Best Southland food experiences

Every meal is an opportunity to explore Southland's characterful food culture for tastes and textures that are as unique as the region.

Food down south has three things going for it: the purity and freshness of the environment, a unique regional culture, and the passion of local chefs who are determined to put Southland food on the map. When these ingredients come together, you're in for some magnificent and memorable food experiences. Here are just a few of the delights to look forward to.

Southland cheese rolls

The cheese roll is a legend in its own lunchtime. It's crunchy on the outside and deliciously melty on the inside. Made with fresh bread, tasty cheese, butter and a sprinkle of onion soup mix for seasoning, this down-home concoction is believed to be invented in Southland. Look for it when you're checking out cafes and places to eat in Invercargill, Gore, Bluff, Riverton and other Southland towns.

Garston Stables Hunny Shop

Honey for your tea, toast and wellbeing, made by local busy bees. That's what you'll find at Garston Stables Hunny Shop on State Highway 6 near Garston. There's a multitude of flavours to enjoy - clover, pohutukawa, kamahi, honeydew, wild thyme and manuka. A special treat is comb honey, which is extraordinary as a cheese board component.

New Zealand blue cod

Southland's most famous and plentiful fish is rāwaru/blue cod. These fish are endemic to New Zealand and grow large in the cold waters of the south. The delicate white flesh of blue cod is delicious, whether you're eating cod and chips from a takeaway or pan-fried cod at one of the best restaurants in Invercargill.

ROAR Coffee

Using fair trade organic coffee beans sourced from Columbia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Uganda and Honduras, ROAR Coffee Roasters of Lumsden provide the essential caffeine wakeup call for every Southland morning. You'll find ROAR coffee at discerning Invercargill restaurants, as well as cafes throughout the Southland region.

Hokonui moonshine whisky

Some of the canny Scots who moved to Southland in the 1850s got straight into the business of making whisky, even when it was illegal during prohibition days. At the Hokonui Moonshine Museum you can learn all about the early moonshiners and pick up a bottle or two (made by Southern Distilleries) to continue your research. In February, Gore has a Moonshine Festival.

Bluff oysters

A definite contender for the 'best oyster in the world' award, fresh Bluff oysters are big, fat and juicy. During the oyster season, March to August, you can enjoy them at Bluff restaurants and other eating places throughout Southland. If you're really into oysters, catch the Bluff Oyster & Seafood Festival in May.

Pāua (abalone)

When you're contemplating a menu at a Southland restaurant, keep an eye out for pāua dishes - especially pāua fritters (aka pāua patties). Grown in the sub-antarctic waters around Southland and Stewart Island, pāua are a local delicacy from the abalone family. In summer the pāua Shack at Ocean Beach serves Southland street food made with pāua, oysters, crayfish and local fish.

Whitebait

In spring and early summer, a native freshwater delicacy is caught near the mouth of major rivers in Southland. Whitebait, inanga in Māori, are tiny fish that you eat whole. Seasoned with salt and a squeeze of lemon, a plate of whitebait fritters is the holy grail of New Zealand's fish dish experiences.

Southland swede

Like whisky making, swede growing is a throwback to Southland's Scottish settlers. A root vegetable, swedes are used to feed stock over the winter months. They're also used to feed people. Boiled and mashed, roasted or included in a soup, they're sweeter than turnips and taste best after a heavy frost.

Seriously Good Chocolate Company

Jane Stanton uses her grandfather's recipes to make chocolates and truffles that will have you dizzy with delight. There are some true kiwiana flavours to discover, including hokey pokey, pavlova, kiwifruit, pohutukawa, jaffa and manuka. Tour the factory and then visit the café at 147 Spey St, Invercargill.

Venison

Deer farming is big in Southland. You'll recognise venison farms by their extra-high fences; herds of grazing deer are a giveaway too. On fine dining menus around the region, local venison takes pride of place and pairs perfectly with an aged Central Otago pinot noir. Be brave and ask for rare - it's the only way to eat venison.

Stewart Island salmon

Stewart Island salmon is some of the finest, sustainably-farmed salmon in the world. Fresh or smoked, it has a melting texture and a delicious flavour that speaks for the purity of the super-cold water it grows in. The baby fish are raised in the fresh snow-fed waters of the Clutha and Waitaki rivers, then transferred to Stewart Island sea cages where they grow to maturity completely free of chemicals and antibiotics.

Pastry Delights

Southerner's take their pastry encasements - or pies, very seriously. Depending on what part of the South you are in, the recommendation changes by the nature of the raw materials. In Mossburn, the speciality is the venison pie, served with a side of plum sauce at Bracken Hall. Just along the road at the Bafe in Lumsden, Chris and team serve up a beefalo pie - from the hybrid of cattle and bison. Over in Gore, the moonshine and pork pie is served up by Oven Fresh. While in Invercargill, Fat Bastards serve up the ultimate seafood chowder pie. For the very adventurous, try the titi (muttonbird) and beef by Stella's in Bluff.

Gadoochi Brewery

Gadoochi Brewery specialises in harvest fruit cider, grown in Central Otago and brewed in Southland. The cider features a stunning variety of orchard fruit, including cherry, nectarine, feijoa, and many more. It's brewed at Tuatara Lodge Invercargill. Their selection includes the Mad Granny Cider; from Granny Smiths Apples, Seagull Cider; from the Greengage Plums, and a variety of other options.

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