Story: Māori foods – kai Māori

Page 4. Foods introduced by Europeans

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Pork and potatoes

When Pākehā settlers arrived in New Zealand, Māori quickly embraced the new foods they brought, in particular:

  • wheat for flour
  • sheep, pigs, goats and chickens
  • vegetables such as pumpkin, potato, corn and maize, carrots and cabbage.

These newly introduced crops grew well in the New Zealand climate and could be harvested several times a year. Many of the traditional foods were set aside and much of the knowledge associated with harvesting and cultivating them disappeared.

As Māori became a largely urbanised people after the Second World War, they began to buy most of their food instead of purchasing basics such as flour and sugar, and hunting and harvesting the rest. However, they also adapted and combined traditional and introduced foods to develop distinctive new dishes.

Preserving heritage

The potato was introduced to Māori in the 1780s by visiting sailors. It was easier to grow than kūmara and became established throughout the country. Because it helped feed war parties, some historians have suggested that the New Zealand wars of the 1810s to 1830s (sometimes called the ‘musket wars’) should be renamed the ‘potato wars’. Early potatoes looked different from modern varieties. In 1999 Massey University began a project to increase production of these heritage varieties.


Potatoes were easier to grow than kūmara, and pigs could be fattened quickly. Pork, pūhā and potatoes became a new staple meal for Māori. This meal, called the boil-up, is popular amongst Māori today, as a large pot can be prepared to feed big families or crowds of visitors.

Both pork and bacon bones are popular ingredients but other meats such as brisket or sausages can be substituted, and pumpkin, kūmara, kamokamo (sweet marrow) and watercress can be added. Flour and water dumplings called doughboys can be placed on top of the boil-up and steamed before serving.

Kānga (corn and maize)

Corn and maize grew easily and Māori soon applied their traditional cooking and preservation methods to them, producing dishes such as kānga pirau (fermented corn). It looked like porridge and had a very strong aroma.

Kānga pungarehu was a dish of corn kernels mixed with pungarehu (cleaned ash from the fire) and boiled until the husks came away. The swollen kernels were then eaten with sugar and cream or milk, like porridge. A more modern version uses baking soda in place of the pungarehu.

Kānga waru was a grated corn dish mixed with mashed kūmara or sugar and wrapped in corn husks then either boiled or cooked in a hāngī. It is a sweet, dessert-like dish.

Paraoa (flour or bread)

With the availability of wheat and flour, Māori embraced the art of breadmaking and created three favourite breads which are still widely made today.

Rewena bread is a large oven-baked loaf that is leavened with a culture made from the juice of boiled potato. Although its ingredients are simple, it takes time to master rewena breadmaking and achieve the perfect flavour (both sweet and sour) and texture (not too dry and crumbly).

Paraoa parai (fried bread) is made from a simple dough, kneaded and cut or rolled into individual buns and deep-fried in fat or cooking oil until golden. The bread is split and spread with jam or golden syrup or savoury fillings such as kina (sea urchins).

Takakau, also called flatbread or cartwheel bread because of its shape, is a simple damper cooked in the oven or the fire. It is delicious with butter and jam or can be used to mop up the juices of a boil-up or hearty stew.

Hāngī for special occasions

As Māori became adept at cooking with pots and ovens, the hāngī was used less frequently, although it is still used for special occasions and large gatherings such as tangihanga. Alongside the traditional kai (food) from the past, the hāngī can include a bread and mixed herb stuffing to complement the meats, and dessert favourites such as steamed puddings, trifle and cream.

How to cite this page:

Charles Royal and Jenny Kaka-Scott, 'Māori foods – kai Māori - Foods introduced by Europeans', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 May 2024)

Story by Charles Royal and Jenny Kaka-Scott, published 5 Sep 2013