Meatless Monday – Land of the Long White Meringue Cloud

Pavlova, melting moments, Afghan biscuits, Anzac biscuits, jaffas, flat white, kumara, feijoa, kiwifruit, wine, manuka honey, marmite

It’s official: Meatless Monday this week is being brought to you on Wednesday February the 6th, Waitangi Day, the national day of New Zealand (NZ). The above list  mentions some of the foodstuffs that are naturally vegetarian and iconic of NZ. Some others that are not vegetarian but quintessentially Kiwi (the word used to refer to New Zealanders, a bird or a fruit) include fush & chups*, chocolate fish (marshmallow covered in chocolate) and meat pies. These can be easily vegetarianized.

In spite of Peter Jackson’s work, New Zealand is not in Middle Earth; it’s at the bottom. There are 2 main islands, imaginatively named the North and the South as well as a smaller one called Stewart Island. Known for its sheep, friendly locals and stunning scenery New Zealand is also called Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud in Maori speak.

The Maori are the original inhabitants of New Zealand. They are of Polynesian descent and migrated to these lands in canoes around 1000 years ago.

So what will a vegetarian experience when visiting NZ?

Any visitor is likely to experience the Maori tradition of a Hangi, an underground oven in which various foods are cooked. The Maori have had a traditionally non-vegetarian diet with a heavy emphasis on seafood and pork. With the Pakeha influence, boiled British fare with an emphasis on meat was the order of the day. Now vegetarians/vegans have greater choice in the larger city centres and tourist spots. Food is generally of good quality and local. Due to its relative isolation (Australia, the closest inhabited land mass, is at least a 3 hour plane ride away across the sometimes treacherous Tasman Sea) NZ has had to be self-sufficient when it comes to growing food. The presence of rich volcanic soil certainly helps in the variety and yield available.

Ice cream is widely popular (NZ often places in the top ten countries with the highest ice cream consumption) and hokey pokey (honeycomb toffee; the stuff inside the Crunchie bar) is considered the national flavour. Hokey Pokey does usually contain gelatin! Beets figure heavily in NZ food (called beetroot locally) and is used much the same way a pickle is used in North America-on burgers, in salad or as a side.

I have to say that I’m a New Zealand-o-phile. If I could live there, even for part of the year, than I would. In fact my dream is to spend Canadian winters in Wellington New Zealand operating a vegetarian Bed n’ Breakfast. This is a work still in progress. Stay tuned…!
For now I dream and reminisce about the many happy food experiences I had there:

  • Burger Fuel – This burger joint gets a nod from the New Zealand Vegetarian Association. They have delicious vegan and vegetarian burgers.
  • The Wild Oats Cafe in Carterton. Carterton is the gateway town to Aoeteoroa Stonehenge. Their beetroot and chocolate cake is amazing and worth a return visit!
  • The gourmet chocolate shops of Bennetts of Mangawhai, Devonport Chocolates and Schoc Chocolates to name a few.
  • Kapiti Coast ice cream – My favourites are lemongrass and ginger, white chocolate raspberry, feijoa and pohutukawa honey.
  • Organic apple and feijoa drink.
  • Date scones
  • Sundried tomato and cashew pesto-totally vegan!
  • Sitting in comfy armchairs drinking vegan wine (I hope) while watching a movie. Yes cinemas in NZ are licensed to serve alcohol.
  • Watties Baked Beans (yes they’re canned but oh so good!)
  • Watties Tomato Sauce i.e. ketchup. This spicy little number puts North American ketchup to shame. It makes Heinz taste like a wimpy dessert rather than a bold accompaniment to french fries. You can make your own (I have) with some tomatoes, apples and spices (including clove).
  • Kiwi 360 – Everything you wondered could be done with kiwifruit and more: jam, wine, mustard, cookies etc.
  • The presence of pumpkin in almost every vegetarian dish offered in cafes.
  • The imagination used in creating vegetarian options where they exist. E.g. mile-high vegetable tarts with generous amounts of sliced vegetables and cheese-free!

Health benefits of NZ locally grown staples:

Kiwifruit-High in fiber and with more potassium than a banana, the kiwifruit is nature’s electrolyte balancing laxative.
Manuka Honey-Sorry vegans but this is good stuff. Antiseptic, -bacterial, -viral etc.
Kumara-New Zealand sweet potato with the usual sweet potato feature: an antioxidant fiber giving vegetable.

Other Food Facts:

  • Feijoa is called the pineapple guava and its tangy sweet taste is ideal for use in jams, chocolate and dessert.
  • Marmite is a yeast extract high in B vitamins. It goes well with cheese (vegetarian or vegan) and gives a nice salty kick to stews, soups and stocks.
  • Pavlova is considered the national dessert of New Zealand. It is basically a meringue (egg whites and sugar) filled with whipped cream and fresh fruit. I am working on developing a vegan version.
  • A flat white is a milky coffee. The dairy can easily be substituted with non-dairy milk. Wellington, the capital city, is considered a place with a ‘cafe culture‘.
  • The Vegan Society of Aotearoa
  • New Zealand Vegetarian Society
  • A Taste of New Zealand Cuisine

*When said with a New Zealand accent, fish & chips sounds like fush & chups.

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All photos by Kimberley, the Itinerant Introvert 2009.

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