You’ll find it difficult to find Maori or Polynesian cuisines in New Zealand restaurants, but you can try traditional fare at a hangi (pronounced nasally as “hungi”), where meat and vegetables are steamed for a long time in an earth oven, before being laid out for the guests. Being a guest at a private affair of extended families is the best way to experience a hangi, but most folks have to make do with one of the commercial gatherings in Rotorua or Christchurch. Even if you are not a guest, but a customer that pays, the hangi will be authentic.
To begin, a fire is started by the men, and stones from the river are placed in the burning coals. While the stones heat up, the men dig a big hole, put the hot stones in the bottom, and lay a wet sacking on top. In the meantime the womenfolk prepare meats, fish, shellfish, and vegetables (especially kumara), wrapping the bite-size pieces in leaves and placing them in baskets (originally made of flax, but now most often made of steel mesh). The flavors and steam are sealed into the food when the baskets are lowered into the pit for cooking and then covered by earth. After a few hours, the baskets are removed; in its place is this amazing steam-smoked meat and vegetables with savory, earthy flavors.
Your Hangi experience will be most enjoyable.