Feast Matariki, New Zealand's new national food celebration, is on track to fill more than just hungry bellies this winter.
Feast Matariki runs from June 18 until July 8, with events planned around the country. Organisers want Kiwis to gather their loved ones, remember those who've passed, share in the food of the country's land, sky and waters and take time to look to the future.
Feast Matariki organiser Angela Clifford says the food celebration aims to give New Zealanders a food-related way to experience Matariki, the Māori New Year. Matariki, a star cluster known to astronomers as Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, rises in the New Zealand night sky as mid-winter deepens in the Southern Hemisphere.
"Matariki, from what I'm learning from leading Māori scientists like University of Waikato Professor Rangi Mātāmua, is about many things – navigation, cosmology, farewelling the dead and welcoming new life."
It also has a deep association with food, from planting to growing, hunting to gathering and food storage, she says. "Starting this year, New Zealand now has its own modern-day national food festival – one that's not imported from overseas, but based on the unique traditions of this country and its indigenous people. It's about filling our hearts and minds, as well as our bellies over winter," she says.
Clifford believes Feast Matariki provides a great opportunity for Kiwis to get out and about in New Zealand to sample the food cultures and practices of different regions.
What kinds of foods are commonly associated with Matariki?
Clifford says Matariki feasts often feature food cooked in a hangi - such as lamb, pork, shellfish, seafood, vegetables such as kamo kamo and puha and herbs gathered from the bush. Matariki was a time of ceremonial offering in the hope of a prosperous harvest in the year ahead. When Matariki appeared, the annual harvest and food collection for the cold months ahead became a priority.
Once harvesting was complete, it was time to celebrate and share kai (food) with friends. One of the largest ever held was the week-long Remuera feast, hosted by the Waikato chiefs in 1844. It involved around 4000 guests for a four-day culinary marathon; they were served 100 pigs, 9000 sharks and 11,000 baskets of potatoes.
Where in New Zealand to have a midwinter feast
The best way to get your mid-winter feast on? Bring your family or community together for a meal, celebrating local kai. Contact your council to find out what's happening in your neighbourhood during Matariki. Look for Feast Matariki events scheduled at local restaurants, cafes and farmers' markets. Rug up and get outdoors in June and July to attend Feast Matariki events around the country.
To guide you, here's a snapshot of what's happening for Feast Matariki at six key sites around the country.
1. Auckland: Tohunga Tūmau-Puanga Matariki Dinner
In Auckland on 1 July, top New Zealand chefs Peter Gordon, Joe McLeod, Anne Thorp, Rex Morgan, Rewi Spraggon, Kārena and Kasey Bird, Grant Kitchen and Nancy Pirini will serve a six-course feast, Tohunga Tūmau, and showcase Kiwi manaatikanga (hospitality) to mark Puanga Matariki at Shed 10, Queens Wharf.
2. Waikato: Tino Reka Te Kai Matariki Dish Challenge 2021
Head to the Waikato from 12 June to 12 July as local restaurant and cafe chefs create Matariki dishes from Waikato produce for the Tino Reka Te Kai Matariki Dish Challenge 2021.
3. Taranaki: Parihaka Puanga Kai Rau Festival
Visit Parihaka Pā in Taranaki on 12 June for the Parihaka Puanga Kai Rau Festival, featuring karakia, waiata, as well as gardening and a shared kai (lunch) events. Visitors are welcome to contribute to the shared kai at midday. This is a free family event.
4. Wellington: Modern Matariki Hangi with Joe McLeod
In Wellington's Begonia House, at the Wellington Botanic Gardens, join local chef Joe McLeod for his Modern Matariki Hangi event. Held on July 9, the two-hour event starts at midday.
5. Christchurch: Know the Whakapapa of Your Kai
At Gatherings Restaurant in Christchurch, chefs Josh Hunter, Craig Martin, Mitch Teirney and Finbar McCarthy are hosting the Know The Whakapapa of Your Kai event on 25 and 26 June. The event gives diners the opportunity to eat and learn about the foods traditionally associated with Matariki.
6. Aoraki Mackenzie: Matariki 9-Course Degustation Dinner
In Aoraki Mackenzie country, Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat is hosting Matariki 9-Course Stellar Degustation Dinner on July 3, designed to reflect the nine stars of Matariki. Diners will be welcome to head outside to view Matariki, Puanga and Tautoru in the internationally-accredited dark skies of Aoraki Mackenzie.
Matariki as a public holiday
Next year, Matariki becomes a public holiday on Friday June 24. As a public holiday, the date of Matariki will change from year to year, falling on a Friday or Monday sometime in June or July. The new holiday will break up the four-month period between the existing holidays, Queen's Birthday in June and Labour Day in October.
Find out more about Feast Matariki at eatnewzealand.nz/feast-matariki