The term hiakai means “a craving to eat,” or hungry, and it’s also the name of Monique Fiso’s restaurant in Wellington, New Zealand, which features a modern envisioning of Māori cuisine. Now it’s available in cookbook form.
Hiakai the cookbook serves as a culinary history of Aotearoa, the original Māori name for New Zealand. It starts off with the Māori story of the grand birth of the universe and how the world came to be, then goes on to introduce a haute version of Māori cooking. Atlas Obscura takes us in depth with a look into Māori cuisine.
Much of the food is a celebration of Aotearoa’s bounty. The Māori brought taro and taro and kūmara (Māori sweet potato) with them to Aotearoa, but they quickly discovered the local game and plants on the island. Fiso walks readers through traditional preservation methods, like pit steaming, and how to handle native ingredients, like grubs and fern shoots.
Fiso started her culinary career in New Zealand, but moved to New York to give kitchen work a shot. Homesickness brought her back, and she began to wonder why there weren’t restaurants that featured Māori and Polynesian ingredients. “I thought somebody needed to do it, and then I thought: how about me?” she told Atlas Obscura.
The book was a labor of love. It took two years to complete, and required painstaking research through Māori oral tradition. After European colonization, many of these traditional recipes were lost. Fiso dug deep into historical research and consulted with local experts like chef Joe McLeod and culinary arts professor Tracy Berno. The piece dives into Māori cuisine, cooking techniques and ingredients, and is a rare peek into a part of a culinary heritage immersed in nature, so take a look if you’ve got some time.