Story: Māori foods – kai Māori

Page 5. Modern cuisine

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From the late 20th century there was a marked resurgence of interest in traditional and regional foods globally, as well as in healthier and more sustainable ways of eating. For this reason, interest in kai Māori (Māori food) grew, both in New Zealand and internationally.

Traditional Māori foods were adapted to the modern palate, and new products were developed from ancient ingredients, with kai Māori enjoyed both for its nutritional value and its distinct New Zealand flavour.

Kawakawa tea

Half a teaspoon of dried kawakawa leaf mixed with mānuka honey and a slice of lemon makes a delicious infusion, and is a refreshing cold drink mixed with soda or sparkling water.

Horopito and kawakawa

The leaves of both these plants were harvested on a commercial scale, washed, dried and ground into several different grades of powder from a fine pepper to a large flake. They were marketed and used as herbs in stuffing, as seasonings and coatings for meat, fish and vegetables, and mixed into bread, biscuit and cake doughs.

‘Bush asparagus’

Like asparagus, pikopiko have a natural snapping point. Rub your hand up the back of a stalk, bending it slightly until it snaps at the weakest point. Carefully wash the tips in cold water and use your fingers to rub off the brown speckles along the stalk. Also remove the small fern-shaped leaves. Pikipiko then becomes a delicious bush asparagus.

Pikopiko (fern shoots)

Once harvested, pikopiko can be peeled and washed to remove the bitterness, then steamed, boiled, stir-fried, chopped and added to bread dough, blended with oil and nuts to make a spread or simply used as an attractive and delicious garnish. It can be dehydrated whole and later reconstituted in water or, once dried, ground to a powder and mixed to a paste with liquid, then used to add colour and flavour to dishes.

Pirita (supplejack)

The supplejack vine is common in the New Zealand bush. Although it is thick and strong and does not appear edible, its tips can be snapped to become a juicy, delicious vegetable. When peeled and sliced it can be eaten raw like cucumber or stir-fried like zucchini.

Sustainable harvesting

Expert users of traditional Māori wild foods only harvest from plants showing re-growth of three or more full leaves, to ensure that they survive to feed later generations. They need to be aware of their eco-systems and growing conditions, so they can be harvested in accordance with their natural regeneration cycles, ensuring new growth for the future.

How to cite this page:

Charles Royal and Jenny Kaka-Scott, 'Māori foods – kai Māori - Modern cuisine', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 April 2024)

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