15 favourite dishes from folks of migrant and refugee backgrounds in New Zealand

July 18, 2022

Earlier this year we recorded a very wholesome and topical podcast series that spotlighted  experiences of fifteen New Zealanders from migrant and former refugee backgrounds called #PassTheMic.

The series was made in partnership with Belong Aotearoa and Sport Waitākere, it was hosted by Elina Ashimbayeva, co-creator of this community platform - Storyo. We’ve been sharing and celebrating underrepresented identities for over 3 years now, featuring social workers, local artists, politicians, sex workers, teachers and the list goes on.

We couldn’t record this series talking to fellow migrants without talking about the most important topic of our cultural identities and provider of belonging: food. So of course, we thought we’d compile this blog for you, featuring favourite ethnic dishes, places, food tips, food stories from our migrant & former refugee community.

And of course, check out the deliciously honest conversations between Elina and 15 folks here on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. But for now… back to food!  These recommendations are truly delicious with a side of identity-exploration. I hope it inspires you to venture out to a local restaurant or reach out to your friends for some home-cooked goodness!

1. Filipino Chicken Inasal from Nina Santos

Nina is a “Mind The Gap'' campaigner, shedding light on gender and ethnic pay gaps. On this 14 episode (recorded on Storyo founder Elina’s birthday and fifteen minutes after Nina tested positive for COVID-19!), Nina revealed her favourite Filipino dish: 

"I really love Chicken Inasal. It's a form of chicken barbecue and it's usually served with rice and chicken oil drizzled on the top and fried garlic. I also really love classic Filipino homegrown dishes like Sinigang, Adobo, Menudo, I'm an all rounder. I used to be a child who wasn't picky at all, I ate all the veggies. I ate all the weird ingredients. So I love Filipino food."

2. Oxtail Kare Kare from Lovely Dizon 

Lovely is a Filipino-Kiwi whose PhD research supports 1.5 and second-generation Southeast Asian migrant adolescents in accessing culturally safe services, particularly mental health:

It felt like all they could see was that I was Asian (model minority, smart), so just being able to understand there are different facets of a person but they're not even just talking about the nuances of even food."

"I got really sick in my first year of uni because I wasn't used to eating white food all the time. I ended up seeing a nutritionist later on in life to reconcile how I felt about food because even the way we talk about what's healthy food…there's so much work that needs to be done."

"I love Filipino food. It's so good for the soul. I love the Filipino spirit of celebration, how they’re so loud, they're always late. It's always such a good time. Oxtail Kare Kare which is a peanut butter curry and nobody makes it better than my dad. Tāmaki has really good Filipino food, but my dad's food cannot be beaten. One of my best friends, Hannah, dreams about my dad's food."

3. Indian Chicken Lollipop from a Black Caps Cricketer Ajaz Patel

Born in Mumbai, Ajaz moved to NZ as a young child and believes “the fact that we're New Zealanders doesn't mean we can't have an ethnic background.

He spoke at length about inclusion when it comes to catering in sports, food as a political choice:

"One of the big things when I was growing up was food. it's not just food, there's a bigger relationship to it than just food. It's what my parents have been eating. That's what my ancestors have been eating. It’s what I've grown up on, I don't know anything different. "

"And then to suddenly be able to change that… all of a sudden go to a completely European diet, it's difficult. Our culture is probably a minority within the country, then we go with what the majority food is and that's okay."

"My favourite dish is a Chicken Lollipop, which is a deep fried, little chicken pocket that comes with like a little stick on the end of it. And it's just absolutely unbelievable. And the other one I'd say is a biryani. Paradise in Auckland does both things very, very well."

