The Maori people have been eating local New Zealand foods from the land, skies, and waters for more than a thousand years. They arrived from the Polynesian Islands in the South Pacific, bringing favorite ingredients to cultivate, such as kumara (sweet potato). They also brought a way to cook for big groups called Hangi, an ancient cooking method still used today at feasts. Large hot stones are put in a pit, food is wrapped in leaves or aluminum foil, then the pit is covered with soil, allowing the food to steam for hours.
I have been lucky to try some of the foods that were and still are part of their diets: kaura (salt water crayfish), paua (abalone), harakeke (flax), kowhitiwhiti (watercress), kumara, and korengo (seaweed). I met a Maori woman from a tribe near Queenstown, one of the most gentle souls you’d meet, and learned from her that they continue to gather piko piko (fern fronds) and many types of fruits from native trees…and that Maori children love kumara because it’s sweet and creamy. She said they used to eat kiwi birds and wood pigeon, but it’s much easier to buy chicken! Other Maori foods she mentioned were wild boar, thistles, oysters, mussels, sea urchins, but never dolphins. A naturalist told me that the Maori needed diets high in calories and protein to sustain them in long journeys through the rugged mountains. Here in the south island it has been so cool to try local foods as the Maori traditionally made them and fancier dishes using the same deliciously fresh ingredients at Amisfield Bistro