If you’re fortunate enough to visit my home country, you’ll be surprised at how many iconic foods and drinks foods you’ve never heard of before. This is my list of favorite Kiwi foods that I fight hard to get a taste of every time I’m home. Learn a tidbit about each food, how to enjoy it, and where to buy it.
Growing up in New Zealand, I didn’t realize how lucky I was in the culinary department. Foods in New Zealand are packed with flavor, and it takes little effort to enjoy a feast because the raw ingredients already taste out of this world.
Here’s my list of foods I try to get my hands on every time I go home. A quick caveat, some foods are available outside of New Zealand (like passion fruit and feijoa), and some foods aren’t originally from New Zealand (like feijoa and kiwifruit). But I’ve added them to the list because they’re abundant New Zealand flavors that any Kiwi who grew up or lives in New Zealand would easily recognize.
This list is divided into 2 sections. The first describes the foods I greedily stuff my face with as quickly as possible because they’re not easily transported back to the U.S. The second group are foods I like to bring back to the U.S. And yes, this is targeted at a U.S. audience, so apologies to the Aussies and Brits who might have easier access to these Kiwi delights.
Let’s dive in!
What: Feijoa is a fruit with a sweet floral flavor. It has a watery, jelly-like inside surrounded by a gritty texture similar to guava (though it’s not a guava plant). While the plant originally comes from South America, and you’ll find many feijoa trees in backyards.
How to eat it: Cut the fruit in half and scoop the tender insides out to eat. Discard the thick outer skin.
Where & When to buy: You can buy it from the grocery store. It’s in season in the late summer.
Green and Gold Kiwifruit
What: Kiwifruit is what New Zealanders call the fruit that most Americans refer to as “kiwis” (kiwis are flightless birds and a national symbol of New Zealand). While the most common variety is the green kiwifruit, gold kiwifruit has become a mainstay thanks to its sweeter, “tropical” taste and appealing golden color.
How to eat it: Cut the fruit in half and scoop the tender insides out to eat. Or peel the furry skin with a paring knife and slice the flesh. You can top desserts and yogurt with sliced kiwifruit. Discard the furry outer skin.
Where & When to buy: Kiwifruit is available at the grocery store and inexpensive (especially compared to U.S. prices) when in season. According to Zespri, the main grower of kiwifruit in New Zealand, the harvest time is between March to May (that’s the fall/autumn season in the Southern Hemisphere).
What: Of South American origin, passionfruit contains big, dark seeds covered in a yellow membrane. The seeds are crunchy without much flavor. The main attraction is the sweet and sour sticky juices from the fruit that add brightness to desserts and fruit salads.
How to eat it: Cut in half and scoop out the flesh. Some people hate the seeds so they strain the pulp before eating. Because it’s sour, I rarely eat passion fruit alone. I usually add it to yogurt or use it as a topping over cakes, ice cream, and pavlova.
Where & When to buy: Grocery store and in-season April to May.
What: New Zealand has many artisanal dairy products from innovative companies that are building a strong reputation for superior taste and eschewing the practices of “Big Dairy” (i.e. Fonterra). When I went home in February, my friends told me about the hype and cult status around Lewis Road Creamery and how I had to try their artisanal butter and chocolate milk. My other favorite brand for ice cream and cheese is Kapiti. Expensive but amazing.
How to eat it: Heh, you don’t need advice on how to enjoy milk, butter, ice cream, cheese. 😉
Where & When to buy: Most grocery stores will stock these products. I had some trouble finding Lewis Road Creamery +Whittaker’s chocolate milk but it appears to be back in stock periodically if you look long enough.
L&P (Lemon and Paeroa)
What: L&P is a famous soft drink/soda in New Zealand. It stands for Lemon and Paeroa and apparently began as lemon added to water from Paeroa. The company now belongs to Coca-Cola. It tastes like a unique twist on sparkling lemonade.
Where & When to buy: Most dairy shops, grocery stores, and petrol/gas stations should see L&P all year round.
After I’ve gorged on the fresh foods that aren’t practical to pack in my suitcase, I stock up on my favorite foods with a long shelf life. These are foods that I have a lot of trouble finding in the U.S. Some of the items make great gifts because they’re special to New Zealand (where else will you find Hokey Pokey in Colorado?).
What: Hokey pokey is a honeycomb toffee made from golden syrup and baking soda. We learned how to make it in high school. Hokey pokey ice cream made by Tip-Top (one of the biggest ice cream makers in NZ) is iconic in New Zealand. It is vanilla ice cream with chunks of crunchy hokey pokey. I grew up eating so much of it and still have fond, nostalgic memories.
How to eat it: Rarely do people enjoy hokey pokey alone. In addition to ice cream, you can find hokey pokey covered in chocolate, including the Cadbury Crunchie bar and Whittaker’s sells a slab of chocolate with hokey pokey bits.
Where & When to buy: Any grocery store, dairy shop, bakery with an ice cream cabinet will sell hokey pokey ice cream. Crunchie bars are available almost everywhere. You can make hokey pokey at home.
What: These are deep-fried bits of dough made from soy and other flours like chickpea. It’s similar to Asian rice crackers or Indian fried chakli. My favorite flavor is the chili and lime.
How to eat it: Eat it like they’re potato chips.
Where & When to buy: They are sold at big grocery store chains like Pak ‘N Save or Countdown in the bulk bins.
