Kiwi cuisine has been influenced by food from around the world, but it was the Maori that pioneered the oldest culinary techniques in the country. The Maori were traditionally hunters, gatherers, farmers and fishers, believing that the earth gave them life and the means to provide for their family and iwi. This connection to nature is an essential part of Maori cooking, as they use hangi, a traditional cooking technique that involves burying their food underground.
Maori culture towards food is all about hospitality and sharing. Food is an integral part of ceremonial aspects of Maori culture too, and their approach to cooking is all about feeding a crowd and bringing the community together. In traditional hangi cooking, food is wrapped in flax leaves to hold it together and lock in the heat. They then lower it into the pit oven, a hole dug in the ground filled with hot stones. A wet cloth covers the food, and a mound of earth is put back on top. This way, the heat cannot escape and ensures that the food will be good to eat. The hangi cooking method usually takes 3 or 4 hours, but the reward for the time investment is tender meat, juicy vegetables and a smoky, earthy flavour.
Kai – Maori Food
The Maori sourced the food or “kai” to cook in the hangi from their tribal lands or territory. The most common foods cooked this way would be fish, species of bird and sweet potatoes. However, after being exposed to European cuisine, the Maori started to cook pork, lamb, pumpkins and cabbage in their traditional fashion too. Kumara is the sweet potato that the Maori have been growing on New Zealand for almost a thousand years, kumara is not native to New Zealand however and was brought over by the Maori from the pacific islands when they first arrived.
Rewena bread is another favourite of the Maori people, even in modern times. It is a type of potato-based bread that rises through a process of fermentation. Rewena bread can use regular potatoes or kumara. It’s known for its sweet and sour taste and often served at Maori celebrations alongside hangi cooking.
Along with food sourced from their surroundings, the Maori used the herbs on offer to sweeten or spice up their culinary creations. They also used herbs like horopito for their medicinal qualities.
Maori cuisine is still developing to this day with new recipes and culinary fusions between the many cultures that make up New Zealand.