Best Maori Food in NZ? It's everywhere
Visitors often ask where they can try traditional Maori food in Auckland because it's often missing from middle-of-the road restaurants.
Select high-end bistros adapt their menus to honor the Maori new year (June's Matariki), but year-round choices are limited. You might find delicious rawena paraoa (potato bread), fresh oysters, green-lipped mussels or kumara mash (sweet potato) as entrees or side dishes however.
Maori traditionally survived on a hunter-gatherer diet of native birds like wood-pigeon (keruru), mutton-bird, wild pig, fish, kumara, taro and vitamin-rich puha. They also foraged for native ferns, fungi, berries, fruit and seeds. Food was traditionally about sustenance and survival, high in protein and carbohydrates for energy. After more Pakeha (European) settlers arrived in New Zealand, their crops expanded to include wheat, potatoes, maize, carrots, and cabbage. Maori also began raising sheep, pigs, goats and poultry.
Potatoes were easier to grow than kumara, and pigs could be fattened quickly, so pork, puha and potatoes became a staple meal called a ‘boil-up’. A rather plain-tasting blend of all three food groups in the same big cooking pot.
Not exactly the Pacific-rim flavours we enjoy today.
If visitors are Rotorua-bound, we recommend including a Maori culture experience which often includes hangi-style food, a seven-hour traditional process of slow-cooking food in shallow earth pits. Heated rocks are placed in a shallow pit with manuka wood. The food is then placed on the rocks and buried in the earth to cook. Pork, chicken, potato, kumara, pumpkin, pabbage, stuffing and watercress salad are the key items on the menu. Manuka woodchips give the food an earthy, smokey flavour.
If you’re keen to try other Maori foods (kai) then look out for these edibles in the supermarket, at farmers markets or fish shops.
Kumara (sweet potato). Maori travelled west across Polynesia over 800 years ago and used this root vegetable to sustain themselves on their long voyages. They brought edible plants from Hawaiki, and today kumara mainly grows in the semi-tropical regions of the North Island and comes in hues of red, gold or orange. We mash them, roast them and deep fry them as chips. Even bake a sweet Kumara brownie.
Manuka comes from the tea tree plant. Delicious manuka honey, with its natural anti-inflammatory properties is also the base for a growing list of medicinal, skincare and antiseptic properties. The higher the UMFor unique manuka factor on the label, the greater the potency.
Puha or sow thistle is a green leafy plant which grows along streams and is traditionally served cooked with pork.
Paua is a large shell fish commonly known overseas as abalone. It's highly valued for its firm meaty flesh and salty flavour. In traditional Maori carving, the pearlescent shell usually represents the eyes of a powerful totem.
Bluff Oysters are a highly prized delicacy. These big and juicy shellfish are sourced from Bluff at the bottom of the South Island. The harvest season is short from March until August.
New Zealand's famous green-lipped mussels are jam-packed with protein and are low in fat and calories. New Zealanders typically steam them open or cook them in a broth base like tomatoes, garlic and fish stock. Most Farmers Markets will have a mussel fritter stand. They’re also a very good source of omega-3 and more reasonably priced than fresh fish to buy.
We love sharing the best places to eat New Zealand food on our Hello Auckland city walking tour. With our small-group focus, it’s the best way to start your visit and the perfect Auckland shore excursion. Check out our ' best things to do Auckland' guides for more travel inspiration.