Image that looks likes a poster with cut-out images of people and foods taped onto a light green background. Foods featured are delicious bowls of Filipino foods including Oxtail Kare Kare, Adobo, Menudo. And a cut out of Ajaz's photo that looks like he is holding a chicken lolipop: bright red chicken drumstick

4. Chinese Bai Zhan Chicken and Roast Duck from Suki Xiao

Suki is a women of colour career coach and a founder of “As You”. Born in Guangdong, Southern China, Suki moved around as a youngster before living in Howick, Auckland (nicknamed ‘Chowick’ back then because there so many of Chinese immigrants there) - an abundance of Chinese restaurants and supermarkets made settling into New Zealand easier. 

"I love Chinese food or Asian food actually. There's this dish called Bai Zhan Chicken. It's parboiled chicken and then it's very plain in flavour. And you can almost see the redness in the skin and in the bone when you cut it open. Two places in Auckland that I love are Tai Ping supermarket, they do amazing Roast Duck! And the chicken dish, I will get it from the Golden Garden Restaurant on Dominion Road as well."

5. Filipino Palabok from Marie Ysabel Landingin 

Maria is an Urban Planner, a member of Multi-Ethnic Young Leaders Network and Authenticity Aotearoa. She was born in Manila and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, she witnessed the lack of minority perspectives while studying urban planning.

"I like Filipino food. I didn't like having to eat a sandwich at lunch all the time, I wanted to eat rice! In hindsight, even small things like having different food from your classmates did actually influence this feeling of being “other”. 

"‍I recommend everyone to try palabok. It's a noodle dish from the Philippines and it's my all time favourite. My mum always makes it when I go home, so you can see it’s my favourite! There is this place in West Auckland called Gold Ribbon that has lots of Filipino dishes. Highly recommend, support your Filipino community!"

6. Char Siu Fan and Lu’au from Ashley Eva Petau-Ah Poe 

Ashley is Samoan Chinese, attended an English-speaking international school but had a huge culture shock adjusting to Kiwi culture but also finding places to feel supported in connecting to her identity, like with PILSA (Pacific Island Law Student Association). 

"I'm still trying to learn to be more proud and reclaim my culture…the values of family, being together, we care about serving communities, serving others, and respecting elders… so even if I don't feel like I'm Samoan enough, actually, the values I have are the same as other Samoans."

"In Hong Kong, me and my dad always ordered barbecue pork on rice. It’s char siu fan, that's the Cantonese way of saying it. So whenever you go to Hong Kong and you want barbecue pork on rice, you can say ‘I want char siu fan’ and they'll get it. But I'm vegetarian now, so that's off the table [laughs]. And then Samoan culture, there's this dish called lu’au. I’m always worried I pronounce it incorrectly. But it's banana leaf and coconut cream, and it's in tinfoil and it's cooked. And it's always best paired with taro."

Image that looks likes a poster with cut-out images of people and foods taped onto a light green background. Foods featured are a pekin duck - whole duck on a plate in front of a cut out photo of Tai Ping Supermarket. As well as Palabok dish and a photo from Gold Ribbon restaurant that has a table covered in delicious Filipino food served without the plate - looking like absolute feast!

7. Persian Kebab Zereshk Polo Ba Morgh from Kat Eghdamian 

Kat is a Lead Advisor for Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner. An Iranian-Kurdish New Zealander and former child refugee with six degrees (a fact she is a bit embarrassed about), she was born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, her family initially fled into Pakistan, before being resettled in Dunedin, which they were advised ‘was the best place for education for a young family in the country’. 

"Persian food and Italian food on a par with each other? Persian Kebab Zereshk Polo Ba Morgh, which is a chicken and rice dish with barberries."


8. Russian potato salad Olivie from Maria Khaydar

A self-titled “capitalist girl-boss by day and anarchist by night” of Syrian-Azeri-Russian identity, who was born and brought up in Russia but identifies as Arab. Her entire family are migrants and she is ‘still figuring out what it means to be Kiwi yet’.

