Kai Maori is made up of kaiwhenua – food from the land, and kaimoana – food from the sea.
Hangi are mostly prepared for special occasions
Walking through any city in New Zealand you will find a wide range of cuisines, from Italian to Turkish to Thai and many more
Despite this range, you are unlikely to find Maori food outside of a Marae kitchen or Whanau (family) home. Traditionally Maori did not prepare or cook food in the same buildings that they slept in. Instead food was cooked outside or in special cooking sheds. The recipes you will find today involve the use of modern indoor kitchen facilities such as ovens and refrigerators. Some foods such as hangi are still cooked outside, but these are usually reserved for special occasions.
Festivals such as Kawhia Kai offer the opportunity to taste a large range of traditional Kai Maori while taking part in cultural activities. The Kawhia Kai festival is attended by more than 10,000 people every Waitangi Day weekend.
The hangi is a traditional form of cooking that has its origins in the umu (earth ovens) of ancient Polynesia. Its unique taste comes from the combination of smoking (burnt wood), steaming (wet cloths) and the distinctive baked bouquet of the earth oven.
Māori regard the elements of the hangi as descendants and gifts from the gods. The foods come from Haumia (wild vegetables), Rongo (kūmara – sweet potato – and cultivated foods) and Tangaroa (fish). Tāne provides the firewood (forests, birds), the earth is from Pāpa (Earthmother), water to make steam is from Ranginui (Skyfather) and Hineawaawa (streams), and fire comes from the goddess Mahuika.
Hangi can be time consuming to prepare, so do as much as possible the day before. Make the baskets, cut firewood, dig the hole. The size of the hole depends on the size of the food basket/s and the number of people attending. Hangi for 50-100 people usually measure around 2 metres square and 1 metre deep. Place wood and stones by the hole; cover the hole and wood if left overnight. Prepare as much of the meat and vegetables as possible. All varieties of meat, poultry, vegetables and even steamed puddings wrapped in cloth can be cooked in a hangi.
Rewena bread and raw fish are two dishes that are still commonly prepared and enjoyed today.
Rewena (Maori bread) is a favourite and goes well with many meals or on its own as a snack. The recipe is simple however quantities and timing can take time to master. The first part of the recipe is the making of a ‘bug’ (starter) that helps the bread rise without yeast.
The bug can make several loaves of bread, and like a sourdough starter it will need to be ‘fed’. This should be done with 1/2 cup warm water one day and 1 teaspoon of sugar the next.
Before making the bread the bug will need to ferment for at least 24 hours.
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup of water
2 cups of flour
1 medium potato, diced
Boil the potato in the water (without salt) until soft and leave to cool.
When lukewarm, mash the potato and water and mix in the flour and sugar.
Add more warm water if needed to make a batter.
Cover and leave in a warm place to rise for a day – the batter will smell yeasty and have small bubbles on the surface.
5 cups of flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar
1 cup of your rewena bug
Mix flour and salt into a large bowl
Make a well in the centre
Place the rewena bug in the middle of the hole and sprinkle baking soda over all
Knead lightly for 10 to 15 minutes folding the dough over and over
Add more water if mixture feels too firm
Add sugar to sweeten according to your taste
Roll into a ball, and cover and leave to rise for a few hours or overnight
To make the dough rise faster leave it in the warming drawer of the oven or on a shelf in the sun
Sprinkle flour over a baking tray to prevent sticking and lightly spray the bread with liquid oil
Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for approximately 40 minutes
The cooking time will depend on how thick your bread is. Test if the centre of the bread is cooked by inserting a knife.
Rewena bread is delicious with butter and jam or golden syrup, or eaten with a soup or stew.
Harvesting seafood, or kaimoana.
Like many seafoods raw fish is a favourite for Maori who dried and marinated many types of seafood in traditional times. Modern recipes usually involve both European and Pasifika flavours, such as coconut milk, lemon juice and spring onions.
300g–400g (4–5 medium fillets) of tamure (snapper), tarakihi or hoki fillets
1 can coconut cream
1 spring onion
1 tablespoon salt
4 medium size lemons
Cut fish into bite size pieces and place in a shallow dish
Add the juice of 4 lemons and marinate on bench for 1 hour or in fridge for 2 hours. The acid in the lemon juice effectively cooks the fish.
Add enough coconut cream to cover fish.
Add diced tomatoes and thinly sliced spring onion and 1 tablespoon of salt.
Place in fridge for 20–30 minutes to cool before serving.
Raw fish can be enhanced by a number of traditional seasonings. The finely chopped leaves of the tarata (lemonwood tree) reinforce the lemon taste of the food. Leaves from the distinctive reddish green horopito (pepper tree) add a contrasting sharpish flavour.
Raw fish properly refrigerated becomes fuller flavoured and is at its best after 24 hours in the fridge.
Enjoy an afternoon snack of rewena bread and raw fish!
Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand
Te Ara has information about Kai Maori, including information about traditional methods of growing and preparation and cultural aspects of food and hospitality.