Best Traditional Food to Try in New Zealand

New Zealand Food: 15 Traditional Dishes You Must Try!

New Zealand may not be world-famous for its food, but there are plenty of amazing things to treat your taste buds to during your trip. From craft beer, wine, and coffee to entrées, snacks, and desserts, there’s a never-ending list of delicious New Zealand foods that even the most discerning foodie could never say no to.

The country boasts a colossal coastline that stretches on for around 9,320 miles. Because of this, New Zealand has some amazing fish and seafood restaurants. While fish and seafood are at their very finest between October and April, you’ll find seafood-centric dishes available all year round throughout the country’s cute coastal villages. 

Even though contemporary pop-up restaurants serving up all kinds of delights – from truffle-stuffed crepes and kawakawa tea to loaded fries topped with crab and savory pies filled with beef and beer – can be found all over the country, traditional New Zealand foods aren’t anything new here. Some of the most delicious and iconic dishes, such as hāngī, date back to when the Māori people arrived almost a millennium ago. 

No matter how long you’re planning on spending here, there’s no way you’ll have enough time to try all the best New Zealand foods. To make sure you don’t waste a single bite on something that’s mediocre, we’ve done all the hard work for you and eaten our way through New Zealand. Take our advice and try as many of these dishes as you can during your trip. Your taste buds will thank us!

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15 New Zealand Foods to Try on Your Next Trip

1. Hāngī

Classic Dishes to Try in New Zealand: Hangi

Hāngī is an absolute must-try when you’re in New Zealand. This famous dish is more than 1,000 years old and is made using the same techniques today that the Māori used so long ago. Hāngī involves slowly cooking a selection of fresh meat and vegetables in an underground oven. 

The food is usually wrapped in tin foil (though it was traditionally wrapped in flax leaves) and placed in special baskets that can withstand a lot of heat. Next, a deep hole is dug into the ground and hot stones are placed at the bottom. The baskets are then carefully lowered into the hole and sit on top of the stones. 

All the food is covered with a wet cloth and a mound of dirt, trapping in the heat and cooking the food. It takes around 3-4 hours for food to cook this way, but the flavor is impossible to recreate any other way. 

While hāngī was a common way to cook food hundreds of years ago, it’s reserved for special occasions today. The easiest way to experience it is to sign up for a guided tour. 

2. Hokey Pokey Ice Cream

Local Foods to Try in New Zealand: Hokey Pokey Ice Cream

Despite its quirky name, hokey pokey ice cream is one of the most popular foods in New Zealand. Ask any local what their favorite dessert is, and nine times out of 10, they’ll tell you it’s this ice cream!

This unique flavor is made by combining regular vanilla ice cream with tiny lumps of delicious honeycomb toffee. It gets its name because “hokey pokey” is what people in New Zealand call honeycomb. It doesn’t sound that special, but wait until you try it. You’ll never want any other type of ice cream ever again!

Because it’s one of the most popular foods in New Zealand, you can get hokey pokey ice cream all over the place, from family-run grocery stores to fine-dining restaurants. But if you’re searching for the very best hokey pokey ice cream, you’ve got to go to Giapo in Auckland

This ice cream parlor goes out of its way to serve original, creative ice cream flavors in all types of wonderful cones. Definitely try the hokey pokey ice cream with the “Selfie Cone.” You’ll get some amazing pictures! 

3. Crayfish

Must Try Foods in New Zealand: Crayfish

If you’re a fan of seafood, you’ve got to try crayfish when you’re in New Zealand. Known as koura in Māori, crayfish are a type of crustacean that looks a bit like a small lobster. They taste like a cross between a shrimp and a lobster. The white meat has a subtle nutty-sweet flavor that tastes so divine you don’t need to flavor it with anything at all – except maybe some melted butter. 

Crayfish are caught in the waters surrounding New Zealand throughout the year. So no matter when you visit, you should be able to find the dish made fresh. But if you’re traveling between February and May, then you’re in luck. This is when crayfish are at their best, and you’ll find all kinds of creative specials available throughout the country for reasonable prices. 

