New Zealand is home to many wonderful things, from wacky flightless birds to the real-world incarnation of Tolkien's Middle Earth. But no matter how great of a country it truly is, New Zealand has struggled to shake off the national identity as Australia's younger sibling, especially when it comes to food.
Whether pavlovas, fairy bread or Lamingtons actually originated in New Zealand or Australia is irrelevant: the Aussies get the credit.
But there is one dish that is wholly New Zealand, a dish that Australia cannot make any claims to: the glorious Kiwi dip.
It came to my attention during a recent adventure to New Zealand by way of my Kiwi friend and fellow writer, Simon Thomson, who insisted I must sample as much local fare as possible. He (presumably half-jokingly) described Kiwi dip as, "a fundamental part of our culture: the mortar that bonds us together as a people." Wow. Who could resist a description like that?
Naturally I assumed there was something unique about Kiwi dip that made it such a popular dish was it made with kiwi fruit, or perhaps even kiwi bird? but I was delightfully disappointed. Disappointed because it's just onion dip, but delighted because emphatic devotion to a relatively innocuous dish is very much in line with the wry sense of humor I was discovering New Zealanders have.
When I say onion dip, it should be clarified that Kiwi dip is extremely particular about which ingredients can be used: "It's a mix of Maggi Onion Soup powder, reduced cream, and malt vinegar or lemon juice," Simon explained to me. So, it's not as if any ol' onion dip, or even onion soup powder, suffices. No, the onion component must be Maggi-branded, the reduced cream should be from Nestle, and you must take a side on the vinegar versus lemon division.
Heyday Beer Co.'s famous Kiwi dip — Photo courtesy of Ali Wunderman
"It has to be the specific ingredients or it's not Kiwi dip," echoes Brendan, chef at Heyday Beer Co., a brewery in Wellington's hip Te Aro neighborhood. Heyday is one of the only restaurants in New Zealand to serve Kiwi dip on their menu, and only because it reminds the brewery's owner of home. Typically, Kiwi dip is found in much more casual settings such as birthday parties, barbecues and other social gatherings in which snacking occurs.
My second sampling of Kiwi dip came during a South Island adventure with New Zealand Walking Tours, who are known for their guides' exceptional culinary talents. Because Kiwi dip isn't typically found in commercial settings, I was unable to gauge its ubiquitousness and prodded my guides for more information about the role it actually plays in the lives of your average New Zealander.
They surprised me at the end of our journey with a homemade bowl of the good stuff. This was much to the delight of the other members of my group, who would otherwise have had no means to experience this true Kiwi culinary classic, as well as no knowledge that they should be seeking it out.
Kiwi dip courtesy of New Zealand Walking Tours — Photo courtesy of Ali Wunderman
The easiest way to experience Kiwi dip is to make it yourself by performing all of two necessary steps: mixing the ingredients and chilling. In case it's needed, here is a recipe from Nestle, which sells two of the three components, and technically invented Kiwi dip to begin with.
In the 1960's, an employee named Rosemary Dempsey was tasked with the challenge of boosting their onion soup sales and ended up creating an iconic dish that only New Zealand can claim (but anyone can make).
Kiwi dip may never qualify as haute cuisine, but if it was all about quality or trendiness, it wouldn't be the onion dip New Zealand knows and loves today. What's made this recipe such a popular staple in the country is not rare ingredients or limited supply relative to high demand, it's the joy and comfort it brings people as a reminder of home, and as a snack tradition that belongs to New Zealand and New Zealand alone.
It takes one bite of Kiwi dip to realize that New Zealand is nowhere close to being in Australia's shadow; it is a land unto itself. Kiwis have managed to turn three simple ingredients (that take mere minutes to prepare) into a nationally unifying party treat, to the delight of locals and visitors alike. Just don't tell Australia.