24 March 2012

New Zealand: traveling vegan

Guess what guess what guess what!  Just guess!


You know all that stuff that everyone always says about it, like, "Everything is beautiful," and, "They have so many protected wilderness areas," and, "Everybody is just so NICE," right?  It's all true.  100%.

In case you're wondering (because I know you are), plane tickets are $2000, even when you find a super great deal on a travel site for $1500.  Because you'll buy those cheaper tickets... and then the agent will wait two months and tell you the airlines changed your flight, so you have to spend $400 to change your tickets back to what they had been in the first place.  JEEZ.  It sucked.  But it was our honeymoon.  So we didn't nurse that wound forever.

Other than that expense, there's only one other downside to New Zealand: lack of vegan fare.  NZ is doing loads better than the US in terms of animal agriculture - just drive all over the country like we did and you'll see loads of happy sheep eating grass so green it's practically neon.  For this reason, people there don't worry about their food animals.  The dairy industry is thriving.  Veganism is on the fringe.  SO fringey.  You gotta basically use your Lonely Planet guide or the Googleywebs to find a restaurant with a vegetarian option or two, then finesse the server into bringing it to you without cheese.

First, let me praise our airline - V Australia - for offering delicious vegan food.  On the website I was able to pick our seats, then choose our meals from an extensive pull-down menu.  One choice was vegan, but there were also options such as vegetarian Hindu and straight-up vegetarian.  Matt enjoyed his Hindu meals.  I loved my vegan meals.  These flights were 12-13 hours long (LAX to Brisbane), so we got 3 meals each way.  I received yummy salads, bread, stewed veggies, juice, rice, and even biscuits.  Dude.  I was impressed.

Because we took this trip before I started blogging, I regret to inform you that I have virtually no food pictures to show you.  Bear with me.  What I DO have are amazing pictures unrelated to food, courtesy of Captain Adventure.

Queenstown: it's like Aspen, but on a lake.  We looked out the window as our plane drifted to the ground and thought: we could live here.  Take one whiff of that crisp mountain air and your jetlag will vaporize.  We were SO excited to be there that the bags under our eyes vanished and every step was a leap of happiness.

Our first NZ meal occurred at Bella Cucina.  ADORABLE.  I got butternut squash risotto, but I had to ask the server to please make it dairy free.  Worked out well.  Mm.  Then we got our bill, laid down a 20% tip as usual, and went about our business.

When we got back to our hotel later that night, I discovered in my trusty Lonely Planet that the food prices in NZ include the tip.  You don't HAVE to tip.  Um...  So that's why my risotto was 28.5NZD.  Glad we figured that out early!

@Thai was our next Queenstown dinner adventure.  As always, ethnic food is often simpler to veganize.  I had a delicious spicy curry.  Matt and I enjoyed the view out the second-storey window - did I mention Queenstown is gorgeous?  Actually, to be honest, our focal point was the hostel across the street with floor-to-ceiling windows.  It was like watching an ant farm.

Then: Indian.  Elaichi was adamantly recommended to us by a couple different locals, and we had a hell of a time finding it.  It's inside a mall, but you have to go up some stairs and down others and out the door and up the wall and down the rabbit hole and finally, after clicking your heels and spinning, you'll find it.  And when you taste your food, you'll know it was all worth it.  This was possibly the best meal we had on the whole trip, and so easily veganized.  Thank you, Queenstown.  When I move there, I'll eat at Elaichi every day.

Glenorchy:  We took a fantastic Pure Glenorchy tour (we saw the Dead Marshes and stuff!), which was worth every cent.  When I signed us up, I requested a vegan meal and I had no expectations.  They gave me a really good sandwich!  The bread was especially moist and dense.  We ate in Isengard.  There were hobbits.  I mean sheep.

Te Anau:  After a magical speedboat ride, we ate in an adorable coffee house/Japanese restaurant in Te Anau called the Pop Inn Cafe.  The ice cream case said, "SORRY NO TASTE TASTING."  The Engrish burned our eyes, so we looked the other way.  This was our view out the window.  We sat on stools and soaked it up.

A New Zealand winter is a cold experience, dear readers.  Not because it gets particularly cold compared to Minnesota, but because you spend so much time outside admiring the scenery and then, when you finally go inside, there's no central heating.  Anywhere.  Thus, we turned to tea.  I snagged a soy chai - yum!  Matt got soup with tofu and noodles, but unfortunately it was made with dashi (fish) broth.

