My Citizens, your urbane and worldly Leader – the well-traveled and frequently airborne TFD! – is very excited to learn that He may be visiting one of the few places in the world to escape his mighty presence: the far shores of New Zealand! While (hopefully) there in May, He will be sampling many Kiwi delicacies, not the least of which are the legendary meat pies of the island nation!
A New Zealand meat pie is a hand-sized meat pie containing diced or minced meat and gravy, sometimes with onion, mushrooms, or cheese and often consumed as a takeaway food snack.
The meat pie is considered iconic in Australia and New Zealand. It was described by former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr in 2003 as Australia’s “national dish”. New Zealanders regard the meat pie as a part of New Zealand cuisine, and it forms part of the New Zealand national identity.
The Victorian pie brand Four’n Twenty produces 50,000 pies per hour and Australians consume an average of 12 meat pies per year. The average consumption of meat pies in New Zealand is 15 per person per year. The meat pie is heavily associated with Australian rules football and Rugby league as one of the most popular consumed food items while watching a game.
As noted on the culturetrip.com:
All pies, from the sweet American variety to the New Zealand and Australian savouries, can be traced back to Greece. Historians the world over believe the early pastry shells, made by combining flour and water, had Greek origins, and were then embraced by the Romans. Wealthy Romans would add many types of meats (and sometimes seafood) to their pies, which would often feature alongside the dessert course.
Eventually, the British adopted their own version of the dish: theirs was filled with different types of meat — including beef, lamb, wild duck, and magpie pigeon — and flavoured with pepper, currants and dates.
European settlement in the early 19th century brought a radical change to New Zealand’s food culture. Traditional Maori foods were not favoured by the colonialists, who preferred to maintain their customary practices in their new homeland. As such, the British ‘meat and three vegetables’ notion carved its place within the local diet – so much so, that New Zealand cuisine did not stray from Anglocentric conventions until the 1960s.
Food historian Andre Tabar, who has written a book about the New Zealand pie’s history, was able to trace the dish as far as early European settlement: a newspaper advertisement from 1863 being the earliest mention he discovered.
It is also believed the mutton pie — a speciality in Dunedin, as well as in the wider Otago and Southland regions — has existed since colonial times. In the 1970s, meat pies with melted cheese gained traction. From then onward, the Kiwi favourite continued to evolve – nowadays you can find an array of different flavours and varieties (from vegetarian options to butter chicken) in the pie warmers.
The evolution of chain restaurants and bakeries helped the meat pie thrive. In 1977, local grocery company Progressive Enterprises created the fast food restaurant Georgie Pie, aiming to add a Kiwi flair to the era’s Americanized fast food boom. The chain, whose menu consisted entirely of mass produced pies, closed down in the 1990s due to financial difficulties. McDonald’s (who acquired the Georgie Pie brand before its closure) introduced Georgie Pies to its New Zealand menu in 2013.
In 1997, a new milestone was reached. The Bakels New Zealand Pie Awards was established, and continues to run annually to this day. The accolade recognises the best pie bakers and manufacturers throughout the country, helping foster the local love affair for this well-established dish.
Awards are given for the best mince and gravy, chicken and vegetable, bacon and egg, gourmet meat, gourmet fruit, potato top, vegetarian, wholesale, café boutique, and supreme pie winner.
In present times, each part of the country has its own twist on the traditional pastry. Seafood pies can be commonly found in Auckland, Northland and Coromandel regions, while Nelson has a penchant for game-meat pies. Quality has also improved greatly. Cheap cuts of meat are no longer the norm for pie makers, who are now embracing lower-fat pastries, finer cooking methods and leaner meat cuts.
My version of this classic is based on a foundation recipe I found on gourmettraveller.co.au, although I have modified it quite a bit. One of the key changes is adding in a touch of native Maori in the otherwise firmly Anglo recipe – specifically, by adding in a hit of the incredibly peppery spice known as Horopito. You can learn about it here and buy some here.
This recipe will wow your tastebuds, Citizens – I urge you to go forth and try it as soon as possible!
Battle on – The Generalissimo