes to beer, Tui is the standard New Zealand drink, and it’s named after a bird in a culture obsessed with Orthology so that’s to be expected. It’s the go-to beer, I’d even call it the equivalent of what Bud Light is to Americans without the light beer part. Speights is the classiest lager of the three and Export Gold, well um, it’s a beer, kind of. Regardless, all three are worth a sip during your time in New Zealand.
A must eat in New Zealand is green-lipped mussels. New Zealand is the only place in the world where you can find green-lipped mussels, and because of this and their overall deliciousness, they’re a favorite food in New Zealand.
These fairly big fatty mussels are also known for their health benefits, especially with aiding in arthritis issues and their use as an anti-inflammatory.
Whittaker’s Chocolate Milk
Whittaker’s Chocolate Milk, which was made in collaboration with Lewis Road Creamery, is the best New Zealand Chocolate milk. When it first came out, it sold out of every convenience store shelf within a day, and it kept happening. I knew I had to at least give it a try, and although the hype built it up a little too much in my mind, I still enjoyed my experience with the Whittaker’s drink.
When I finally got my hands on a bottle I found it tasted like creamy liquified chocolate ice cream. For those who like rich chocolate treats, this is like the chocolate milk from your childhood on steroids.
For those who don’t know, Whittaker’s Chocolate is the pride & joy of New Zealand sweets. It’s known around the world as damn good chocolate and the Kiwis are quite proud of the fact that it came from their country. This chocolate company has been around since 1896 when it was created in Wellington and Kiwis take their love of the Whittaker brand seriously. I mean, there were some Kiwis that were waiting in line for an hour to be the first ones to try this chocolate milk. Serious business.
It has been described as liquid gold, which is why it has made my list of what to eat in New Zealand.
I can’t not talk about lamb on this list of what to eat in NZ, there are about six sheep for every person in New Zealand! I’ve tried lamb multiple ways and the only lamb I’ve actually enjoyed eating was when I was in New Zealand. Although Kiwis claim they export all their decent lamb meat, I thought it was very appetizing and slightly heavenly when I tried lamb shanks in Gisborne.
Lamb is one of my top recommended food to try in New Zealand. It is cooked every imaginable way in New Zealand and unless you’re a vegetarian, it would be sacrilegious to not at least give it a taste in the land of sheep.
Not a treat included in most standard meals in New Zealand, huhu grubs are a different kind of specialty food to eat in New Zealand that you can usually help yourself to under damp bark or in between rotten pieces of wood. Sounds delicious, am I right?
I sadly haven’t tried these New Zealand snacks myself yet, but they apparently taste like peanut butter. They’re New Zealand’s largest endemic beetle and they used to be a popular Maori delicacy back in the day.
Hokitika puts on the Wildfoods Festival every March and it’s the perfect time to try fresh huhu grubs if you don’t want to go searching for them yourself. I added this to my list of what to eat in New Zealand, specifically for the adventurous eaters! And those who are fond of peanut butter!
A hāngi (“hung-y”) represents the best of traditional Maori food. If you have the chance to experience a hāngi with Maori friends when you’re in New Zealand it could very well be the best meal you try in the country.
However, it’s not always easy to be invited to a traditional Hāngi, especially as a traveler, and for that there are Maori Villages you can go to as a tourist attraction. Not always ideal, but a way to at least experience a piece of what a hāngi represents before you leave.
There are a ton of these Maori villages that can be found around the Rotorua area on the North Island specifically.
So, now that you know where to find a hāngi, you’re probably wondering what on Earth it actually is. A hāngi is an all-day (or overnight) event that consists of a feast cooked for a decent amount of time underneath the ground. If it’s a hāngi done right, when it comes out everything just melts in your mouth and falls off the bone.
Enjoying this traditional New Zealand food would definitely be one of the most unique foodie experiences to have in New Zealand, especially if you can find an authentic hāngi to enjoy.
