Anyone new to vegetarianism or vegetarianism in New Zealand will be sure to wonder – what constitutes common New Zealand vegetarian foods? It’s easy to imagine the dishes of other countries, particularly with a strong cultural, historical or religious basis of vegetarianism. The truth is that just like with our omnivorous food, New Zealand doesn’t really have a specific vegetarian national food identity. Like our social demographic, our cuisine is informed by the many different international groups we have living here. From takeaways and restaurants to home cooking, Kiwi palates encompass a range of different food styles and origins, and they can go from country to country every night of the week.
Popular types include Asian varieties such as Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese. In all major supermarkets you’ll be able to find the ingredients required to recreate the authentic tastes at home. Most Kiwi households have some kind of curry on regular rotation, although sometimes it is a mix of different types. Without a strict cultural basis, this kind of mix-and-match cooking is very common in New Zealand. English and American dishes also form a large part of our cultural legacy, and roasts, pies and casseroles are a frequent staple that many will have learned from their parents.
With so many different cultural influences, there are a range of ingredients to base a dish on. Beans and lentils, noodles, potatoes, rice and quinoa, tofu and processed soy products are all equally available and utilised as vegetarian meal mainstays. This translates into vegetarian versions of a number of international favourites, including soups, burgers, salads and puddings. Pasta is also very common, from lasagne to spaghetti, often using zucchini, potato or kumara in place of meat.
At the end of the day New Zealand is defined by its diversity, and so are its vegetarian foods. Every household is different and contains a unique repertoire, depending on the cultural influences within. Generally a mix of different cooking styles will be used in different proportions – perhaps mostly English with Chinese and Indian thrown in, or mostly South Asian with a few nights a week of Mexican. There is no standard definition of New Zealand cooking, so for anyone looking to make the change or any vegetarian planning to visit here, there is no cut and dry list of vegetarian foods. With its abundant natural produce, wide variety of influences and open-mindedness to new food types however, it’s a country where a vegetarian diet is a fluid but not all together difficult thing to establish.
To be honest, “traditional” Kiwi food (i.e. the same thing they eat back in England) is dull, bland and terrible for vegetarians. It’s lucky we have a strong immigrant culture or we’d be living on potatoes and beans for meal staples. Embracing Asian cuisine is the best thing we can do.