Eating Out in New Zealand: You’re Not in America Anymore!

May 10, 2013

We like to go out to eat. A lot. I chalk it up to the freedom of not having children and being able to do what we want, when we want. I certainly don’t think it has anything to do with my aversion to going to the grocery store, and absolutely has nothing to do with laziness. Anyhow, there are a surprising number of little differences between a Kiwi dining experience and eating out in the U.S. of A.

They really like you to make bookings (reservations). Even when the restaurant isn’t yet half full, you get a cocked eyebrow when you answer, “No, we don’t have a booking”. And then you might find yourself towards the back…

Anatomy of the Menu
The Appetizer is called the Entrée. The Entrées are called Mains. Bread is never complimentary. Beer and wine aren’t hard to find, spirits can be.

Gor:lla. (nope, that’s not a typo!) A little restaurant that prides itself on uniqueness, local and organic.
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Language of the Kiwi Restaurant
Bacon: usually called “Streaky Bacon” (no idea why, and I’m afraid to ask)
Biscuits: Cookies
Chips: French Fries
Gherkins: Pickles (sort of)
Kumara: Sweet Potato
Manuka: Honey (technically it’s a type of honey)
Rocket: Arugula

Frequently you must ask for water. They’re happy to bring it to you, just ask. Good for the enviornment! Beer prices are (expensive… and) reflected by their percentage. 4% ABV beer is usually $1 cheaper than 5% and it seems to go up exponentially from there. Wine is similar, but priced a lot more similarly to wine the States. Oh, and everyone’s got cider on the list.

What you WILL find
Lots of lamb, steak, chicken, salmon. Lots of smoked salmon. Tons of pies (think pot pie, not dessert pie). Plenty of quiches and fritatas. Breaded foods, deep fried foods. Ethnic foods. Surprisingly, lots of places that cater to gluten free eating.

What you WON’T find
French Toast without bananas and bacon on top. Nice Calfornia-esque green salads are hard to find. Chèvre. Taco trucks, or really any “normal” Mexican food (Scott and I agree to disagree on this issue). Zinfandel, or any California wines… which I know is to be expected but I still miss it.

The BEST place for brekkie.
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Ordering coffee
Oh man, this should be it’s own blog post. So, don’t bother trying to find drip coffee, it doesn’t exist. Coffee is an espresso based experience in New Zealand, and they are proud of it. You will need an open mind and a translator to get a coffee similar to what you are looking for…

Flat White: Most similar to a latte, but with a slightly higher coffee to milk ratio
Short Black: Basic shot of espresso
Long Black: Similar to an americano, 2 shots of espresso poured over hot water. (I fear if one tried to order a “Long Black” in America, you run the risk of being slapped and/or arrested.)
Bongo: A double shot with hot milk in a small cup
Fluffy: Steamed milk (for kids)

Oh yeah, a French Press (the closest you’re gonna get to that Peet’s coffee that you actually want will require a French Press) is called a “Plunger”. Appetizing, no?

Cafe Metro, my favorite little coffee place near our house.
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You may have noticed that your fancy dinner didn’t come with complimentary bread, you had to ask for water, and your server dropped off your food and disappeared into a black hole. New Zealand is not a tipping country. Of course they won’t turn down a little cash bonus upon your departure, but it is not expected. Ever. I felt guilty the first couple of times we left a restaurant… but now I relish in it. No one asks you 5 times in 20 minutes how your food is. I’m eating it, aren’t I?! Sure if you need a new fork, you may have to catch someone as they walk by. I don’t mind. The downside? When we return to the States, tipping is going to be so annoying.

No matter how fancy-smancy the restaurant is, you pay the cashier when you leave. No one brings the bill to your table. This left Scott and I sitting for a long time once or twice. But actually, it’s kind of sweet. Don’t you hate when the waiter brings your bill while you’re still finishing your meal? Maybe you wanted another glass of wine? Or worse, when you need to get to the movie theater but your waitress vanished into that mysterious black hole of a kitchen again. No biggie; here in New Zealand, you always pay at the front.

The Coffee House Cafe & Bistro (pre-earthquake, the wall is gone now…). A favorite.
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The Cost of Things… and other odds and ends
At many restaurants there is a 15% surcharge on public holidays… which, if you’ll recall, New Zealand has frequently.
Pizza is available at almost every restaurant, and is a nice choice for those on a budget.
Happy Hour is a fond but distant memory.
Eating out is pretty darn expensive compared to the US, although buying your food at the grocery store isn’t too much pricier.
Napkins are sometimes called “serviettes”, which I like because one time I taught myself French for 3 months… and now it’s totally paid off.


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  • Reply Anonymous May 10, 2013 at 2:53 am

    Hey, loved reading your take on NZ dining – you got it pretty spot on!
    Some restaurants do bring the bill to the table.
    Yeah I also hate if you have to keep asking for water! Go to Venuti Italian restaurant on Colombo St they are constantly coming past and filling your glass.
    There are some BYO wine restaurants (wahoo – Thai, Indian, Chinese).
    Also there are some bars that do Happy Hours – Fox n Ferret on Fri nites 4pm-5pm $4 drinks, 5pm -6pm $6 drinks. Also Running Bull, and others have happy hour. But not like the good ol days (when I was underage) and there were $1 drinks!!
    You should get the Entertainment Book it is full of LOADS of great restaurants with 2 4 1 meals, or buy 1 coffee get 1 free – or pizza, McD’s etc.

    • Reply Kristen Fellers May 11, 2013 at 2:04 am

      I will keep my eye out for that Entertainment Book! I have seen a few of the Happy Hours I admit, but they are in a different style than in the US, I feel. LOVE the BYO restaurants… Have you been to the Free House in Nelson? Its BYO food, and they provide the beer! Love it!

  • Reply Hadyn May 11, 2013 at 1:09 am

    Love your blog. NZ and the US have the same number of public holidays (10). Is it that, while the 10 US holidays are recognised at federal and state level, they cannot be enforced on private businesses, the way they are in NZ?

    • Reply Kristen Fellers May 11, 2013 at 2:06 am

      That could be it! Don’t try and get your errands done on a public holiday! Last time I checked there actually were 1 or 2 more in NZ than in US… perhaps the regional holidays? It could be that there are so many at the beginning of the year as well… moving to a new town right during Christmas break can lead to some frustration!!!

  • Reply Leila May 11, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    To answer your “streaky bacon” question- the Brits use the same term, and my understanding has been that it’s called that because there are supposed to be bands of fat and meat, while other types of bacon are comprised of small amounts of fat, with predominant amounts of meat.

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