NEW 2015 edition of the Vege Cafe Guide out now!

???????????????????????????????The 2015 edition of A Guide to Vegetarian Cafes in Aotearoa/New Zealand is out now!

The revised and updated edition contains:

  • details of 10 new cafes
  • a total of 60 vegetarian and vegan cafes nationwide
  • highlights where cafes have full disabled facilities, and not just flat access
  • colour coding ethnicity of cafes for ease of choice
  • a sturdier spiral binding and plastic cover

To buy simply go to Buy the Guide 

you’ll find a list of stockists

or you can buy direct through the website.

To receive automatic advice whenever new posts are added to the website, remember to click on the ‘FOLLOW VEGECAFESNZ’ button on this page.


And the best food for our skin is…


fruit mixMy Ayurvedic beauty therapist friend just loves rubbing fresh raw fruit on her face.

If you want clear, glowing skin – and who doesn’t? – she says it’s the best exfoliant. She recommends we use it every two or three days – we can use a slice of lemon or kiwifruit or tomato, or a little plain yoghurt.

Gently rub it into your skin and allow it to rest for 5 – 15 minutes. Remove with a warm cloth.

Why is exfoliation so beneficial? It removes the dead skin cells that block the absorption of your moisturiser, which in turn helps to counteract the dryness that comes from sun and wind.

Everything we put on our skin is absorbed into our body cells, just as is the food we eat, so Ayurveda does not use any skincare that contains artificial chemicals.  Organic fruit and ingredients naturally give optimal benefit.

The principle is that you don’t put anything on your skin at any time that you wouldn’t feel safe to eat. Ayurvedic moisturisers and skin creams reflect this same principle.

And her eye treatments are total bliss. When you use your eyes a lot they can become tired and strained, such as when you’ve been working at the computer or studying, or you’ve been driving for a while, or you’ve been out in the summer heat, and your eyes also become heated. The best way to cool them – and yourself – is to do an eye treatment.

grated cucumberSimply grate some cucumber and place a teaspoon of it on your cotton eye pads, and take a 5 – 10 minute rest. If the eye pads dry out quickly, as they did with me, it means your eyes have been so hot they have already absorbed the cooling liquid, so repeat and – oh bliss – have another short rest.

Not everyone is partial to cucumber, though you don’t have to like the taste to benefit from this treatment. And it isn’t only vegetables that are good for your skin.

Rose oil isn’t just a pretty perfume, and rose water isn’t only used in cooking. They have myriad medicinal uses.

rose waterSo, if you prefer you can soak cotton balls in rose water and rest them on your eyes.

Either way, you feel remarkably refreshed and your eyes – and you – are clearer and you feel calmer and more rested.

And remember you can make a delicate, deliciously scented and cooling rose water spray for your face. Just mix a little rose water concentrate with purified or spring water to taste – you can take that literally! – and use whenever you wish to feel fresh and cool. The spray is an excellent toner too.

The best food for your skin, it seems, is, well … food.


You can order your copy of the 2015 edition ‘ A Guide to Vegetarian Cafes in Aotearoa/New Zealand’ NOW! Includes 10 new cafes nationwide!

How I became a true blue-blood

Mithai sweetsToday I decided to indulge in a little aristocratic fantasy and become a ‘blue blood’. And why not, when its so easy to do?

So I took myself off to Mithai, a small Indian specialist confectionary cafe on the corner of Sandringham and Mt Albert Roads (there’s also a store in Manurewa) to sample a selection of their dainty, perfectly formed silver leaf confectionary.

Made from ground almonds, cashews, coconut, chickpea flour or milk powder, not all the sweets contain silver leaf. Some are fruit shaped – mango and strawberry flavours are popular – they’re quite delicious, and very pretty.

But the paper-thin shimmering silver leaf… silver is a very old therapeutic ingredient that was used by ancient cultures including the Romans, Arabs, Chinese and Sanskrit for its anti-bacterial properties, to treat wounds, and for its soothing effect on the nerves, including peripheral nerve endings. It’s still used in Ayurveda treatments and in skin care for its cooling and healing properties.

