Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Domestic Life in New Zealand


The mutually appreciative and interdependent relationship shared by the peoples of New Zealand is depicted in the preparation, serving, and storing of homegrown foods. Certainly the Maoris’ vast knowledge of and skill with local produce, fish and fowl added to the European larder.

Abundant water power produces hydroelectricity widely used in industries and homes. About 82 percent of New Zealanders cook by electricity while only 11 percent use gas. They enjoy the use of a wide range of electrical appliances including refrigerators. freezers, and small kitchen appliances.

The ability to bake has always been a criterion for the New Zealand homemaker, but today many other factors influence cookery skills. These include widespread travel and communications, increasing sophistication of restaurants, the burgeoning New Zealand wine industry, and the influence of other ethnic groups: Chinese, East Indian, Pacific Islanders and the Dutch. Curiosity and pleasure in discovering new foods and food combinations have stimulated not only interest in cuisine other than British, but also interest in acquiring unusual cooking utensils, recipes, and menu patterns. Previously a simple cook top and an oven produced the typical Pakeha dinner of roasted meat and roasted vegetables topped off with a creamy fruit dessert. But today; skewers for shish-kabab, woks for Chinese dishes and casseroles for moussakas, and electric blenders to create curry combinations are all a part of the New Zealand kitchen.

While eager to taste and adapt new food ideas. the Kiwis are also wise enough to retain at least one cooking tradition that has not only stood the test of time, but has proven to be a practical modern innovation as well. From earliest times, the Maoris cooked their main meal of the day in an earth oven which they called an umu or hangi. A pit would be dug and a wood fire kindled in the bottom. As the fire progressed, smooth stones would be placed on top. By scraping out the fires ashes and retaining the red-hot stones in the pit, the Maoris created a well-insulated oven. Over the heated stones they placed joints of meat, leaf-wrapped fish and seafood and finally arranged kumara (sweet potatoes) or other vegetables on top. Liberally sprinkled water created steam, and woven mats set on top sealed in the heat and moisture. After a period of undisturbed cooking time, a well-cooked tasty meal of meat, fish, and vegetables could be enjoyed by a large number of people. Today, many a large outdoor party, sports club, gathering or family picnic is highlighted with a feast made in a hangi.

Except for certain isolated areas, food storage has never been a problem in New Zealand. This is because of the combination of efficient agricultural methods and the variations from temperate to sub-tropical climates which allow for an almost continuous supply of fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains as well as meats and dairy products. Refrigerators and freezers are widely used and most Kiwis also enjoy convenience foods, delicatessen specialties, and a range of imported foods as well.

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