Story: Seafood

Page 2. Favourite Kiwi fare

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Fish and chips

It is uncertain when the first fish-and-chip shop opened in New Zealand, but according to food historian Tony Simpson, it was long before the First World War. The northern England working-class meal of deep-fried battered fish and potato chips has been a firm favourite of New Zealanders. Friday night was fish and chips night for many, especially Catholics who, until 1965, were prohibited from eating meat on Fridays.

At first, snapper was the preferred species for battered fillets in the North Island, but as catches for this fish declined, it was replaced by hoki, shark (marketed as lemon fish), and tarakihi. Gurnard and blue cod predominate in South Island fish and chips.

Although other convenience foods such as hamburgers, pizzas and chicken meals have become commonplace in New Zealand since 1980, they have not ousted fish and chips as the nation’s preferred takeaway.

Political takeouts

Labour MPs Roger Douglas, Michael Bassett, Mike Moore and David Lange were proponents of new-right economics and instrumental in the overthrow of their leader, Bill Rowling. Photographed together sharing a meal of fish and chips one night in 1980, they became known as the Fish and Chip Brigade.


New Zealand whitebait are the juvenile form of five species of Galaxias fish. After spending their first five or six months of life at sea, they migrate into estuaries in early spring. This is the time when whitebaiters set their nets. The tiny fish are eaten whole – head, guts and all – usually in a fritter. A delicate touch is required when cooking whitebait. Some cooks decry the addition of flour or egg yolks, and just coat the little bodies in whipped egg white before dropping them onto a pan of sizzling butter. Within 60 seconds they turn milky white and are ready to eat.


Crayfish are large rock lobsters, found in New Zealand’s rocky reefs to a depth of 275 metres. Usually bought live or caught fresh from the sea, they need to be cooked carefully to keep the meat succulent.

Undersized crays

Two blokes named Jim and Fred are walking up the beach with a couple of live crayfish in a bucket when they are stopped by a Ministry of Fisheries inspector. He suggests that the crays are undersized. Jim replies, ‘Nah, bro, these are my pet crayfish. I just bring them down to the beach each day for a swim. When I whistle they hop back in the bucket and I take them home.’ The officer doesn't believe him, so Fred says, ‘Nah, bro, just watch.’ Jim chucks the crayfish into the surf. The officer says: ‘Okay, let’s see ya whistle and make those crayfish come back to you.’ Jim says: ‘What crayfish?’ 1


The ancient Greeks enjoyed sea eggs, and kina, as they are known in New Zealand, are also a delicacy of Māori. The edible interior of a mature animal consists of five swollen sex organs. Raw, or lightly fried, they have a creamy, tangy flavour.


The fact that a khaki-green clam soup could inspire a cult following seems extraordinary, but such was the case with toheroa soup. Early last century, three canning factories processed the large endemic shellfish into soup or toheroa ‘tongues’. But demand for the product quickly outstripped supply. The last factory closed in 1969 and toheroa harvesting has been prohibited since 1993.

Some cooks advise that smaller shellfish such as pipi and tuatua can be substituted for toheroa in soup, although they do not impart the distinctive green colour. This colour results from the copious volume of plankton in the toheroa gut.


Oysters have always been revered by New Zealanders. In the latter part of the 19th century oyster saloons sprang up in the larger towns. Two native species – the large Bluff or dredge oyster and the small rock oyster – have been commercially harvested since the 1860s. Pacific oysters arrived in New Zealand waters some time between 1950 and 1970, and are now farmed. Bluff oysters are harvested from Foveaux Strait in winter and freighted around the country. Pacific oysters are available fresh all year round, although their texture varies with the season.

Oysters are eaten raw or cooked. Gourmands describe the taste of raw Bluff oysters as salty and metallic, and Pacific oysters as having a fruity cucumber flavour. The native rock oyster is said to be the sweetest of the three. To the uncultured palate, a raw oyster tastes of salty slime.


New Zealand’s pāua (blackfoot abalone) is a meaty shellfish which resembles a giant limpet. Pākehā eat only the foot meat and discard the stomach bag, but some Māori relish this portion, along with its sex organs. Fresh pāua meat is a strong muscle which will toughen if overcooked. It can be tenderised by beating or by marinating with crushed kiwifruit. Tender pāua steaks fry in one or two minutes. Long-dead pāua are fit only for mincing into patties or soup.

  1. Adapted from Ana Samways, ‘The best of Sideswipe’, The New Zealand Herald, (last accessed 5 April 2005). › Back
How to cite this page:

Maggy Wassilieff, 'Seafood - Favourite Kiwi fare', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 April 2024)

Story by Maggy Wassilieff, published 12 Jun 2006