While fine dining restaurants have established a unique Pacific Rim cuisine, there are also many lesser-known eateries where visitors can grab a quick bite on the way to the beach, or savour a cheap yet flavourful meal.
Kumara / sweet potato is a staple root vegetable in Kiwi kitchens and is grown mostly in sunny Northland.
For a taste of this delicious tuber, Marky Willy’s Blah Blah Blah Café & Bar is right at the source - in New Zealand’s ‘kumara capital’ Dargarville, which produces 90% of the national crop. At Blah Blah Blah, visitors can try kumara in sweet and savoury dishes - from roast kumara salad, or kumara, cashew nut and blue cheese cannelloni, to kumara and coconut tart. The star dish is kumara and mussel chowder with coconut cream curry and bacon.
Paihia’s Café Over the Bay offers a classic dish that combines two great New Zealand flavours - the kumara and lamb pie is made from slow-simmered lamb shanks and encased in top-secret homemade short pastry.
- Blah Blah Blah Café, 101 Victoria St, Dargaville
- Café Over the Bay, Marsden Rd, Paihia
Café Alba in Waiuku, near Auckland, is famous for resident baker Milly’s cheese scones - light, fluffy scones best eaten fresh and slightly warm, with a dollop of NZ butter.
Manuka honey fans flock to Warkworth’s Honey Centre - a specialist store set up in 1992 by a local beekeeping family that manages over 1000 hives. Try sweet manuka honey smoothies, blended with ice-cream and NZ milk.
- Café Alba, 1/31 Bowen St, Waiuku
- The Honey Centre, 7 Perry Rd, Warkworth
The family-owned Coromandel Smoking Company smokes the popular NZ green-lipped mussel. Seafood is sourced both locally and from Marlborough and cold-smoked using manuka wood shavings. The smokehouse menu also offers lime and pepper trevally, salmon paté, and smoked kawahai.
No New Zealand holiday would be complete without a feast of fish and chips by the beach and Kaiau Fisheries - on the shores of the Firth of the Thames - offer fish and chips with stunning mountain and sea views at a popular local spot. Fish varieties include hoki, tarakihi, snapper, flounder, gurnard and lemon fish, coated in a special batter.
- The Coromandel Smoking Company, 70 Tiki Rd, Coromandel
- Kaiau Fisheries, East Coast Rd, Kaiau
Health fanatics can be carried away by the power of blueberries at Mamaku Blue, which serves only blueberry-based food - ice-cream, jam, chutney, sauce, sweets, vinegar and savouries. The venison and blueberry pie, made from local blueberries and venison is recommended.
- Mamaku Blue, 311 Maraeroa Rd, Mamaku
Meat pies are an authentic Kiwi taste, and Taupo’s Paetiki Bakery is one of the best places to try. Owner and baker Patrick Lam won the Supreme Pie Award at the 2010 Bakels New Zealand Pie Awards for his bacon and egg pie. Lam says the secret is in the pastry -"nice and puffy and make sure there’s not too much crumb."
- Paetiki Bakery, 199 Rifle Range Rd, Tauhara
Start the day with a big, hearty farmers’ breakfast from the rustic Clifton Bay Café - designed to look like the old Clifton sheep station wool shed which burned down in the 1920s. Most ingredients are locally-sourced, such as ‘Holly’ bacon from Hastings, fresh eggs and mushrooms.
Hawke’s Bay is one of New Zealand’s top wine regions and visitors can also sample eight varieties of luscious red, black and green grapes at Elmwood Table Grapes.
Rush Munro’s Ice Cream Gardens serve ice-cream in an old-fashioned ‘peaked’ cone. Made with all-natural ingredients - try the distinctly New Zealand flavour of feijoa fruit. The Rush Munro family developed the gardens during the 1920s and rebuilt them after the massive 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.
- Clifton Bay Café, 468 Clifton Rd, Te Awanga
- Elmwood Table Grapes, 367 Lawn Rd, Hastings
- Rush Munro’s Ice Cream Gardens, 704 Heretaunga St West, Hastings
New Plymouth’s Tea House is set on a lake in Pukekura Park and featured in the Hollywood blockbuster The Last Samurai. Originally built in 1931, the tea house won a best heritage restoration award in 2007. Try the ‘Kiwi’ bagel topped with bacon, egg and cheese.
With The Wind in the Willows set for production at Wellington’s Weta Workshop, Mr Badger’s Café in Hawera merits closer inspection. Part-museum part-café, Mr Badger serves a ‘figgy nut slice’ inspired by the mice who sang "bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer".
Another famous Kiwi ‘morning tea’ treat is the cheese scone - baked to perfection at the Four Square supermarket in Eltham. This town holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s biggest cheese scone.
