The first time we visited New Zealand we were walking around Te Anau, a town on the South Island, when we saw a sign on a small cafe saying “Pies.”
“I feel like a piece of pie. How about you?” I asked my wife.
As we approached the shop, my mind wandered. What would I have? Apple pie? No, perhaps blueberry pie. For a moment, I thought of all the wonderful pies in the United States: Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Key Lime Pie, Coconut Cream Pie. My mouth watered. What would it be?
But as we entered the shop and looked at the menu, we realized that these weren’t the type pies we were familiar with:
Steak and Cheese Pie
Steak and Mushroom
Mince and Gravy Pie
Egg and Bacon Pie
Chicken and Vegetable Pie
Huh? Pies are apparently something different down here in New Zealand than in the US, or at least mean something different. When you say pie here, you mean a meat pie, called a steak pie in the UK, and not what is called a pie in the US, which is more accurately called a fruit pie I learned.
Also, pies down here are smaller. These are single-person pies. One pie, one man (or woman). You don’t see those large—well, pie-sized—pies down here. The pies down here, and the ones in the strange shop, were hand-sized, and are usually served as a takeaway (carryout) food. Pies are commonly offered in a dairy, which has nothing to do with milk as you might expect, but rather is the generic term for a 7-11 type corner store.
I settled for the Steak and Cheese Pie.
Flaky, baked crust. Inside a thick brown gravy and an occasional morsel of meat. Warm. Filling. Quite tasty when you’re hungry.
There are multiple pie manufacturers in New Zealand and Australia, and here in New Zealand there are even competitions for the best pies. McDonald’s even sells a Georgie Pie, a “Steak Mince ‘N’ Cheese’ pie, based on a famed New Zealand pie manufacturer, Georgie Pie, which was bought by McDonald’s in 1996.
At one point, pies were kind of a national dish in New Zealand, but not so much anymore, since they probably have more fat and calories—sorry, I mean kilojoules, the equivalent of calories down here—than any of us needs. And also there is a question about what is actually in a ‘meat’ pie.
Somewhere from 65-75 million pies are consumed annually here in New Zealand, which works out to around 15 meat pies per person per year. Oh, I know, there’s that one guy who eats pies every day and skews the numbers, but those are the averages.
Australians each eat an average of 12 meat pies a year, a total of some 270 million pies are consumed annually.
If you search Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the food governing body for both countries, you find these sobering words:
The meats allowed by FSANZ in a meat pie are beef, buffalo, camel, cattle, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry, rabbit and sheep. Kangaroo meat, a leaner alternative, is also sometimes used. However, most pie manufacturers specify ‘beef’ in their ingredients list; typically, those using other types of meat will simply put ‘meat’ in the list instead.
FSANZ’s definition of meat includes snouts, ears, tendons and any attached animal rind, fat, connective tissue, nerve, blood and blood vessels. But no bush meat (animals slaughtered in the wild) is allowed! And offal, such as brain, kidney, liver, tongue and tripe, must be specified on the label. However, because most people don’t like offal in a meat pie the manufacturers very rarely use it.
Good to know.
One blogger described eating a meat pie as “kind of like walking into a dark room in a creepy house”—an apt description. Many New Zealanders and Aussies—including me—apparently feel the fear and eat pies anyway.