The Best Things I Ate in New Zealand

[Photographs: Lauren Sloss]

A lot of my travel experiences in the past few years have had an element of culture shock: from trying bird's nest soup in Thailand to living on a boat off the coast of Nicaragua. But my trip to New Zealand was shocking in how... easy it all seemed to be. I speak the language (more or less, though "sweet as" makes no grammatical sense); it's a place of rugged coastlines and an outdoorsy population; they also have a lot of avocados.

In many ways, it's not terribly different than the things I like best in Northern California. The striking landscape is different—we don't have any Hobbit holes in California—but a laidback population frequently lubricated with hoppy beer and good wine made me right at home as I traversed the North and South Islands.

Creamy Smoked Fish Pie at Providores, Tauranga

Of course, New Zealand's membership in the British Commonwealth has a major impact on the food as well. Pies, sausage rolls, and fish and chips all make appearances. What's stand-out here is the likelihood that the your fried fish will be caught just that morning, that your pie will be filled with freshly hunted wild game, that the eggs in your English/Kiwi breakfast will be a luscious golden-orange, and the tomatoes bursting with sweet ripeness.

New Zealand's South Pacific location has also made the country, Auckland especially, a hub for Asian immigrants. The city's international food courts were a killer find. While the fluorescent-lit basement spaces may have lacked atmosphere, but were bursting with cheap and delicious Korean, Malaysian, Indonesian, Japanese, and Thai options (and then some).

I was struck by the great cafe culture in Auckland, Queenstown, and Tauranga (the three cities where I spent the most time). You could always start the day with a flat white and a poached egg-topped "stack" at one of the many cafes.

While this slideshow in no way represents the entirety of New Zealand cuisine, it features some of the best bites and sips during my three-week adventure. Some favorites that I wasn't able to capture: an absolutely stunning dinner at the Mudbrick Winery on Waiheke Island; textbook-perfect smoked salmon crepes and white wine at Le Torchon in Auckland; the best eggs Benedict in recent memory at Landreth & Co. in Auckland; a rich, flakey wild game venison pie at Miles Better Pies in Te Anau; sparkling wine from the Amisfield Winery outside Queenstown; lamb, everywhere (the amount of sheep all over the country is no joke); and the 10,000 flat whites that I consumed.

Bluebird Honey Baked Ham Chips, Everywhere

Spots on my list that I missed: Mount Eden Village Fish and Chips, and La Cigale (the market and the restaurant) in Auckland; the Man O' War vineyard and the Dragonfired pizza truck on Waiheke Island; green lipped mussels; and, of course, the Kiwi burger from McDonald's.

See all the best bites (and some sips!) in the slideshow >>

So it goes with travel! It always leaves you hungry for more. Tell me, Serious Eaters, what are your favorite spots in New Zealand? Where should I go next time I take a trip down under?

Want more New Zealand? Check out some solid burgers, great pizza and pasta, an effective Hangover Helper, phenomenal fish and chips (look for another Hangover Helper, coming soon!), 5 great sweets, and a step-by-step guide to the incomparable Tim Tam Slam.