- Mr Badger’s Café, Tawhiti Museum, 401 Ohangai Rd, Hawera
- Tea House on the Lake, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth
- Eltham Four Square, 156 High St, Eltham
Wellington / Wairarapa
Island Bay Butchery has what it takes for a real Kiwi barbecue including 30 types of gourmet sausages from French Toulouse and traditional Italian, to old English, German bratwurst, black pudding and even gluten-free versions.
Chocoholics flock to Schoc Chocolates in Greytown, an artisan chocolate studio that specialises in ‘chocolate therapy’. Schoc produces over 60 flavours of handmade chocolate in unusual combinations such as sea salt and smoked paprika, chilli lime and passionfruit, boysenberry and whiskey.
- Island Bay Butchery, 127 The Parade, Island Bay
- Schoc Chocolates, 177 Main St, Greytown
The clean, clear waters of the Marlborough Sounds grow New Zealand’s best green-lipped mussels. Visit the Slip Inn Café, Restaurant & Wine Bar in Havelock, the ‘mussel capital’ of New Zealand, which sources its mussels from nearby Pelorus Sound. Mussels are served lightly grilled with a variety of simple sauces, or as chowder, pizza or pie.
- Slip Inn Café, Restaurant and Wine Bar, Havelock Marina
Kaikoura is the crayfish / lobster capital of New Zealand. To taste the freshest ‘catch of the day’, try the Kaikoura Seafood BBQ - a beachside shack that feeds hordes of hungry visitors to the nearby seal colony. Locally-sourced crayfish are sold in whole or half portions, grilled to order, and served on rice with salad or bread. The little restaurant also serves homemade seafood chowder, and other shellfish and fish.
- Kaikoura Seafood BBQ, near Fyffe House and the seal colony
Banks Peninsula, Christchurch
No seafood lover can visit Christchurch without trying world-famous Akaroa salmon, which is sustainably farmed in the sheltered waters of the Akaroa Harbour. The fresh hot-smoked salmon at Rare Fare is harvested daily, then smoked with manuka wood.
Little River Café offers up Kiwi desserts, such as chocolate cake decorated with Crunchie bars. From the cabinet, the bacon and egg buttie - made from wholemeal bread topped with a fried egg and served with bacon - is a crowd favourite.
- Rare Fare, 29 - 31 Main North Rd, Papanui
- Little River Café, Main Rd, Little River, Banks Peninsula
West Coast whitebait is a seasonal delicacy that’s caught at the river mouth using hand-held nets. The Cray Pot at Jackson Bay, which is right on the beach, serves giant whitebait sandwiches, made from fritters served on bread, with a side salad and lemon wedge.
Possum pie is another ‘wild’ West Coast speciality. The possum pies made at Bushman’s Centre & Pukekura Pub taste like rabbit or chicken and often sell out by lunchtime.
- The Cray Pot, Jackson Bay Rd
- Bushman’s Centre and Pukekura Pub, State Highway 6, Pukekura
Jimmy’s Pies is a gourmet pie shop in Roxburgh, but the pies can also be found in petrol stations, dairies and supermarkets throughout the Otago region. The pie shop was founded by Jimmy Kirkpatrick in Invercargill just after WWII and moved to Central Otago in the 1960s. Pies come in delicious combinations such as venison and redcurrant, chicken curry and lamb shanks - the most popular item on the menu.
Mrs Jones’ Orchard in Cromwell is famous for its apricots and cherries, which flourish in the Central Otago climate. The 100-hectare orchard sells fresh fruit from a roadside stall that also stocks honey, feijoa and kiwifruit jam and real fruit ice-cream.
- Jimmy’s Pies, 143 Scotland St, Roxburgh
- Mrs Jones’ Orchard, State Highway 6, Cromwell
The fame of Oamaru’s Whitestone Cheese extends to Hollywood, where the crew of American sitcom Scrubs had been known to call for couriered supplies. Whitestone’s Windsor Blue cheese has won 10 gold medals, and visitors can sample all 18 varieties of Whitestone cheeses at this award-winning fromagerie. The small café also bakes cheesecake with mascarpone cream.
- Whitestone Cheese, 3 Torridge St, Oamaru
The Seriously Good Chocolate Company specialises in telling the story of New Zealnd to the world...through chocolate. The concept store in Invercargill is a chocolate experience; there’s seriously good hot chocolate, a seriously good chocolate viewing experience, and seriously good creative chocolate making classes. Try a little something from the Kiwiana collection - inspired by New Zealand icons with a distinctively Kiwiana flavour, or the beer infused chocolate - with flavours derived from the best breweries New Zealand has to offer.
- The Seriously Good Chocolate Company, 147 Spey Street, Invercargill
Great Kiwi Eats
New Zealander Peter Janssen is a seasoned writer who specialises in composing practical yet colourful travel guides.
For his 10th book 'Great Kiwi Eats', Janssen travelled New Zealand's regions - into country districts, towns and cities, to put together a guide for the intrepid foodie.Janssen's criteria for the places named in the book are that they had to be good value and offer an authentic Kiwi food experience.