What: A Tim Tam is two layers of chocolate biscuit (cookie if you’re American) with a layer of chocolate cream sandwiched in between and coated in chocolate. There are different flavors of Tim Tams including the original, dark, chewy caramel, double coat, and white. There are also special edition flavors like dark choc & sticky raspberry, manuka honey and cream, and strawberry and cream.
How to eat it: Eat it straight or do a TIM TAM SLAM! To perform a Tim Tam slam, prepare a cup of tea (or coffee if you must). Bite into the diagonal corners of a Tim Tam. Dunk one end of a bitten corner into the cup of tea and put your mouth around the other bitten corner. Using the biscuit like a straw, suck the tea up and through the biscuit. Quickly throw the entire biscuit in your mouth. It will implode in your mouth.
WARNING: Don’t use hot tea or you’ll scald your tongue. Use warm tea to avoid any burns. You must move fast! If you suck the tea up the biscuit and don’t pop the Tim Tam in your mouth immediately, you’ll end up with a wet melted chocolate mess everywhere.
For Alex’s birthday this year, I made him a cheesecake using an entire packet of crushed dark Tim Tams in place of graham crackers. It was amazing.
Where & When to buy: All year round in any major supermarket.
What: I love this milk chocolate bar even though I typically dislike white and milk chocolate. It’s made from curls of milk chocolate cooled into the shape of a long cylinder. When you take a bite, it’s light and airy. The way it melts in your mouth is what makes it memorable.
How to eat it: I push the tip of the bar out from the package and take a bite. When I’m ready for my next bite, I push a bit more out from the package. If you don’t eat it carefully one bite at a time like this, the chocolate breaks apart easily and makes a big mess.
Where & When to buy: Any grocery store, petrol/gas station, dairy shop.
What: This thick, dark monofloral honey comes from bees that pollinate the manuka bush. It carries a rich, potent, distinct taste that reminds you of dark molasses rather than lighter, weaker clover honey. There are even stories about New Zealand soldiers using honey to treat wounds during WWI (unclear if this is substantiated). Manuka honey has recently gained widespread popularity all over the world and studies are investigating its anti-microbial benefits. It’s expensive!
How to eat it: I love drinking a tablespoon each of lemon juice mixed with manuka honey in warm water when I have a sore throat. I spread manuka honey on crêpes, toast with peanut butter, and pancakes. Sometimes I eat a spoonful straight.
Where & When to buy: In New Zealand, grocery stores and tourist gift stores sell manuka honey. When we want to buy a big quantity (6-12 jars), we go to the gift stores sprinkled around Mt. Eden Road or Downtown to negotiate a better deal. I’ve seen manuka honey sold at Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Amazon.
What: Marmite is a spread made from a yeast extra. It’s related to the British marmite and Australia vegemite (but I prefer the flavor and viscosity of the Kiwi marmite). People either love it or hate it. It’s a brown, tar-like, smelly by-product of brewing beer? Why do people love it? Because it’s packed with umami! It’s a great vegan alternative to animal products if you want to add a flavor bomb to your food.
How to eat it: Use it as a spread like peanut butter on sandwiches, toast, and crackers. If that’s too strong for you, you can add a thin layer to cheese sandwiches. If that’s still too much, you can use it as a background flavor in a braise in place of or in addition to soy sauce. I know people make marmite quiches so you could probably introduce it to egg dishes like scrambled eggs.
Where & When to buy: Any grocery store sells marmite in the cereal and food spread aisle.
What: Because I adore the taste of New Zealand milk, I love stocking up on whole milk powder. New Zealand milk tastes more “gamey” in Alex’s words. It’s got a more “cow-y” flavor, and the milk powder lasts a long time when stored in an airtight container or using the seal on the plastic bag in a cool, dry place.
How to drink it: Alex loves to drink all my milk powder (seriously, he finished a bag within a week during our first month of physical distancing when we didn’t go to the store). Milk powder is fantastic in 5-minute hot chocolate, coffee, and tea, including this masala chai recipe. While you can use milk powder for baking, I prefer to enjoy the NZ milk powder straight because I don’t have an unlimited supply.
Where & When to buy: You can find it in conventional grocery stores in the UHT milk aisle. It’s usually on the bottom-most shelf.
What: Whittaker’s chocolate is a longtime New Zealand brand, like Hershey’s in the U.S. They make delicious dark chocolate. The reason I love Whittaker’s is the creative flavors they release in collaboration with other iconic Kiwi brands like L&P. Their Artisan Collection makes terrific gifts because it includes unique chocolate flavors that have a great story to showcase New Zealand foods, like the Hawke’s Bay Black Doris plum, manuka honey, Wellington roasted supreme coffee, West Coast Buttermilk, and Fijian Ginger and Kerikeri Mandarin.
How to eat it: With gusto.
Where & When to buy: In the chocolate aisle of most conventional grocery stores.
There are many more foods I would love to add to this list. Hopefully, I’ll have the good fortune of going home at the right season next time to add these beauties to the list:
- Whitebait fritters
- Green-lipped mussels
- Bluff oysters
- Pavlovas (though you could make them at home)
- Anzac biscuits (ditto)
- Afghan biscuits (ditto)
NOTE: A hangi is not a food, it’s a ritual and a way of cooking. So I didn’t list it above. But if you have the chance to attend a hangi, I highly recommend it, especially if it’s not a touristy occasion.
And yes, I left many iconic kiwi foods off the list but they’re not my favorites. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for famous New Zealand foods or food you’ll only find in NZ, ask a local where you can find these:
- Jaffas (and I’m not just talking about Aucklanders)
- Meat pies (mince and cheese pie)
- Lolly cake
- Pineapple lumps