Seasonal variations and local ingredients are a major factor in New Zealand cuisine. This is due to New Zealand’s primary economy being based upon its land agricultural products as well as the abundant seafoods yielded from the surrounding oceans.
Prior to 700 A.D., there were no human beings on the island. Birds were the dominant species and, in fact, there were not any mammals at all on New Zealand. Polynesi
an people first visited the island, and began to settle there around the turn of the 8th century. Therefore, the earliest historical influences are attributed to these people, who became the first “indigenous” people of New Zealand, and came to be known as the Māori culture.
When the Māori people settled into New Zealand, they carried on their ships with them a variety of their favorite food plants, such as taro and ti plants, and the exotic Polynesian sweet potato called a kūmara. They were disappointed that the plants would not survive at all on the Southern, colder regions of the island, but discovered to their delight that they thrived in the North Island regions.
The Māori people discovered and developed a fondness for indigenous New Zealand plants, like fernroot. With no mammals on the island to hunt and eat, the Māoris fished for marine life. They also learned that some of the insects were tasty, too – especially the huhu grub. New Zealand had birds galore, of all sizes and shapes, and hunting for bird life became a staple of early New Zealand cuisine. Their favorite bird to eat was the large, land-bound Moa birds. They were easy to hunt and kill, provided lots of meat, and were so popular that they were hunted to near extinction.
About mid-way through the 8th century, the British arrived. England came to terms with the native Māoris, and colonized the island, granting the Māori people full British rights and citizenship. This blend of British and Polynesian food cultures, along with the British settlers’ recently garnered fondness for Australian foods (another British colony at the time) led to a truly unique cultural culinary blend. New Zealand cuisine is a diversely based cuisine reminiscent of the cuisine of Australia, England and the Pacific Rim.
Over time, and through the centuries, the blended cultures of New Zealand came to be known as one people, the New Zealanders, or, often commonly called the Kiwi people. If you do a Google search nowadays for “New Zealand Cuisine” several of the results will pop up as “Kiwi cuisine” – which is, for all practical purposes, synonymous with New Zealand cuisine.
In the more recent eras, especially since the 1970s, the island’s larger cities became more cosmopolitan. This has led to other cultures now having influences New Zealand cuisine. Most notably, these include East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the New Americas.
In a traditional New Zealand household, dinner is called “taking tea” – and it is the day’s main meal. This is when families and friends gather together for a fine meal, and share an evening of socializing together.
Just like their Polynesian relatives, the Māori preferred to cook their meals in earth ovens, known in New Zealand as a hāngi (pronounced “han-jee”), which is an underground steaming oven.
As shown in this illustration, stones that have been heated to white hot by fire, are placed in a pit. Foods are wrapped up tightly in leaves, and placed over the hot rocks. Then the food packs are covered with moist foliage and/or wet cloth, in traditional fashion, with a final layer of earth. In more modern times you might see being used wet sacks, then the soil.
Another favored traditional cooking technique is roasting (rather than steaming) in the hāngi (or similar underground ovens). Also common, in the geothermal areas, was (and still is) steaming or boiling the foods by making use of the natural hot springs and pools. And the popular world over, in almost any culture, good old “open fire cooking” has its place in New Zealand cuisine as well.
Of course, in modern day, cosmopolitan New Zealand, people have kitchens like everywhere else. So, even though traditional peoples still are prone to using the old methods of cooking, you can prepare delicious New Zealand cuisine recipes in your kitchen using your cooktop, oven, and grille. If you have the space and adventurous spirit, though, I do recommend you tray your hand at building and cooking with a hāngi – it’s a heck of a lot of fun, and the earthy taste is incomparable.
But enough of background and history … I’m sure you want to get into the meat and potatoes of why you logged onto this page. And that is the recipes!
Be sure and come back soon and often, as this is a new page here on Ethnic Foods R Us, and we will be adding lots more great recipes of New Zealand Cuisine in very short order.
For your convenience, the recipes listed below are linked to individual, print-friendly pages. So click away, and begin your journey into the delicious and earthy ethnic food adventure of …
New Zealand Cuisine!
Pavlova (Kiwi Style)
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