"I assume positive in people, but sometimes I think when they ask about my ethnicity or where I belong, the sole reason why they're asking is to put me in some sort of a box so they can make a judgement about what sort of person I am and how to approach me. Ethnic person is kind of like calling someone exotic. It doesn't sit right with me and I don't know why…can I, like, not be anything? Can I be just a human? Can I be a woman of colour, but without having to explain my entire heritage to people?’" 

While she’s figuring it all out, if you ever want to try out her favourite dish - Russian salad (Olivie) - a fancy version of potato salad, she promises to cook it for you.


9. Ottogi’s Instant Noodles from Sun Min Elle Park

Sun Min moved to New Zealand with her brother, and mum in 2003 from South Korea. At university, she was encouraged by friends to join the Union and cites how a fellow Asian woman finally felt supported after seeing her come on board to look after her site. More recently, she has been on a journey of learning about ADHB and Autism in her life. 

"Getting to know different people and cultures really helps, instead of isolating yourself in a comfort zone of hanging out with who you know. Auckland is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. More than just enjoying people’s food, maybe get to know them. Just mingle a little bit more than just watching a K-drama or eating Korean food, just get to know us a little bit better. Then you may learn that we're just another human being. We may have an accent, but you may enjoy our company if you get to know us."

"Instant noodles/ramen. Oh, I recently learnt that the brand “Ottogi” hires everyone as permanent staff, not casuals. So I tried their noodles for the first time and it was a whole new world. I really like it. It’s the one called "Jin Ramen".

10. Samoan chop suey from Andrew Tui

A South Aucklander coffee lover with strong connections to faith and the rainbow community, Andrew’s family comes from Samoa but also has Chinese ancestry. Growing up, his parents, worked day and night jobs. 

“Mum used to clean at night and come home late. And I always remember that, she would bring home a tub of cream rice and it was such a treat."

"Not being able to speak Samoan felt quite shameful growing up in South Auckland. I feel a lot more ease with my cultural identity now. There's a little bit of stigma about how Samoan you are."

"I guess the more old-school thinking would say that being a kiwi means going to the BBQ and having your alcoholic drink, and talking about sports and… not talking about your feelings. I don’t actually identify with any of these things…I know all the other stuff that is cool about being a kiwi…having amazing diverse food at those BBQs."

"There is this really common and popular Samoan dish: chop suey. And it's quite nice because it's got a Chinese heritage as well. I'm biased and I think my mom makes it the best. A lot of soy sauce, a lot of flavours, a lot of ginger, and onion! It feels like home, it feels like comfort. There are places especially out South that do sell it. But usually, just ask an auntie and uncle or a friend at work who can get you some."

Image that looks likes a poster with cut-out images of people and foods taped onto a light green background. Foods featured are a pack of noodles Ottogi in a red and yellow packaging, lates of Nasi Lamak: rice with peanuts, cucumbers, meat and boiled eggs, russian potato salad and persian chicken kebab.

11. Nasi Lamak from Medulla Oblongata

Medulla is a non-binary former refugee who competed in the first season of House of Drag – created Rainbow Maldivian online community. Medulla was sent away from the Maldives, ‘a young boy gambling and smoking’, aged 12-13 and moved to Malaysia and then New Zealand. 

"Aren't we all like ethnic? How would you define that? I like to use the term “not white” instead…I like to be quite confrontational…and white people can't stand that. But what does it mean to be ethnic? I don't like the term people of colour because that is very close to coloured people, which is offensive."

Medulla still loves Malaysia and their much-loved food is ‍Nasi Lamak.

"Obviously, a staple breakfast food! I remember every morning going down the road and having it, it’s great!"


12. Moroccan Tagine and Indian Panipuri from Nilofer Faizal

Nilofer feel where she can contribute is where she belongs and speaks of how the hijab is in fact, ‘a kind of a rebellion against boxes people trying to put you into’.  

"I think when you go to a country at first, you'd normally see they eat different food but actually, you kind of start to see the people behind it, what's beyond the labels and cultural differences. As much as we have our differences, at the core of it, we're still just human, right?"

