When people ask me what's so great about New Zealand and why I'm always singing it's praises, there are three things I tell them about; the wonderfully kind people, the amazing scenery, and the delicious FOOD!
Having spent a little under three months traveling around the islands, I can say it was a delightful food experience both in 2005 before understanding my gluten intolerance and in 2011 after going gluten free. Everywhere I ate, on both visits, had a tremendous focus on serving real fresh food made with local ingredients - making eating gluten free infinitely easier. While there are many memorable food experiences which have even influenced the way I eat today (including my discovery of muesli), I thought I'd share five which stand out the most in my memory.
The Green-Lipped Mussel
After enjoying these in a seafood chowder on my first visit in 2005, no other varieties seem to compare. Especially since New Zealand green-lipped mussels are huge and can even grow to just over nine inches in length. While it's been almost exactly three years since I last enjoyed one of these tasty morsels - I can still recall their meaty and smooth taste.
My favorite place to enjoy green-lipped mussels is at The Patriot in Devonport - it's just a short ferry ride across the bay from Auckland on the North Island. The above photo is the plain mussels served in a Thai Green Curry and Lemongrass broth.
Something I've ever noticed as a prominent menu item elsewhere in my travels (at least other than in pie form), pumpkin appears on menus all over New Zealand. Since I'm always up for trying dishes with with out of the norm vegetables - I ordered it every chance I got. From pumpkin filled ravioli, to pumpkin soup at my local cafe, to sautéed fresh off the farm white pumpkin - I loved seeing all the ways this squash was used across the country.
Fish & Chips
In terms of both gluten free and not, the fish and chips in New Zealand are the best I've ever had. Back in 2005, I remember enjoying them from road side stands along the east coast of the North Island, served out of a window wrapped in newspaper. I just love that kind of simplicity.
Returning in 2011, I sought out Drift Cafe on the Kapti Coast where I could enjoy a safe gluten free version of the dish I remembered so well. While the fish was equally delicious it did not come wrapped in the traditional newspaper, but the fries still did!
One of my favorite food experiences during my 2005 visit was eating a feast made in the traditional Maori style of a hāngi. It's a pit dug into the ground, lined with hot rocks, and then a variety of meats and hearty vegetables like carrots, sweet potato, and oh, pumpkin again are placed in wire baskets on top of the rocks. Heavy cloth is draped over and the whole kit and caboodle is slow cooked to perfection.
While I've never been much of a meat eater, the lamb and chicken cooked in the hāngi was mouth-watering good and the vegetables perfectly cooked. In some parts of the country, like Rotorua - hāngi's can also be created to use the natural thermal steam coming from underneath the surface.
Alright, this last one might be a bit silly - given that most other countries around the world have lower drinking ages than the United States, but having the opportunity to have dinner at a pub before my 21st birthday made my 2005 experience way better. Some of my best memories from that trip come from fun times in great pubs with my fellow students - listening to fantastic live music, having a special drink created for me (we called it the Kiwi Iwi), and eating delicious food. The pubs in New Zealand serve some darn good food - see the first item on this list for an example.
And yes, that picture on the right is me enjoying a gluten-filled beer - hopefully the gluten free mojito on the right will return the balance on the site (these are also from 2005 - before understanding my gluten intolerance). In case you're wondering about gluten free options in New Zealand's pubs - I enjoyed plenty of non-beer beverages (NZ has great wine - or so I'm told), the drink specially made for me was gluten free - the Kiwi Iwi, and often ordered great salads and seafood that were plenty safe. Again, I'd highly recommend the Patriot in Devonport - they were great in 2005 and in 2011 with addressing my newly understood food restrictions.