And the blue-blood? Well, it seems that aristocrats in many cultures would have their meals served on the finest silver plate, using silver cutlery and silver cooking utensils, and the traces of silver entering the blood stream reputedly gave it, literally, a blue tint.

See? – I said becoming a blue blood was easy!

More on the virtues of eating silver leaf

‘Let your food be your medicine’

The 2015 edition of A Guide to Vegetarian Cafes is due out this month.

Why chillis have that feel-good factor

Sabudana Vada copyI needed a lunchtime snack for a pick-me-up after some meetings last week so called in at Ras Vatika in Dominion Road. The owner-chef of this tiny Indian cafe smiles and reaches for a Sabudana Vada (sago pattie, $1.80) when she sees me coming.

These lively patties are a delicious mix of soft and crunchy textures, slightly sweet with a light chilli hit. They’re made from spiced mashed potato with sago and peanuts, so are gluten free (sago is made from tapioca root). And the chilli is as good as a caffeine hit, and better for you.

If you can handle chilli, it really is true that it has a feel-good factor. As your body defends itself against the heat of a hot chilli it releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers, and that leaves you with a bit of a natural ‘high’. Which explains why so many people who like chillis find them addictive!

Chillis also contain Vitamin C, B-complex, and a host of other minerals and vitamins, along with anti-bacterial properties.

Lots more about the health benefits of chillis here

Coming soon: the updated edition of ‘A Guide to Vegetarian Cafes in Aotearoa/New Zealand’

Food is our medicine: Turmeric

Indian Turmeric Abstract“Medicines derived from plants have played a pivotal role in the health care of both ancient and modern cultures,” says the WHO. One of the prime sources of plant-derived medicines is spices. Turmeric, for example, has been consumed over the centuries around the world.

Turmeric is the dried powdered root stalks of the turmeric plant—a member of the ginger family—from which the orangey-yellow pigment curcumin can be extracted. The spice turmeric is what makes curry powder yellow, and curcumin is what makes turmeric yellow. Because it is so drying and heating in the body, turmeric needs to be used judiciously – one part turmeric to 6 parts cumin, fennel or especially coriander, which are cooling.

This article in Autumn Leaves explains why turmeric is important and when it can be beneficial.

The Blue Bird sings – and for longer hours

BlueBird extThere’s a shortage of Kiwi-fare vege cafes open for dining in the evenings, especially on Saturday nights. So I was delighted to hear last week that Dominion Road’s The Blue Bird is now opening to 9pm on several weekday evenings and trialling a later time open on Saturdays until 9pm – at least for now. Whether they continue these later hours will depend on how busy they become.

Sometimes what you want in a meal is really good quality comfort food. Something tasty but not too spicy, filling but not heavy. At The Blue Bird, whether you’re vegan, lacto-vegetarian, vegetarian, or gluten-free, they cover all the bases.

Blue Bird interiorIn addition to their standard menu – and their tofu burger is the best in town – they have a cabinet with a changing array of hot and cold foods, cakes and sweets, all made in house. (Including the focaccia bread for the tofu burger, and yes they do a gluten-free version). I have shared a slice of their pineapple and coconut cake with a friend and we found it delicious, especially when the sweetness was balanced with a little plain yoghurt. Their coffee is excellent.

Early on this hot February evening I enjoyed a generous serving of Hazelnut Loaf, made with lentils, herbs and rice flour bread and served with their own tomato and onion sauce($9.50). Vegan and gluten-free, it was truly comfort food. I could have added a side of Roast Vege Salad or Thai Ginger Slaw, but in fact would have liked a crisp light green salad to add a little crunchy summertime perfection.

