Māori food and kai for kids

Cover of HangiThe Māori word for food is kai. Traditional kai involved food-gathering with extensive cultivation of the kumara (a sweet potato). Kai was an important part of festivals such as Matariki when people would gather to share entertainment, hospitality and knowledge.

For some Māori the first new moon after the rise of Matariki signalled the start of the New Year celebrations. The moon (marama) tells us when it is time for harvesting kai on the land and at sea.

Traditional Māori food

Eels (the Māori word for eels is tuna) were a favourite food of the Māori along with many fish species found around our coastline. Another prized food was tītī, or muttonbird, which was preserved ready for the year ahead.

Kai moana (food from the sea) was important in the traditional diet, and remains so today. Many species of fish were caught on lines or in nets, and shellfish such as mussels, pāua, pūpū and pipi were gathered from the shore. Eel and whitebait were caught in inland waters. Birds snared in the forest were another source of meat.

Traditional cooking

The hāngī is the most widely used method of traditional cooking for Māori. Laying or putting down a hāngī involves digging a pit in the ground, heating stones in the pit with a large fire until they are white hot, placing baskets of food on top of the stones, and covering everything with earth for several hours before uncovering (or lifting) the hāngī.

Here is a summary from Genuine Māori Cuisine:

  1. Foods are prepared into three sections (and then everything goes in together)
    • meats
    • vegetables
    • fish or puddings
  2. Stones are heated until they are white hot.
  3. Food is placed on top (watered down slightly).
  4. Food is covered with leaves then buried under dirt.
  5. The food is then steam cooked under the ground, with pressure from the leaves and soil.
  6. The hāngī must simmer for at least two to three hours
  7. After this, the food is removed from the pit and served.

Resources in our libraries

Māori food
Māori cooking

Online resources