Kai - traditional Māori food

'Kai' is the Māori word for food. New Zealand's indigenous Māori people were traditionally hunters, gatherers and crop farmers, who harvested food from forest, stream, sea and garden.

For centuries Māori - the indigenous people of New Zealand - have lived, worked, and loved the rugged yet fertile lands of their ancestors.

Traditional Māori believed that the earth was the giver of all life. From the soil, came food and that same food was cooked beneath the earth.

It was accepted that the people who were born on that land inherited the right to produce from it and to protect it for the benefit of all.

Kai - Māori food

Kai is the Māori word for food.

In traditional life, New Zealand's Māori people were hunters, gatherers and crop farmers who harvested their food from the forest, stream, sea and garden.

Contemporary New Zealanders still enjoy traditional Māori foods and delicacies, and Māori kai continues to develop.

Traditional Māori diet

The Māori diet was based on birds and fish, supplemented by wild herbs and roots.

In their tribal gardens, Māori also grew root crops including potato and kumara (sweet potato).

Māori hangi ovens

Māori usually cooked under the ground in ovens called hangi. In thermal areas, particularly around Rotorua, Māori also used natural pools of boiling warer and steam.

In traditional hangi cooking, meat and vegetables cook in a hole dug in the ground. Placed on hot stones at the bottom of the hole, the food is covered with cloth and a mound of earth trapping the heat around the food.

On special occasions, feasting still includes this traditional cooking method as well as ingredients. Many Māori tourism experiences and some hotels provide hangi-style food for guests.

NATIVConnectioNZ based in the Bay of Plenty town of Whakatane teach visitors how to create their own modern hangi earth oven.

Māori potatoes

Māori potato (taewa tutaekuri ) are an unusual deep purple potato. This potato variety is enjoying a renaissance in New Zealand cuisine.

Rewena pararoa or Māori bread is made from potatoes. It is sold at many weekend markets and in speciality bread shops.

Indigenous bush herbs

Rotorua-based Māori chef Charles Royal uses traditional bush herbs and indigenous foods to create his contemporary cuisine.

Royal's signature Māori food delicacies include: kuku patties made with New Zealand greenlip mussels, puha greens or salmon infused with manuka (New Zealand ti tree) honey, kelp (dried algae) and peppery horopito leaves.

He has begun commercialising dried herbs to supply to other professional chefs.

Māori food gathering

On Stewart Island, off the southern tip of the South Island, Māori still harvest and preserve the Rakiura mutton bird. With its distinct oily characteristic, it is considered an acquired taste.

Māori also continue to catch eels in fresh water streams, fish from the ocean, and gather shellfish and kina (sea eggs) from the sea.

Puha - a green leafy vegetable found growing wild - and kowhitiwhiti / watercress, are also harvested.

Māori wines

Tohu Wine was the first indigenous branded wine to be produced for the export market.

The grapes are harvested from the regions of Gisborne (east coast of the North Island) and Marlborough (top of the South Island). Members of the Māori tribe associated with Tohu Wine are involved at all stages from production through to marketing.

The Maori owners of TIKI Wine and Vineyards grow their grapes sustainably under the Māori principles of kaitiakitanga – guardianship, protection and preservation of the earth. This guides all vineyard-management decisions. The tiki is also an esteemed Maori good luck charm.

More information

Indigenous Māori food ingredients

Māori chef: Charles Royal

Māori hangi - traditional Māori feast