When travelling to a new city, it is interesting to pick up a local newspaper and – language permitting – become acquainted with the local scandals and affairs. The first ‘Dominion Post’ (covering Wellington and North Island) I scrolled through had three interesting articles in it. The first was about kindergarten children being given gun licences; the second about two women burning the cheating boyfriend’s clothes in the microwave; and the third about the bunless ‘Double Down’ burger coming to New Zealand. Since I arrived almost at the same time as the burger, I could observe how the story unfolded, and how it caused sensation and controversy (with the sale raising at some point to 35.000 in one day). The burger drama, however, was a mere smokescreen. New Zealand is an astonishingly health conscious place, where organic dairy free sugarless bunnies are dancing on green elvish meadows in the non-radioactive air (although partially under the depleted ozone layer).
First of all, there are no nuclear plants in New Zealand – a fact that I, coming from Japan, greeted with an understandable cheer. Even more luckily, the popular New Zealand fruit, feijoas (feijoa sellowiana), are high in iodine. You cannot avoid feijoas anymore than you can avoid green tea in Japan, so I hope that any radioactive particles I might have acquired were washed away with feijoas-ice cream and Lothlorien Dry Feijoa Sparkling Wine.
Bare-foot hippies giving away free apples on Cuba Street could have been a clue. But it still had not dawned on me until I took a close look at the little shampoos and soaps provided by the serviced apartments in which we stayed during our first month in Wellington. Clinging onto the remains of my SLS and paraben free shampoo, I was carrying the small bottles into the bin when … wait a second! Natural Earth 100% vegetable based Manuka Honey & Harakeke Oil soap in a 100% degradable packaging? What kind of hotel gives to its residents something like this?
But neither ‘Dine Desire’ eco-friendly food for cats nor the ethical nutrients debate surprised me as much as the gluten free paradise I discovered first in Wellington, and then in the rest of the country. I never came across anything like this before, and I have travelled a lot. As someone on a gluten free diet I know how difficult eating out could be. But not in New Zealand!
According to Gill Keuskamp, president of Coeliac New Zealand, a non-profit organization which has been running since 1973, the disease affects 1% of the population. That makes 40 thousands coeliacs. Their life in New Zealand may be grain-less (they have to watch out for the crossed grain logo on the food packages) – but other than that, it is rather sweet. Especially when you consider cakes from Fidel’s Café.
I cannot stress enough how absolutely amazing this is. Heaven, Hell and Domino Pizza all have gluten free pizzas on their menu. You have to pay 1 or 2 $ more for this option, but hey! You do not have to go to a ‘free from’ section in a supermarket and make your pizza at home, but you can eat it out, or order it as a take-away. The Burgerfuel chain (currently spreading into the Middle East and having opened their first shop in Iraq on the 7th of May) has vegan, gluten free burgers. And it is not an expensive place, but a mainstream fast-food chain for teenagers. I scoffed eggs on gluten free toasts in a middle-of-nowhere stop for truck-drivers on the South Island, and had a gluten free lunch with cake in the earthquake-ruined Christchurch. In every cafeteria, deli or bakery you can choose from various gf options – and if you decide to go online, you can find more than 900 products on sale. Almost everyone I have met had a coeliac husband, wife, daughter, parent or friend. You can also buy a gluten-test (I do not know how accurate) and check your intolerance (if you think you have one) at home. The gluten (or lack of it) presence is so omnipotent, than even my cake-eating husband started wondering about his own well-being and hinted on having himself tested (that idea did not survive meeting a wheat laden carrot cake). I am sure that even elves from Rivendell (Kaitoke Regional Park, Upper Hut) ate gluten free lembas bread.
After struggling with the Japanese ‘ingredients’ lists which were, well, in Japanese, I found New Zealand almost too easy. And it is not only the abundance of the gluten free foodstuff – the quality is also great. So, if you have any food allergies or intolerances – you will find your safe dining table there. But watch out – you may soon discover you are growing a pakunei, which is Maori for a protuberant, or – in other words – a very big belly.