Hokey Pokey Ice Cream
Hokey Pokey Ice Cream might be one of the best things to eat in New Zealand. For the longest time, although I knew I liked the taste of Hokey Pokey Ice Cream, I had no idea what was actually in it. Every time I asked a Kiwi friend what those little gold flaky bits in the vanilla were, they would just say “whaduya mean? it’s hokey pokey!” Okay, well that didn’t help at all, but I did my own digging and discovered that those little golden nuggets of sunshine are small pieces of honeycomb toffee.
Who knew that a simple combination of honeycomb and vanilla could be so freakin’ delicious? Well, it is, and the first thing you should do when you land in New Zealand is get a scoop of Hokey Pokey and indulge one of the top New Zealand desserts.
Although Marmite originated in the UK, the Kiwi version uses a different recipe now so it’s basically a different product and by far the most popular spread in the country.
This famous New Zealand food rivals the Australian version called Vegemite because obviously, you need multiple brands of yeast extract – it’s THAT good *sarcasm*. To be fair, Vegemite/Marmite are not all that bad you just have to know how to eat them. Note to Americans – don’t spread these babies on your toast like Nutella, your taste buds may not like you too much.
After the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 there was a Marmite shortage and a national state of emergency was called. Okay, not really, but people were getting antsy, even the Prime Minister John Key was complaining – they were calling it Marmageddon.
Fish & Chips
You may be wondering why this is on the list since you can find fish & chips pretty much everywhere, but I would argue that fish & chips are done very differently depending on the culture and New Zealand is no exception.
If any dish was to be labeled a “New Zealand must eat” it would be fish and chips. New Zealanders love their “fush and chups,” it’s seen as a family outing, a perfect picnic option, or simply an affordable way to feed a lot of people at once. People from the Commonwealth countries like to argue over who has the best fish & chips, but again, I find them all so different from one another you can’t really compare.
Never being more than a few hours from the coast no matter where you are in New Zealand, you can bet that I did enjoy the fish & chips I tried while I was there. And in fish & chips shops you can also buy “hot dogs” (which are really corndogs but corndogs don’t exist in New Zealand so they call them hot dogs…it’s all very confusing).
Basically, if you’re after fried food of any sort, a fish & chips shop is the place to go and you will find them everywhere, no matter how small the town is. In fact, a fish & chips shop would probably be the ONLY restaurant to eat at in a small town, which is why it made my list of what to eat in New Zealand.
Ironically enough, kiwifruit is big in New Zealand, even though (and every Kiwi would like you to know this) the people are NOT named after the fruit, they’re named after the bird.
Kiwifruit is not actually native to New Zealand, the fruit was originally called Chinese gooseberry and, you guessed it, came from China. It wasn’t until New Zealanders began exporting this new fruit to the USA in the 1950s that it took on the name kiwifruit. This was during the Cold War and anything related to communism, such as China, was a bummer for marketing purposes.
Today New Zealand is the second largest exporter of kiwifruit in the world after Italy and you can find this classic New Zealand food at most local markets or grocery stores in the country. And c’mon, it’s just the right amount of irony to eat a kiwifruit in Kiwi land, right?
Pavlova is a popular meringue-based dessert in Australasia that was named after the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, who toured through the region in the 1920s. The dessert is generally topped with a variety of fruits, such as strawberries and kiwifruit.
There is a constant debate between Aussies and Kiwis about where Pavlova originated from. The Oxford English Dictionary may have ended that debate recently; however, siding with New Zealand as having the oldest recipe. Pavlova is an important part of Kiwi food culture and a traditional New Zealand food you’ll find all over the country, especially during special occasions and holidays.
If you go to the east coast of the South Island, such as the little seaside town of Kaikoura, you will see signs everywhere for fresh crayfish, and it has become a famous New Zealand food.
Crayfish, not to be confused with the very different crawfish in America, are huge, spiny, funny looking creatures that remind me of a mix between a crab and spider. In other words, they’re not pretty and they make me feel a little uncomfortable while I’m in their presence. They’re also known as rock lobster and are deliciously soft and flavorful when they’re fresh.
A list of what to eat in New Zealand would not be complete without a Sausages. The Kiwi version of a tailgate party, with plenty of Tui beer (sometimes used to cook with) and sausages sizzling away on the grill. The name explains exactly what this foodie experience is – a barbecue with sausages. Sausages tend to be served with a piece of white bread, tomato sauce, and caramelized onions for a tasty communal meal.
