Visitors to New Zealand over the Christmas holidays have a pot pourri of choices to celebrate the festive season. It may not be high summer, and it’s not always fine, but the weather in December is usually warm enough to enjoy a meal outside. While many New Zealanders sit down to a traditional roast dinner, others prefer a more casual way of dining at Christmas.
Celebrating Christmas Kiwi-Style in the Southern Hemisphere
Travellers dining in hotels will find all the traditional hot fare on hand as well as a multitude of salads, cold cuts and seafood. Buffets offer a cornucopia of selections with ham on the bone, NZ lamb, and roasts of beef and pork often sliced by the chef at the buffet table. Poultry meats such as chicken and turkey are bound to be included, although perhaps not goose which is seldom eaten in New Zealand. Hot meat dishes, steaming mussels in the shell, oysters on ice, shrimps, prawns, raw marinated fish and other seafood varieties are also likely to feature. The Novotel Lakeside in Rotorua listed 40 dishes on their 2008 Christmas buffet.
Visitors from the Northern Hemisphere, used to being confined inside in the Northern winter, may find it strange to eat Christmas dinner outside. But New Zealanders have increasingly veered away from the traditional roast to enjoy their festive meal in the garden, on the terrace, at the beach or beside one of the many lakes that dot New Zealand’s interior. For travellers enjoying home stays or visits with friends and relatives, Christmas dinner could be the traditional roast, a barbecue on the patio or a combination of the two. The meal may be served at mid-day or in the evening. Quite often a Christmas brunch also features on the menu of the day.
Home stay hosts are likely to provide a selection of meats, seasonal vegetables, salads and a variety of desserts. Pavlova, a special NZ confection of meringue, fruit and cream is sure to be on the dessert table. If staying by the sea, whole fresh fish, shellfish and seafood salads are more than likely to be included in the festive dinner. Further inland, in rural or wilderness areas, wild pork and venison may be a feature of the Xmas meal. If the hosts live near lakes or rivers, fresh or smoked trout may be added to the menu.
Maori Hangi for Christmas Dinner in New Zealand – Food Steamed in an Earth Oven
Many hotels and Maori tourism ventures provide a hangi for Christmas. Putting down a traditional Maori hangi is a time-consuming process. Most hotels will have replaced tradition with faster and more efficient methods, using electricity to generate the heat and steam required to cook the hangi food.
Some visitors may be lucky enough however, to experience a traditional hangi, cooked in a pit in the ground. Heat-bearing stones are heated in a wood fire, sometimes lit in the pit itself, at other times in a nearby fire. Wet Hessian sacks are placed on the stones then the food, traditionally cooked in wire baskets but more likely these days to be encased in tinfoil, is put down on top of the rocks. More damp sacks are placed on top and the earth is then replaced and tightly packed to prevent heat from escaping. The food is left to steam in its own juices for several hours.
Lamb, pork, mutton and chicken are often cooked in the hangi, alongside vegetables such as pumpkin, potatoes and kumara (sweet potato). A well-cooked hangi meal is a delicious treat, the meats are juicy, the vegetables tender and fragrant and all is imbued with a unique steamy, smoky flavour.
Many Kiwis and Vacationers Choose Simple Fare on Christmas Day
Many Kiwis and holiday makers choose simple fare for Christmas dinner, escaping workaday life with a camping holiday or a day at the beach. The varied ethnicities that are woven into New Zealand’s increasingly multi-cultural society have also introduced a diversity of foods and ways of celebrating Christmas.
Reservations are essential for Christmas dining at hotels and restaurants. The supermarket chains are closed on Christmas Day so independent travelers will find it useful to stock up before the 25th. Corner grocery shops and dairies may be open for the morning on Christmas Day but few open for the whole day. Service stations, which stock a good variety of grocery items mostly trade 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, but they can be an expensive option. As far as retailing goes, New Zealand is mostly ‘closed’ on Christmas Day.