Cultural and Ethnic

  • Tangata whenua

  • Pasifika

  • Ethnic cuisine

Tangata whenua

Tangata whenua, the people of the land, value the natural resource, the land. The earth is considered the giver of all life, and from the soil came food, which was cooked in the earth. The hāngi (pit oven) is used for feasting and special occasions. Māori believe that people born into the land inherit the right to produce from it and to protect it for the benefit of all.

Traditional Māori kai (food) is still enjoyed by Māori on special occasions. The traditional diet and practices were dictated by what food was available in the environment – from the land came (mainly) birds, along with herbs and roots, and from the sea came kai moana. Stewart Island Māori still harvest the mutton bird.

Seafood is especially important for Māori. Traditional foods enjoyed, include fish, mussels and other shellfish, kūmara, Māori bread (parāoa rewena), watercress (pūhā), eel, taro, and Māori potatoes. Food has always been a symbol of hospitality and generosity and is as relevant today as it was in earlier times. It is customary for a brief karakia (prayer) to be said before any meal.

A favourite meal is the ‘boil up’ which uses cheaper cuts of meat and moist cooking methods. Pork bones, watercress, potatoes, kūmara, and doughboys are popular ingredients of 'boil ups'.

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New Zealand is home to many Pacific people. Auckland is the city with the largest population of Pacific people in the world.

Food is central to all Pacific cultures and is a significant aspect of feasting and celebration. Pacific people tend to see food as something to enjoy rather than a source of nutrients needed to keep them healthy.

Traditional food is still very much an integral part of all major occasions and is often consumed on a daily basis, especially by the older Pacific people. Food is a vehicle for communication custom; a standard of wealth, and a symbolic mediator in defining and manipulating kinship and social relationships. Giving and providing food is an important way to show love and respect, to share, to express hospitality and to bring people together. It is important to appreciate, however, that there are differences in the intensity of the relationship with food in different Pacific cultures.

Pacific people in New Zealand are of Samoan, Cook Island, Tongan, Niuean, Fijian, Tuvaluan and Tokelauan descent.

Traditional foods

  • Starchy vegetables and root crops, which are mainly boiled or baked and eaten for lunch or dinner, e.g. taro, cassava or tapioca, yam, green banana, plantain, breadfruit.
  • Meat and meat alternatives, such as, beef (pulu or povi), mutton flaps (sipi or mamoe), povi or pulu masima (salted beef), cornbeef (kapa pulu, pisupol), pork (puaka or pua’a), canned fish (kapa ika, apa eleni), seafood, chicken.
  • Fruit and vegetables, e.g. traditional leafy vegetables such as taro leaves or hibiscus leaves. Alternatives used in New Zealand include silverbeet, cabbage, pūhā.

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Other ethnic cuisines


The Asian community in New Zealand includes people of Chinese, Indian, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, Malaysian, Sri Lankan, Vietnamese and Cambodian descent. Asian cookery is influenced by both Chinese and Indian cooking styles. Cuisines in Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand uses rice extensively as well as coconut and fruit.

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Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi

Indian cookery is noted for its uses of spices, herbs and flavourings, and curry. Bangladesh cuisine includes seafood, and Pakistani cuisine uses yoghurt extensively, while kebabs are common.

Popular traditional foods include:

Chapatti – a wholewheat unleavened bread-like pancake, poppadums – dhal biscuits, deep-fried or grilled and served with curry, vindaloo – very hot curry, garam masala – a mixture of spices.

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Different styles of cooking have developed over time in China. In the past, areas had food specific to their region. Over time the different cuisines have merged.

The traditional foods were:

  • Shanghai – wide variety of fruit, vegetables and fish, light and delicate seasoning; stir frying and steaming are favoured cooking methods.
  • Beijing – garlic, leeks, onions, and sesame seeds are used extensively. Noodles, pancakes, and dumplings are served. Not so much meat is eaten. Wheat and corn are produced in this area, not rice.
  • Sichuan – fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish are plentiful. Strong flavourings and hot spices predominate – e.g. red chillies, peppercorns, ginger.
  • Guangdong – rice is the staple food. The region is renowned for its sweet-and-sour dishes and dim sums.

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Japanese cookery is almost an art form. Small amounts of a wide variety of different dishes is characteristic. Fish, rice, noodles, vegetables, and soy sauce are used extensively.

Popular dishes include:

Sushi – cold cooked rice seasoned with vinegar, with raw or cooked fish, wrapped in seaweed, tofu (soybean curd) – used in savoury or sweet dishes, often seasoned or marinated, sukiyaki – sautéed sliced beef with vegetables, tofu, noodles and soy sauce.

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Mediterranean cooking includes extensive use of olives, eggplant, lemons, yoghurt, lamb, seafood (especially squid and octopus), tomatoes, olive oil and garlic.

Typical Spanish specialities include paella, gazpacho, tapas and Spanish sausage (chorizo).

There are several regional variations in Italian cuisine; specialities include pizza, pasta and a wide selection of cheeses.

The typical Mediterranean diet is considered a prudent diet for heart health, with its use of olive oil, fish, cereals and vegetables.

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Middle Eastern

Wheat, rice, beans, chickpeas, lentils, figs, burghul or ‘cracked wheat’, dates and citrus are all widely used.

Traditional Middle Eastern foods include:

feta cheese, filo pastry, with sweet and savoury fillings, baklava (Greek sweet filo dessert), moussaka, taramasalata – fish roe, blended with bread, olive oil, and lemon juice, couscous – small balls of pasta used in salads, kebabs with lamb, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, and onions, grilled and served on rice pilaf, keftedes – fried mincemeat balls, usually lamb, with onion, oregano, mint and parsley, hummus – chickpea purée, flavoured and used as a dip.

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Religious considerations


Some Christians refrain from eating meat on Fridays, particularly on Good Friday. Hot cross buns are served on Good Friday as a reminder of Christ’s crucifixion.


Alcohol and pork are traditionally forbidden in the diet. Meat should be prepared by a halal butcher. Muslims from the Middle East enjoy lamb stew and okra, and those from the Far East, curry and rice.


Most Hindus do not eat meat. None eat beef, since the cow is regarded as sacred in the Hindu tradition. Strict Hindus are vegetarians.


Strict Buddhists are vegetarians.


This religion has strict dietary laws. Shellfish, pork and birds of prey are forbidden. Acceptable foods are fish that have scales and fins, and animals that have cloven hoofs. Milk and meat must neither be used together in cooking, nor served at the same meal, and a period of at least three hours must pass between eating food containing milk and eating meat.

Seventh Day Adventists

People following this faith are guided by the Bible. Lacto-ovo vegetarianism is encouraged but is not compulsory. If they choose to eat animals, they can eat only meats regarded as ‘clean’ – that is from animals with cloven hoofs and cud chewers (i.e. beef and mutton), and birds that eat seeds, but not carrion (poultry). Horse, pork and ham are considered unclean, and they are not eaten. Fish that have scales and fins are considered clean, but shellfish are not. Seventh Day Adventists do not indulge in stimulants (e.g. alcohol, drugs, smoking) – this is a test of faith. Some Seventh Day Adventists avoid coffee and other caffeine-containing beverages.

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