It’s common to see sausage sizzles everywhere throughout New Zealand, sometimes it’s as a fundraiser and other times it’s simply a cheap and filling meal to share with friends. Sometimes it’s completely free and its purpose is simply to bring the community together. The sizzles are traditional New Zealand food and are very much a part of the Maori and Kiwi culture as a whole in New Zealand.
A sausage sizzle is also a popular occurrence at parties and get-togethers. For my Kiwi Christmas spent with friends in Wellington, we celebrated the holiday while sipping beers (yes, Tui) around a grill and partaking in a traditional sausage sizzle. It was perfect.
Another popular New Zealand fruit that makes my list of best things to eat in New Zealand, feijoas (pronounced “pha-joa-ahs”) is in season during the New Zealand fall and tastes like a mix between pineapple, strawberry, and guava.
Feijoas originated from South America, but New Zealand has taken on the fruit as their own, making it into ice cream flavors, smoothies, and even brewed into craft beer during the right time of the year. You can usually find the fresh fruit at markets from March until June.
Afghans & Caramel Slices
I know, it’s worrisome to me as well that at least a quarter of this list is all sweets! But what can I say, the Kiwis have a sweet tooth (or maybe that’s just me) and New Zealand desserts are amazing.
The last two sweets I would highly recommend trying while you’re in New Zealand would have to be afghans and caramel slices. Just thinking about these two makes my mouth water. So. Good.
I’m counting these under one item since they both fall under the New Zealand dessert category, as does a lot of this list, but rest assured they are very different from one another.
Although you may think afghans would come from a place like Afghanistan, they’re 100% Kiwi and 200% delicious! This was my first sweet obsession when I arrived in Wellington and I had 2-3 hour split shifts every day. I would just head over to my favorite cafe and indulge in an afghan and my day would immediately improve tenfold. It’s a chocolate cookie mixed with cornflakes, coated with chocolate fudge icing and finished with a walnut on top. GENIUS.
Caramel slices are whole other foodgasm that I was very happy to discover during my time in New Zealand. Imagine the perfect gooey combination of caramel with dark chocolate fudge, graham cracker crust and a dollop of homemade tangy cream on top and voila! You have the Kiwi caramel slice. If you’re in Wellington, make sure to try one from Midnight Espresso, where my love affair with caramel slices first started.
And while I’m at it with the New Zealand desserts, I may as well mention Cookie Time cookies, a classic packaged cookie that every Kiwi will have fond childhood memories over. If you want to make local friends fast, buy them a Cookie Time cookie and watch the grin spread over their face.
Think of traditional onion dip, increase its epicness, and you will have Kiwi dip. You can buy the pre-made dip in stores, but it takes about two seconds to makes so it’s really not much hassle to put it together yourself either. There are some different varieties you can play around with, but the original dip is made with a packet of Maggi Onion Soup, reduced cream, and a touch of vinegar.
This dip is definitely a food to try in New Zealand. Don’t mess with Kiwis when it comes to their Kiwi dip, they will fight you for the last bite.
Lastly, I couldn’t leave without a mention of the Kiwi meat pie. Yes, this is another food that can be found in a lot of Commonwealth countries but I would argue that the New Zealand meat pie is actually quite different than the other varieties I’ve tried, especially in Australia.
To me, Kiwi meat pie crust has a sourdough flavor to it that you don’t get elsewhere. That slightly tangy taste sold me the first time I had a pie in New Zealand, and it was the deciding factor in my preference for New Zealand meat pies over Australian ones. Sorry Aussies!
Go for a classic pepper steak pie or mince & cheese and you’ll be set after a night of drinking. I would deem it as the unofficial drunchie food of the country for sure, in addition to sausage rolls.
And…to finish off this massively long post of the top food and drink in New Zealand, I made a video for you all! I filmed myself eating a few different Kiwi specialties throughout my year in New Zealand and this was the result.
Have you tried Kiwi cuisine before? Which food or drink sounds the best to you?
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