New Zealand Foods to Try List: Crayfish

The Fisherman’s Wharf in Lyttelton, near Christchurch, serves amazing crayfish. This epicurean hotspot is well-known for serving a huge selection of seafood and fish caught by local fishermen that very morning. 

The only downside is that they only serve crayfish during crawfish season (February-May), so definitely check it out if you’re visiting Christchurch then. Even if your trip is outside these dates, it’s still worth making a reservation for the chance to try some of the freshest food you’ll ever have in your life. 

4. Paua

What to Eat in New Zealand: Paua

Paua is one of those things that you may be a little uneasy about trying at first, but the second you take your first bite, you’ll be thrilled you did. Paua is what Kiwis call three species of large sea snail that are perfectly safe to eat. You’ll find them prepared in loads of different ways, from straight-up raw to sliced and cooked in a curry or grated and turned into paua fritters.

The delicacy has a subtle salty taste from the ocean with a delicate hint of sweetness. The delightful flavor is what makes them so popular with all kinds of palates. Cafe 35 in Tokomaru Bay is one of the best places in New Zealand to try paua. Here the delicate seafood is baked into huge savory pies with the most incredible golden crusts. 

Paua isn’t just loved in New Zealand for its delicious taste. The shells are also extremely versatile and useful. You’ll often see them in bars and restaurants being used as ashtrays. Or take a peek inside a souvenir shop and you’ll spot delicate jewelry and funky souvenirs made from the colorful shells! 

5. Kina

What to Eat in New Zealand: Kina

Kina is another kind of unusual seafood that not everyone’s brave enough to try. But those who do are rewarded with a gourmet delight! 

In New Zealand, kina is a kind of sea urchin that has a hard and spiky outer shell with thin fleshy insides that taste amazing – this is known as the roe. People have been devouring this seafood pleasure along the coast for centuries.

This local specialty tastes like nothing you’ve ever had before in your life. It’s packed with all the flavors of the sea, with a subtly sweet aftertaste. Some people even compare it to foie gras, given its ability to melt gloriously in your mouth. But it can be a bit of an acquired taste, so don’t be too frustrated if it’s not your thing. 

The best place to try kina is Bay of Islands, where you’ll find it available throughout the year. Take a look at almost any restaurant menu in the area and you’ll spot it. But for the best foodie experience, we suggest trying it in spring. At this time of year, kina roe almost doubles its production and the insides taste their absolute best. 

6. Lamb

Classic Dishes to Try in New Zealand: Lamb

Lamb has got to be one of the most well-known New Zealand foods. This much-loved meat is the country’s largest export and is praised throughout the year for its wonderful texture and fantastic flavor. 

While it can be quite a special and expensive dish in some places, you’ll find lamb on the menu in all kinds of establishments for all budgets throughout New Zealand – from casual pubs to fine dining restaurants. If you’re a whiz in the kitchen, you can even pick up some fresh lamb from a grocery store or butcher for a reasonable price and cook it yourself.  

Vault 21 is known for serving some of the finest lamb in Dunedin. Here you can indulge yourself with a fusion-inspired shared plate menu featuring two types of lamb – a smoked lamb bruschetta with a feta and edamame smash or lamb neck spring rolls with black aioli. 

If you’d prefer something more traditional, stop by Ombrellos Kitchen & Bar in Dunedin instead. This laid-back eatery serves craft beers with classic lamb dishes such as roasted rack of lamb and braised lamb shoulder. 

7. Kiwi Burger

New Zealand Foods to Try List: Kiwi Burger

A Kiwi burger sounds like something you’d be best off avoiding. But in this instance, Kiwi doesn’t refer to the fruit – it refers to the nickname for locals in New Zealand. 

The burger gets its name from its quirky ingredients. As well as a regular beef patty and all the typical toppings (think lettuce, tomato, onion, etc.), this burger also includes a fried egg and sliced beets, all served inside a soft hamburger bun. 

Because they’re so popular, you can find Kiwi burgers almost anywhere in New Zealand that has a burger menu, from street food-style pop-up places to fancy bistros. 

If you’re planning on visiting Christchurch during your adventure, we recommend trying the Kiwi burger from Burger Burger. This trendy hotspot makes their Kiwi burger with a 6 oz beef patty topped with aged cheddar, bacon, cos lettuce, pickles, a fried egg, beets, tomato jam, mayonnaise, and mustard. 

