Indigenous | Matariki

Real soul food: The Hāngi Master reveals top tips to eating well this Matariki

Northland chef Rewi Spraggon, also known as The Hāngī Master, likes to eat tītī (muttonbird) cooked in a hāngi or in a boil-up with watercress. Photo / NZME

Two Northland cousins with a passion for food, whānau and whenua are sharing their secrets to the best traditional Māori kai this Matariki.

Celebrated chef Rewi Spraggon, also known as The Hāngī Master, and maramataka expert Heeni Hoterene, who both whakapapa to Motatau, are looking forward to a few good feasts during the Māori New Year from late June to early July.

Spraggon said traditionally Matariki was a time of eating preserved food.

Back in the day, when people didn’t have fridges, his ancestors would preserve everything, from fruit and vegetables to birds and even seafood.

“This time was really about preserved food, traditionally we would have preserved certain foods like toroi [a dish of fresh mussels combined with pūhā].

“Even fish in the old days would be put in gourds and preserved that way.

“A lot of us still bottle kamokamo that you can only get in the summer.

“Once we’ve got the full harvest we bottle them up and that’ll last us till the winter. It’s the same for kina and paua and every type of seafood.

“It was about getting all your kūmara crops put away, preserving all your birds or shellfish or fish, and hunkering down for the winter.”

Spraggon, who has worked in kitchens around the world including Tahiti and London, established The Hāngī Master to bring the ancient art of hāngī back to mainstream New Zealand.

He has traditional hāngī pits at his property in Te Henga, Auckland, where he cooks hāngī tuturu, pork belly, chicken and vegetarian hāngī burgers, and hāngī pie, as well as catering for special events.

Spraggon said he likes to eat tītī (muttonbird), a deep-south delicacy which is good cooked in a hāngī or in a boil-up with watercress.

Smoked fish, kina and eel are also delicious, he said.

“They’re real good Māori foods.

“Boil-ups are also great for the warmth.

“You can’t get away from a really good boil-up and some oven-cooked kina or eel.

“In the juices it’s beautiful, it’s real soul food.

“It always reminds me of the old people and those flavours you don’t really taste unless you know how to cook it.”

The Hāngī Master Rewi Spraggon (left) at last year’s Tohunga Tumau event at the Duke of Marlborough. Photo / NZME

Spraggon - who is among the top Māori chefs cooking at the Tohunga Tumau: Puanga Matariki Dinner at the Duke of Marlborough on July 6 - said it was more important than ever to eat with the seasons and return to traditional ways.

“Especially now, with the economy, it’s even more important to go back to the maramataka and back to preserving.

“It’s a lot cheaper to feed a big family when you’re buying in season and preserving it.

“The biggest lesson from our grandparents in this day and age, where food is expensive, is now is the time to go back and dig a bit deeper into the kai resources.”

Matariki is celebrated over more than just one weekend for many Northlanders and is often interwoven with maramataka, the traditional Māori lunar calendar used to guide planting, harvesting, fishing and hunting.

Maramataka expert Heeni Hoterene said this year she will be celebrating at various events in Ahipara and Motatau with her four children and their dad Reuben Taipari, along with friends.

Hoterene said Matariki is a seasonal festival for whānau to spend time eating together and enjoying each other’s company.

“It’s a seasonal festival and we’re showcasing what’s happening in our areas.

“Mainstream people have a big Christmas feast in December; we have ours in Matariki.

“It’s not just one night, we spend the whole month celebrating.”

Hoterene said she enjoys hāngī with kūmara harvested from her garden, along with a chicken and various other vegetables.

Maramataka expert Heeni Hoterene enjoys a good hāngī with kūmara harvested from her garden. Photo / NZME

Brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, yams, onions, pumpkin – every type of root vegetable - can all be put in whole.

“It [the hāngī] doesn’t have to be big; one time there were five of us here and we’ve got a little hole and basket with enough wood.

“You’re sitting around the hāngī hole, there’s a particular smell ... we use tea tree.

“To me the smell of tea tree burning is the smell of home.”

Hoterene’s other tips are not to put any herbs in the hāngi, and cook it in muslin cloth, not tinfoil.

“You want to get the smoky taste. Only put herbs in the stuffing.

“Don’t peel the kūmara or peruperu potatoes because they’re fresh and all the goodness is in the coloured skin. Just give them a bit of a scrape.”

How you stack a hāngī is also important; place the meat at the bottom and the vegetables on top with some space in between, Hoterene said.

“There’s an art to hāngī.

“You can tell who’s a good hāngī maker and it’s not to have everything soggy.

“You want to get some air in there.”

Any left-over pumpkin or kūmara can be made into hummus dips or soup, and it’s all rounded off with dessert, Hoterene said.

“Often we make a steamed pudding, it’s not that good for you but hey.

“But in wintertime steam pudding, custard and cream - you can’t beat it.”

Matariki food

The Feast Matariki programme is part of the Matariki Pēwhairangi Bay of Islands festival and features Northland’s award-winning restaurants and producers.

It includes:

Tohunga Tumau: Puanga Matariki Dinner at the Duke of Marlborough on July 6. An all-star line-up of Māori master chefs including The Hāngī Master Rewi Spraggon, New Zealand MasterChef winners sisters Kārena and Kasey Bird, Duke of Marlborough executive chef Tama Salive, and Charlottes Kitchen head chef Liam Tito-Salive. The event includes a canape reception followed by a four-course meal, designed and prepared by the master chefs who will introduce their dishes.

Terra Restaurant Matariki Degustation: A five-course Taste of Matariki Degustation showcasing unique New Zealand ingredients. At Terra Restaurant, Paihia, June 19-July 14.

Māha Restaurant, Kerikeri: Ming and Diane’s special Matariki dish of Māha style smoked and grilled lamb rump with kawakawa and sage pesto, balsamic roast persimmon and kūmara purée. July 9-13.

Phat House Brewery, Haruru: The Phat House Brewery and Bar Fur Party featuring Alley Kat and Matt Rapid. June 22 from 6pm.

Visit for prices and more information.

Puanga on a Plate is part of the Puanga Matariki Festival, a series of cultural events for people to celebrate in Whangārei from May 31 to June 30.

Local restaurants are showcasing their creativity by crafting dishes that resonate with themes of home, family, and identity.

The event is an opportunity for the community to come together and share in the abundance of food, from traditional kai to contemporary fusion.

Restaurants include The Butter Factory, Malt House Fusion, Grand Thai Restaurant and Aqua Restaurant and Bar.

The judges – hosts of TV game show Lucky Dip - On the Road Marcia Hopa and Luke Bird - will select the inaugural winner of this year’s competition.

The winner of the judge’s award will receive a locally crafted trophy and ultimate bragging rights.

Visit for details.