Five Māori Hāngi dishes you must try in New Zealand

Chef Rewi Spraggon isn’t known as Hāngi Master for nothing, having championed this traditional Māori style of pit cooking for years. He explains why it is cent

Team Wanderlust
06 February 2024

When Kupe the explorer first discovered and named Aotearoa (New Zealand), he brought with him the ancient cooking techniques of Polynesia. Most revered of all was the method of cooking large feasts in the ground, known to Māori as hāngi. This process requires patience as rocks in an earthen pit are brought to an extreme temperature from burning wood over many hours. The type of wood used is important in the hāngi process, as it changes the flavour profile of the kai (food). Fish, vegetables and meat are then placed into the pit, protected by wet leaves or sacking, and then covered with earth. The result is wonderfully succulent food with a distinctive smoky flavour that is impossible to replicate.

Being an island nation, many of our chefs today spend their early careers travelling extensively and bringing different culinary inspirations back with them. The result is that a very wide variety of cuisines have become available given the small size of the population. Alongside this, our traditional foods have started to gain more attention.

A resurgence of interest in Māori styles of cooking and indigenous ingredients has not only seen more kai Māori (Māori food) on menus generally, but we are now seeing fantastic interpretations at some of our top restaurants, where our most accomplished chefs are now marrying Indigenous food traditions with their own creative flair. This is all great news for the seasoned traveller looking for a unique culinary experience in New Zealand.

Here are five Hāngi dishes you should try (and where to try them)…

Peter Gordon’s Hāngi pork belly

1. Pork belly

The slow-steam method of cooking in the ground lends itself well to succulent meats, and pork belly is an absolute winner. Peter Gordon is one of New Zealand’s most celebrated chefs and his Auckland waterfront restaurant Homeland is an easy recommendation for the hungry traveller. Peter takes hāngi pork belly, adds an apple puree on top that has been made with roasted whole apples (till almost black) and makrut lime leaves. This is crowned with a salad of shredded apple, celeriac, sprouts, herbs, lime juice and zest, before being served wrapped in a banana leaf (a nod to Aotearoa’s neighbouring Pacific islands).

Asian influence can also be found (Shutterstock)

2. Steamed buns

You’ll find plenty of Asian influenced cuisines across the islands, thanks to the many waves of migration from China, Korea, South East Asia and Japan. Steamed buns are a favourite in many yum cha restaurants. For something truly original, try the smoky flavour of a hāngi wrapped up inside. Old Country/Hāngi Master’s ‘Hāngi Steamed Buns’ are available at New World and Pak’nSave supermarkets.

Hāngi beef is often cooked in the ground

3. Brisket and veg

If you’re lucky, you may find yourself trying a traditional hāngi at a Marae (meeting ground) as part of a special occasion, where you’ll likely taste brisket and veg. The finest have been cooked in the ground, and steam-oven imitations are best ignored – there’s no such thing as a shortcut to a proper hāngi. You’ll soon be able to buy a hāngi plate on South Island’s Queenstown waterfront from Hāngi Master.

Tītī is a seabird (Duke of Marlborough)

4. Tītī

Tītī (or muttonbird) is a seabird that is found around the coast of Aotearoa. It is particularly prevalent on Rakiura (Stewart Island), off the southern coast of the South Island. When pickled, they can become very salty, and early European settlers gave them the nickname muttonbird, as they were a prized delicacy. It is not readily available around the country, so if you see it on a menu, give it a go. Try chef Tama Salive’s traditional ‘hāngi tītī and pork belly boil up’ at the Duke of Marlborough in Russell, North Island. It comes served with kumara (sweet potato), potato and watercress.

Monique Fiso scrumptious lamb dish (Dean Mackenzie)

5. Lamb

New Zealand is known for its world-class lamb, and sheep can be seen grazing on the plains of the north or on the slopes of the South Island. While it is a staple meat for barbecues in summer, look out for chefs doing more interesting things you won’t find elsewhere. Chef Monique Fiso dished up a roast reme (lamb) dish at 2023’s Tohunga Tūmau dinner, served with cabbage, taro, fried kawakawa (New Zealand pepper tree), tītī sauce, roast mushroom and a demi-glace. You’ll find this and more at her world-renowned restaurant Hiakai in Wellington, but be sure to book ahead.

Did you know?

The Māori new year is heralded by the rising of the star cluster Matariki (Pleiades). With the store houses full following the summer’s harvest, this is a traditional time of feasting and remembering those who have passed. Matariki became a public holiday in 2022 and the special Tohunga Tūmau dinner event for up to 500 guests has coincided with Matariki since 2021, featuring a top line-up of Māori chefs, producers, wineries and musicians.

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