Don’t like beets or fried eggs on your burgers? No worries, Burger Burger has loads of other amazing options, from vegan burgers and fish tacos to chicken sandwiches and charred salads. 

8. Savoury Pies

New Zealand Foods to Eat: Savoury Pies

If you’re from the US, you probably think of pies as delicious desserts laden with sweet fruit and topped with whipped cream. But in New Zealand, pies are strictly a savory thing. 

They’ve got the same golden brown crust you’re familiar with, but they’re filled with all kinds of drool-worthy ingredients, like ground beef and onions, butter chicken, Thai chicken curry, pork belly, veggies and cheese, and even fish and seafood.

In New Zealand, pies are a great grab-and-go option, so you’ll find them for sale in bakeries, grocery stores, and gas stations. But they’re not just a quick and easy meal. New Zealand’s pies can also be a gourmet addition to any evening out and are regularly served in high-end restaurants. 

Pioneer Pies serves some of the most incredible pies in Auckland. The family-run business has been selling award-winning pies for years and is open every day of the week. Here you’ll find everything from classic mince pies and vegan lentil pies to gluten-free Angus pies and gourmet chicken, cranberry, and camembert pies. 

9. Jaffas

Got a sweet tooth? Then you’ve got to try Jaffas. This popular New Zealand food is enjoyed by people of all ages when they’re in the mood for a small sweet snack. 

Jaffas are a type of candy made up of small chocolate balls covered in crispy red shells. They’ve got a slight orange flavor and are incredibly addictive. The whole packet will be gone before you know it!

The candy was first created way back in 1931 and was named after the Jaffa orange. If anything, Jaffas have become more popular over the years. There’s even an annual Jaffa race in which people hurl the candies down the world’s steepest street – Baldwin Street in Dunedin. The candies can reach incredible speeds of up to 62mph. The festival takes place each year in July and is great fun to watch.

You’ll find Jaffas available all over the place in New Zealand, from grocery stores to candy stores and gas stations. They make a great gift for friends and family or even just a yummy snack while you work your way around the country. 

10. Fish and Chips

Best Foods to Try in New Zealand: Fish and Chips

Fish and chips is one of the most popular foods in New Zealand that pretty much everyone can get on board with. This simple meal is made up of a delicate fillet of fish which is generously coated in a light batter before being deep-fried until it’s crispy and golden brown. It’s then served with some hand-cut fries and handed over to one lucky person to devour.

The waters surrounding New Zealand are teeming with all kinds of fish, and because of this, fish and chips aren’t restricted to one species of fish. Here you can get the classic dish with blue cod, tarakihi, gurnard, and fresh snapper, as well as the more common options, such as elephant fish, blue warehou, red cod, or shark.

If you find yourself in the Coromandel, head straight over to Coromandel Top Town Takeaways and order yourself some freshly-made fish and chips. This casual dining spot is widely regarded as being the very best place for this iconic New Zealand food in the area. The portions are absolutely huge, and there’s always a great selection of fish to choose from.  

11. Pavlova

New Zealand Foods to Try List: Pavlova

Pavolva is a bit of a confusing dish. Ask a Kiwi where it comes from and they’ll swear it’s a yummy food from New Zealand. But ask someone from Australia, and they’ll promise you it comes from Oz. The dessert’s origin doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you take time out of your New Zealand adventure to try this amazing dessert.

Usually reserved for extra special occasions, pavlova is made of a great big dish-shaped meringue topped with light-as-air whipped cream and a selection of fresh fruit. As Christmas falls in New Zealand’s summer and pavlova is such a light and refreshing dish, it’s often served on this happy holiday. But if you seek it out, you can find this moreish dish all over New Zealand at any time of year.

Winona Forever is the place to go in Auckland for an incredible pavlova. This popular eatery serves a brand new selection of desserts every day which don’t appear on the menu. So you can never be 100% sure it will be available when you visit. But even if it isn’t, you’ll still be in for an indulgent treat with all the other goodies on offer. 

