What to Eat
Lamb is naturally one of the most popular traditional dishes. Often cooked as a juicy roast with garlic and rosemary and served slightly pink with a tangy mint sauce, lamb is generally on the menu of almost every restaurant in the country. Hogget, or one-year-old lamb, is more tasty than younger lamb but not as strong as mutton. Beef is excellent and reasonably priced in restaurants--and nothing beats sizzling, thick juicy steaks and sausages, crisp salads, chilled wine or beer, good company, and cicadas singing from the trees at a traditional New Zealand "barby." Chicken or "chook" is another favorite. Sausages or "bangers" come in all shapes and sizes and are most frequently served battered and deep-fried at takeaways. New Zealanders are also partial to farm-raised or "home-grown" venison (expensive unless bought patty-form in a venison burger), veal, duck and pheasant (some of the sporting lodge restaurants specialize in game), and wild pork. If you like experimenting with different tastes, try muttonbird — it's a Maori delicacy that tastes like fish-flavored chicken!
Hot meat pies loaded with lamb or beef and gravy enclosed in flaky pastry, commonly served warm (from takeaways) with potato chips or pub-style with mashed potatoes, peas, and gravy, are virtually a national dish. If you're a pie fancier, try the many kinds of savory pies — egg and bacon, pork, and mincemeat; they make a quick and filling, inexpensive lunch. When you're in the mood for potato chips, try salt and vinegar flavor.
New Zealand's bountiful variety of shellfish ranges from toheroa, tuatua, pipi, paua, cockles, and oysters (several varieties), to lobsters, scallops (great in Marlborough, season Aug.-Feb.), and crayfish (also called spiny lobster or rock lobster). Toheroa, found along the northwest beaches of the North Island, make one of the best shellfish soups in the world, but unfortunately it's seldom available fresh because of strict conservation measures — if you get the chance, take it (otherwise find it canned in supermarkets). Other seafood, such as cod, flounder, hapuka, kingfish, John Dory, snapper, squid, and terekihi, are all good tasting and widely available. Bluff oysters (try them fresh during the winter in the south of the South Island) and marinated mussels are very popular with connoisseurs — if you can't get fresh, look for them canned in the supermarket. Freshwater-fish lovers can easily find salmon (fresh and smoked), whitebait (tiny transparent fish fried in batter or cooked in fritters--another New Zealand delicacy), and eels. To sample a rainbow or brown trout fresh from a crystal-clear stream is a real treat — both are superb. Trout are not sold commercially, but if you catch one yourself (it's not too difficult!), most restaurants will prepare it for you on request. Fish and chips, wrapped in paper and newspaper from the local takeaway or fish-and-chips shop, are one of the best and least expensive ways to sample a wide variety of New Zealand seafood.
Fruit and Veggies
Fresh fruit and vegetables are abundant throughout the year. Try some of the more exotic ones if you have the chance. A few you may not recognize are aubergines (eggplants), beetroot (red beets), bilberries (blueberries), courgettes (small zucchinis), feijoas (an exotic-tasting fruit available April and May), Chinese gooseberries or kiwifruit (high in vitamin C, best May-Dec.), kumara (a root vegetable similar to a sweet potato), rock melon (a small, sweet melon), and tamarillos or tree tomatoes--red, jellylike fruit found May-December. Strawberries, raspberries, boysenberries, and loganberries are best in January and February, melons and avocados after Christmas, passionfruit in March and April, and asparagus in September.
Dairy Foods & Desserts
New Zealand's rich dairy foods are lethal to the waistline but oh-so-good! Ice cream, especially the fruit-flavored ice creams loaded with chunks of real fruit, takes top place for any sweet tooth. Creamy milk is still delivered in glass bottles (New Zealanders generally prefer glass to cartons, though both are available), and a wide variety of tasty cheeses, including local Camembert, feta, Gouda, Romano, Gruyere, New Zealand blue vein, Brie, and cheddar, are readily available.
Every tearoom in the country offers a variety of cakes filled with fresh cream, custard- or fruit-filled tarts, and cream buns. The famous and traditional dessert, pavlova, is made of meringue, crunchy on the outside and gooey inside, filled with whipped cream and fresh fruit — traditionally strawberries and kiwifruit, dribbled with passionfruit. Both New Zealand and Australia take pride in the invention of this dessert (natives of each argue over where it was created) in honor of dancer Anna Pavlova, who visited New Zealand in the 1920s. Feeling peckish yet?