Aotearoa New Zealand is a wonderland for people who love to eat. The country’s food culture revolves around its raw ingredients and you can get a taste of the best seafood, meat and produce no matter where in New Zealand you find yourself. That being said, there are a few must eats you have to tick off your list and some food experiences that are quintessentially Kiwi that you won’t want to miss. Here are a few of our favourites…
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1. Nab a giant ice cream from Pōkeno
If you’re driving south through the Waikato region, ensure you make a pitstop in Pōkeno, a tiny town famous for its bacon and its giant ice creams. On the main street you’ll find two ice cream shops both scooping up flavours from New Zealand’s biggest ice cream producer-Tip Top. It doesn’t really matter which shop you head to so long as your order includes orange chocolate chip, goody goody gum drops and hokey pokey- the trifecta of classic New Zealand ice cream flavours. And make sure you order a giant cone- because after all- it’s the whole reason you’re there!
P.S pop next door to Pōkeno bacon and grab some rashers if you’re cooking up your own breakfast the next morning. We’re big fans of their sausages too.
Eat at: Original Pōkeno Ice Cream and Coffee Shop, 57 Great South Road, Pōkeno 2471. Open 7 days 5:30am to 6:00pm (6:30pm on Saturdays and Sundays)
2. Fish and chips from Best Cafe in Dunedin
No visit to Ōtepoti Dunedin in the South Island is complete without a visit to Best Cafe for a feed of fish and chips. Established in 1932, this restaurant is an institution which serves up some of the nation’s best fish and chips. Walking through the entrance is like stepping back in time- it hasn’t changed much, from the vinyl tablecloths to the bread and butter they serve on the house, with your meal.
The restaurant is owned and operated by Jess Marks the great granddaughter of the original owner and she’s passionate about sourcing sustainably harvested fish for the restaurant. Tuck into a plate of Best Cafe’s fried blue cod and beef dripping chips, wash it down with a Speights beer and all is right in the world.
Eat at: Best Cafe, 30 Stuart Street, Dunedin Central, Dunedin 9016. Open Monday to Saturday 11:30am to 2:30pm and 5:00pm to 8:00pm. Closed Sunday.
3. Catch & cook tuatua
It won’t take you long to cotton onto the fact that New Zealand’s kaimoana/seafood is world class. What makes it even more special is that a lot of it can be experienced by harvesting or gathering it yourself. One of our favourite seafood to harvest is tuatua- a clam which is endemic to New Zealand. They’re usually found buried in the sand of ocean beaches and require you to burrow with your toes to find them (check out our video below to see how to go about it!)
We love making fritters with tuatua or cooking up a steaming pan of spaghetti alla vongele with tonnes of garlic, butter, wine and parsley. The feeling of gathering your own food from the ocean and then cooking it up is a special Kiwi experience and one you shouldn’t miss! P.S make sure you adhere to catch limits when you’re catching seafood- these can vary from region to region around New Zealand.
Where to find tuatua: the video below was filmed at Tokerau beach in Northland but we also love gathering tuatua at Omaha beach in Auckland.
4. Grab a pie from Fat Bastard Pies in Invercargill
New Zealand is a country of 5 million people and at last count we consume 66 million pies each year. It’s safe to say we love our pies. If you find yourself at the bottom of the country in Invercargill, make a beeline for Fat Bastard Pies. The team here make our favourite pies in New Zealand- tuck into their Little Fat Lamb featuring hunks of tender lamb and sweet kūmara (sweet potato) or go for a classic mince and cheese. We bet you’ll find yourself here every day you’re in town. P.S Fat Bastard is closed on the weekend!
Eat at: Fat Bastard Pies, 158 Tay Street, Invercargill 9810. Open Monday to Friday 6:30am to 4:00pm.
5. Devour raw Greenshell mussels in Havelock
Havelock, a wee town at the top of the South Island is synonymous with Greenshell mussels. Mussel farms are prevalent throughout the Marlborough Sounds region and if you’re travelling in the area don’t pass up the opportunity to eat them from farm to plate. Mills Bay Mussels shuck the mussels for diners to slurp down raw with a mignonette sauce (red wine vinegar and shallot based sauce) or pop them under the grill loaded with panko crumbs, garlic and a bit of cheese. The shellfish Mills Bay Mussels grow are huge, plump and super fresh- don’t miss this spot.
Eat at: Mills Bay Mussels Tasting Room & Eatery, 23a Inglis Street, Havelock 7100. Open Wednesday to Sunday 10:00am to 2:00pm.
6. Eat the world’s rarest oyster in Bluff
This could be a tricky one to tick off given the Bluff oyster’s short season but if you’re in New Zealand between March and July/August make sure Bluffies as they’re known locally, are on the menu. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Bluff at the bottom of the South Island during this time, hightail it to Fowler’s Oysters.
The team at Fowler’s are 3rd generation oyster fishers who trawl the Foveaux Strait for Bluff oysters which can only be experienced in New Zealand (we don’t export them). They’re meaty, briny and creamy- unlike any oyster you’ve ever tasted. Order a dozen Bluffies in the half shell and slurp them down at the picnic table outside the shop- it’s a special experience.
Eat at: Fowler’s Oysters, 99 Ocean Beach Road, Bluff 9814, New Zealand. Open daily during the Bluff oyster season which runs approximately from March to July/August. Keep in mind, the shop will be shut if the boats aren’t fishing because of the weather so it pays to check @fowlersoysters Instagram and Facebook pages for up to date opening hours during the season. During the season, you’ll find Bluffies on the menus of most restaurants that serve oysters so don’t stress if you can’t make it down to Bluff!
7. Drink wine and help fight slavery…
New Zealand is famous for its wine and there are a number of wine regions to visit across the country. Tucked away in Waipara in the South Island is family owned and operated Terrace Edge Vineyard. Terrace Edge grapes are used to produce the wine for their label 27seconds- a social enterprise where 100% of the profits are donated to Hagar a nonprofit that helps victims of modern day slavery. The name 27seconds comes from a Unicef statistic that estimates 1.2 million children are sold into slavery every year. When you break that down, that’s a child every 27 seconds.
The wine is sensational- it’s not charity wine which you purchase once just for the cause. We especially love their pinot gris and riesling. The Terrace Edge Vineyard and Tasting room offer wine tastings of Terrace Edge wines and the opportunity to purchase 27seconds wines PLUS you can grab a toastie (toasted sandwich) and enjoy it out on the terrace overlooking the magnificent view.
Eat/drink at: Terrace Edge Vineyard and Tasting Room, 328 Georges Road, RD2, Waipara 7482. Open Thursday to Sunday 11:00am to 4:30pm.
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