12. Southland Cheese Rolls

You may not think that a cheese sandwich deserves to be on the list of the best food in New Zealand, but just wait until you try a Southland cheese roll. A specialty throughout Southland (and rarely found anywhere beyond Otago and Southland), this local dish looks more like an alternative sushi roll than a regular sandwich.

It’s made by taking a piece of white bread, topping it with a slice of cheese, and rolling it up into a cylinder. The whole thing is then generously spread with a heavenly mixture of evaporated milk, cheese, and onion powder before being placed under a broiler and cooked until it’s golden brown. It’s super simple but it really hits the spot – especially if you’re recovering from a major night out.

Southland cheese rolls are really easy to make on your own. But you’ll find plenty of cafes and bakeries in Southland that make them, too. The Grille in Invercargill serves the very best Southland cheese rolls in all of New Zealand. 

13. Whitebait Fritters

New Zealand Foods to Try List: Whitebait Fritters

Whitebait fritters are one of those dishes that you’ll never be able to get enough of, no matter how many you get through. They’re the most beautiful light golden color, with a thin and crispy outside and a soft, delicate inside. They’re often served with a white dip (like mayonnaise or aioli), but they taste so good that you can easily eat them on their own.

If you’re unfamiliar with the dish, whitebait is the collective name for immature edible fish that usually are just 1-2 inches long. When you’re in any coastal village in New Zealand between August and November, you’ll spot many fishermen setting up temporary catching zones along the river mouths of the West Coast. This is an excellent spot for catching whitebait, which is the main ingredient in the incredibly addictive whitebait fritters. 

Local Foods to Try in New Zealand: Whitebait Fritters

Curly Tree Whitebait is the place to go in Haas for the most delicious whitebait fritters. Here the fritters are made fresh to order using freshly-caught whitebait that was in the water that very morning. There’s nothing like it! 

14. Chocolate Fish

A chocolate fish is another New Zealand food that sounds like something you’d want to avoid. But don’t be put off just yet! 

In New Zealand, a chocolate fish is actually a marshmallow covered in a milk chocolate shell in the shape of a fish. It sounds like a really childish treat, but you’ll spot people of all ages throughout the country enjoying them.

Individually-wrapped chocolate fish can be found in corner stores (Kiwis call them dairies), gas stations, and grocery stores all across New Zealand. The marshmallow inside is pink and is meant to have a raspberry flavor – although most people think it just tastes sweet. What makes chocolate fish so special is that they’re really simple and have been around for decades. 

Traditionally, a chocolate fish is given as a gift or reward to people – it’s not something you’d typically buy yourself. If you sign up for any guided tour in New Zealand, you’ll likely be rewarded with a chocolate fish at the end! 

15. Kumara

Best Foods to Try in New Zealand: Kumara

Kumara isn’t just a vegan- and vegetarian-friendly dish. It’s the dish that will win over even the most veggie-hating carnivore. Kumara is an epic type of sweet potato that was introduced to New Zealand thousands of years ago by early Māori settlers. It’s so popular that it has withstood the test of time and is served at restaurants all over the country today.

It looks like any other sweet potato – orange-red gnarly skin with an uneven shape like a bloated carrot. Slice into the root vegetable, and you’ll find a bright orange inside that adds a pop of color to any dish.

The very best way to try kumara is when it’s part of hāngī. Cooking the delicious vegetable over hot stones underground enhances its sweet, earthy flavor and makes it dance on your palate. 

But if you don’t get the chance to try this authentic Māori cooking method, you can prepare it yourself. You can find kumara in pretty much all grocery stores and farmers’ markets across New Zealand.

There you have it! Our list of 15 New Zealand foods to try on your next trip. What’s your favorite New Zealand food? Let us know in the comments below.

Planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!



  • Nicola Quinn

    Nicola is a freelance writer with an insatiable hunger for travel. She swapped her home in the UK for the sunny Canary Islands when she was just 11 and she has been based there ever since.

    From crawling on her hands and knees inside pyramids in Egypt to swimming with baby sharks in Bali and searching (fruitlessly!) for the Northern Lights in Iceland, Nicola takes every chance she gets to explore new places.

    The incredible experiences she has around the world fuels her writing and inspires her to plan even more adventures for the future.

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