New Zealand cuisine is culturally diverse – with European, Maori, Polynesian, Asian and Indian influences. It is a reflection of the country’s multicultural society, geography and history. Kiwi barbecues – featuring NZ beef, lamb, pork sausage, and seafood – are a big part of the culture, and typify the relaxed, friendly and casual nature of the Kiwis.
At the heart of NZ cuisine are the fresh ingredients – succulent shellfish and seafood, lean and tender beef, lamb or cervena (venison), the world’s finest diary products, garden-fresh fruits (apples, pears, and kiwifruit) and vegetables, world-class wines – there is no shortage of top quality culinary ingredients.
Typical New Zealand dishes include roasted leg of lamb, traditionally known in NZ as “Colonial goose,” grilled or roasted muttonbird (a Maori delicacy) and pavlova, the national dessert. “Fish and chips” (fries) is the traditional NZ take-away (take-out), while hokey pokey ice cream is the ice cream icon.
Each year, New Zealand harvests three-quarters of a million tons of seafood from its coastal waters and Exclusive Economic zone under a successful Quota Management System. The delicate fresh flavors of NZ fish, such as hoki, hake, orange roughy, snaper or Pacific King salmon are perfect with NZ’s fusion cuisine. Raw shellfish, such as paua (abalone) and ling (eel) are best served raw, in sushi or sashimi-style, while green-lipped mussels, rock lobster (crayfish) or Bluff oysters are delicious when marinated.
The traditional Maori hangi (pronounced hung-ee) is another style of barbecuing that is distinctly NZ. Kumara (potato), along with chicken, pork, lamb, cabbage, pumpkin, bread stuffing or steam pudding are cooked in the umu (earth oven). A hole is dug in the ground and lined with red-hot stones. A steel basket containing the food is placed over the hot stones. After a quick spray of water over the stones to create steam, it is covered with wet banana leaves or wet mutton cloth. Wet potato or sugar sacks are placed over the wet sheets. The hole is then filled with earth and left to steam for several hours. The resulting smoky flavor of the hangi is delicious, and an essential culinary experience for tourists.
An important element is NZ cuisine is innovation, through research and technology. New Zealand continues to develop new varieties and products for universal consumption.
In the 1970s, New Zealand pioneered deer farming. Today, it is the world’s leading producer and exporter of farmed venison.
New Zealand also developed Royal Gala and Braeburn apples, now known as premium eating apples. New Zealanders perfected the growing techniques, post-harvest procedures, quality assurance programs, transportation and market distribution systems of the kiwifruit.
The fellowship of Food and Wine
Over the last 30 years, New Zealand wines slowly evolved to complement its cuisine. Internationally acclaimed NZ Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough region is now rated the world’s best with its unique flavors of gooseberries, passion fruit, lime, melon, nectarine, red pepper (Capsicum) or asparagus. Fresh is best with Sauvignon Blanc. Its vibrant flavors enhance the freshness of seafood and white fish, especially when served with citrus or garlic-based sauces and fresh summer salads with tomatoes and capsicum.
NZ Pinot Noir is now officially one of the great (red) wines of the world. Pinot Noir from Martinborough region has earned the highest accolades for New Zealand with its strong, ripe plum flavors and great concentration. The south island regions of Marlborough and Nelson produce Pinot Noir with strong cherry and plum flavors while Central Otago region produces Pinot Noir with strong black cherry flavors.
NZ Pinot Noir suits a wide range of dishes. Lean meats, such as veal, venison or turkey, are perfect with Pinot Noir. The cherry flavors of Pinot Noir from southern regions complement the flavor of turkey like the classic garnish, cranberry sauce.
NZ Chardonnay is earning a reputation as a versatile food wine. Fresh, youthful NZ Chardonnay is delicious with most seafood dishes, such as scallops, crab, crayfish, white-fleshed fish and salmon. Mature NZ Chardonnay is rich and complex, with concentrated nutty flavors which blend with stronger dishes and creamy sauce.
NZ sparkling wines are typically stronger, have more fruit flavor and, have higher acidity levels than champagne. From full-flavored Pinot Noir to finer and more delicate Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay), NZ sparkling wines suit a wide range of light-flavored dishes, such as crayfish, crab, scallops, caviar and white-fleshed fish.
New Zealand’s ability to produce outstanding red wines from Bordeaux varieties complements the country’s reputation for producing quality white wines. Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends are full-bodied, with ripe berry flavors..
High fat meats, such as lamb or duck, have strong flavors that are an excellent match for Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends. Merlot is less intense in flavor, and suits leaner meats and savory dishes like stew or casseroles.
The delicate flavors and crisp acidity of dry aromatic wines, such as New Zealand Reisling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris blend with a wide range of moderately flavored salads, seafood and chicken dishes. Slightly sweet aromatic wines are delicious with spicy Thai and other Asian dishes. They can also suit vegetarian dishes, or dessers such as fresh fruit or soft blue cheese.
Truly, Kiwi ingenuity and excellence in food and wine shows that New Zealand can stand tall as one of the world’s great producers of food and beverage products.