Hiakai means “hungry” or “having a craving to eat” in te reo Māori, the Māori language. At Hiakai, a restaurant in Wellington, New Zealand, chef Monica Fiso’s seeks to feed the Māori hunger to finally see their culture celebrated by the mainstream.
Telling Māori stories through locally farmed and foraged ingredients is typical of Fiso, who draws on her Māori, Sāmoan, and European roots, as well as her training in posh New York restaurants, to craft a menu centering New Zealand’s long-neglected indigenous foods.
Take, for example, Fiso’s seed-coated avocado with vinaigrette made from karamū, a native shrub. It represents Mount Pihanga, a New Zealand volcano that Māori people consider feminine, and who inspired seven male mountains to fight for her love in a classic tale.
The menu at Hiakai combines haute cuisine techniques—“foams” and “essences” abound—as well as traditional Māori cooking styles, such as hāngi earthen ovens, which European colonialism either marginalized or misinterpreted. With dishes like kūmara (sweet potato) gnocchi with fried huhu grubs to kina sea urchin pannacotta with with kuku mussels, it’s obvious that at Hiakai, promoting and preserving Māori food culture comes first.
Know Before You Go
Hiakai exclusively serves a seven course tasting menu, and is reservation-only. Slots in the small dining room fill up months in advance, so book early.