"In India, we have this thing called panipuri. Oh my god, I love it. I crave for it. It's like a street food. So usually it's the first or second day when I'm in India. It's like, I have to go there, you know? I have to go and have it."

"I actually recently tried Moroccan food at the restaurant called Casablanca. So yes, they had tajine. Tagine is a Moroccan dish. It’s slow cooked meat. My favourite one back in Morocco is the one with glazed honey prunes, and they kind of sell it with almonds."


13. Palestinian Dolma from Ola Shahin 

Born in Kuwait, Ola migrated to New Zealand aged five and grew up in ‘a very white area (West Auckland)’ but felt she belonged when with her Palestinian best friend and on the sports field. She plays at Manukau United Football Club, where she has designed a shirt emblazoned with ‘Anti-racism Football Club’ and runs a yearly tournament for Palestine. Ola has spoken openly about her depression and anxiety.

"Cake! 100%. I love cake banana with cream cheese icing. I used to bake as a side hustle. And I just made a lot of banana cake with cream cheese icing! And my favourite Palestinian food is dolma: it's grape wine leaves, boiled and then stuffed with rice. You actually can't buy good dolma anywhere. I'll have to invite you over, you'll have to come over for dinner one day."


14. Fried Green Banana from Vira Paky

Congolese-Kiwi-South African Vira was born in Johannesburg to refugee parents, who lived through apartheid, and migrated to West Auckland in 2004, where her family managed to create a ‘mini version’ of Congolese culture.

"I feel like my entire life, everyone's been saying that I was a kiwi, especially other African migrants. Also black Kiwi representation is so far and few between, that we look outwards to find what it is to be black outside of Africa. For the longest time, I wanted to be black British because I feel like they're a solid example of what it looks like to be a part of a black diaspora that's really settled. I imagine that’s what New Zealand's going to look like in 50 years."

"My immediate go-to is fried green banana. It gets to the point where I don't live at home anymore, and my mom will call me if she gets it because she knows how much I love it and she will drop it off at my house. It's chopped up cassava leaves, as many vegetables as you can find, meat bones: usually sit in a pot as big as my body just on the stove for maybe two days. Let it simmer. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous."

15. Singaporean Fish Soup by Pok Wei Heng

Singapore-born, to Malaysian parents (of Chinese descent), Pok grew up with an ‘extremely strong Western mentality, balanced with some really strong Asian undertones’. Pressured to study accounting by his parents, he explored sustainability reporting, which led to climate justice, which he defines as ‘climate change affecting different populations differently’. As a ‘fresh new migrant’ to Aotearoa, his work focuses on regenerative cities centred on learning from indigenous wisdom.

"DEI work is not a token festival event…you have to get used to discomfort, that's when you start closing the gap. That is what I think needs to really happen for a better New Zealand and a better migrant relationship with Māori."

"Rather than shying away from our own culture and putting indigenous peoples on a pedestal, we can see it as an equal partnership, where we both bring kai to the table and engage in discussions together."

"I'm currently craving a very simple sounding dish called fish soup. You have a really clean, beautiful broth, fish slices, tofu, and vegetables. It’s something that I think is quite healthy, but also quite nourishing."

Image that looks likes a poster with cut-out images of people and foods taped onto a light green background. Foods featured are dolma wrapped in leaves, fish soup, fried banana on a plate, colourful tagine in a ceramic pot and smiling faces of Pok, Ola, Nilofer and Vira.

Share, subscribe, or send to someone who might benefit from feeling seen or learning more about ethnic voices in Aotearoa. 

Takeout Kids: for more inspiring migrant stories centered around food and identity, check out this video series from The Spinoff, made with support from NZ on Air, which follows four young people as they juggle school, friends and life while growing up in their parents’ restaurants and takeaway shops.

Listen to all 15 episodes here and follow us on Instagram @passthemic.aotearoa and @story.co ✨