Waitomo:  'Member how my intestines and cheese got into a fight?  Huhu is where it started.  I was like, can't we all just get along?  And my intestines were like, dude, we'll be fine, and then the next day the cheese was like, I &%$#ING HATE YOU ALLI.  Cool.  Well, the restaurant's... nice...

Huhu has since taken what I ordered off the menu, but it was risotto cakes.  They were shaped into balls, glued together with - gulp - cheese, and deep fried.  If you were to wind up there, I think you could find something else to order.

Rotorua:  HA!  You'll love this.  Matt and I love sushi, as you may know.  During the honeymoon, we were in our avocado rolls phase, where we'd just go out and get six rolls of the stuff and be totally satiated.  Well, we figured we could do the same thing in Rotorua!  We wandered into a highly recommended Japanese restaurant and told the server we'd like six avocado rolls.

Yes, plain avocado.

No, no other veggies.

Yes, SIX of them.  We do this all the time.  It'll be great!

Finally we convinced her that yes, we really DID want this order.  Next time we saw her, she landed two gargantuan avocado-mayonnaise rolls in front of us.  And I mean enormous.  We quickly requested the rest be made with no mayo, and we shortly had all six - freakishly large - avocado rolls.

The first ones were okay, but as we kept eating, we realized the avocado was not ripe.  The chef must have only had one or two fresh avocados and used hard ones for the rest of our rolls.  So we tried to be polite to our server by choking down as many as we could.  But we couldn't finish.  So we got a take-away box and pretended we'd eat them later.

Happily, no digestive issues ensued.

Rotorua redeemed itself: Fat Dog Cafe provided us with an INCREDIBLE meal.  The fantastic food is enhanced by the artistic coffee shop ambience.  And joy of joys: the menu is full of vegetarian options!  I even ate a vegan panini!  Oh, Rotorua, I forgive you for the sushi.  Just let me eat at Fat Dog every day.

PS, Rotorua smells like farts.

Moving on...

Whakatane:  We took a White Island Volcano Tour.  It was unreal!  Once again the hospitality and kindness of New Zealanders amazed me.  Because I'd told them I'm vegan, they fed me vegan food for lunch.  Well, vegetarian.  I scraped the mayo off my sandwich and I was back in business.

Hamilton:  City Centre B&B did us well for breakfast.  If I told you how much of that granola I ate, I'd have to kill you.

Matamata:  I FED A LAMB.  You guys.  It was my lifelong dream come true.  And if you take the Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tour, you too can has fun with lamb.  Wookit its widdle face.  Adoo doo doo.

Clearly, vegan + cute animal = MINDLESS BLISS.

The Shire's Rest Cafe, where the tour meets, has some vegan options on the menu!  I didn't eat any of them.  I was busy.  Did you not see the picture?

Wellington:  What an amazing city.  If I lived in NZ, I think it'd have to be here.  Not only is it super fun and pretty, but it's also way more vegan-friendly than the rest of the country.  On our first day here, we took the Wellington Movie Tour and had an absolute blast!  I pulled the hi-I'd-like-to-book-your-tour-and-by-the-way-I'm-vegan trick again and was served a Subway salad at lunch.  Kind of lame, but better than nothing, and the rest of the tour was worth it.  Cause, uh... we got to see Rivendell.  BAM.

We spent both our mornings in Wellington at a little gem we stumbled upon called Victoria Street Cafe.  We had chais (OMG YOU ARE SO SURPRISED) and I got to have delicious oatmeal porridge!  There's something about well-prepared breakfast foods that is SO lovely.  KK Malaysian was a great find, too.  We got yummy spicy noodle curries - this place is touted as Wellington's best Malaysian restaurant.

Christchurch:  Poor Christchurch, all full of earthquakes.  It was definitely a great place to visit.  Orari B&B fed us well in the morning, and we took a Hassle-Free Tour and - TA-DA! - I had requested a vegan lunch and by jove, that's what I got.  Plus we went to Edoras.  Jeez.  Perfect day.

AND THEN... we had to go home.

Overall, I fared well, but not ideally.  I made sure to stock up on granola bars and fruit whenever we swung by a grocery store.  What helped the most, though, was the super kind attitude of every New Zealander we encountered.  If I had the chance, I would go back in a second.

Plus, I don't know if you noticed, but I got to FEED A LAMB.

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