Blueberrycheescake-BlueBirdThe Loaf was filling but the Blueberry Cheesecake looked irresistible, so I took a slice home ($6.20). Egg free and gluten free, it was nevertheless a real cheesecake, complete with sweet biscuit base and tangy/sweet blueberry glaze, to which I added a little plain yoghurt. And it wasn’t overly rich, as are many of the raw food cheesecakes being made with ground almonds and/or cashews and coconut oil.

The cafe is open from 8am Monday to Saturday. It closes at 3pm Monday and Wednesday and is open until 9pm on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Saturday evening bookings are recommended if possible to assist. You’ll find the menu on their website

Remember to sign up for our new monthly VegeCafesNZ Newsletter for featured cafes and other useful tips.

Whanganui’s The Petre Dish is a whole lot of goodness

Petre Dish cafeTravelling through Whanganui this summer? Why not visit The Petre Dish. It’s not only vegan and healthy, it is also thoughtfully designed to welcome people who have mobility problems.

The menu is based around whole plant based food, and avoids dairy, meat, eggs, and allergens such as gluten and seafood. There’s no fried food and they avoid using refined sugars.

The signature dish is a lentil and pumpkin lasagne, and the menu includes cottage pie, as well as buckwheat pancakes with cashew pear cream, a pumpkin and cashew curry, salads (above), and bliss balls made from activated nuts and dried fruit. And complementing the menu is a range of juices, blends and smoothies, with T2 infused tea, and Cafe L’affaire plunger coffee.

There’s more good news for people who have limited mobility as the cafe has wheelchair access, via a ramp with a one to twelve gradient. This ramp goes from ground level and rises by 300mm over a ramp that is 5 metres in length – the owners say there have been plenty of customers in wheelchairs to date. The door has a soft close function to enable easy access with wheel chairs, and the table height can be adjusted to suit customers needs.

There’s a disabled park right outside plus one across the road. Standard parking is available all along Taupo Quay.

PetreDish-2The owners note that their business is centred around wellness. Go to their website (below) to see more on the food offered in the cafe (left), which is supported by the yoga studio and the lifestyle clinic. They are able to offer chair yoga classes for those who are aged or impaired physically, and this allows aged and impaired people to enjoy the yoga experience.

39 Taupo Quay (between I-site and city bridge), Whanganui | T 06 348 7300 | Tue-Fri 9am-3pm; Sat 9.30am-2.30pm. Closed Sun, Mon and public holidays. |



The down-to-earth astringent good taste

This is the lucky last in our series on the five good tastes. Although of course its really the sixth – recognised as a separate taste by some food cultures and not others – and definitely worth exploring!

They say a little bit of what you don’t like must be good for you – that’s certainly the case for many people with the sixth taste: astringent foods!

Fortunately, there are very few foods that have a predominantly astringent taste. Mostly it’s a secondary characteristic (apart from unripe bananas) – many if not most foods have more than one taste characteristic – and the astringent quality is usually not the main one.

This ispomegranate_picture so with the colourful, exotic pomegranate (left), and also with cranberries, crab apples and quinces, all of which have a sour component as well as being astringent. As an example of the health benefits of foods, pomegranates are rich in Vitamin C, are a good source of many vital B-complex groups of vitamins such as pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5), folates, pyridoxine, and vitamin K, and minerals like calcium, copper, potassium, and manganese – that’s a lot of goodness in a single fruit!

Fenugreek seeds are astringent, as is the tannin in tea. Many green veges have an astringent component, such as silver beet.

Thai laksaIf you enjoy Thai and other South-east Asian cuisine, such as this Thai laksa (left) you’ll know that their dishes are distinctly comprised of sour, hot and astringent tastes.

So what are some of the virtues of including a little astringent food in your life?

Astringent foods have a contracting effect and can slow down digestion (in herbology, astringent herbs in a concentrated form are used for constricting blood vessels to slow down haemorrhages). The essential nature is cooling in your body, and it’s closely related to the pungent effect.

cup-of-teaUsed in small amounts, an astringent taste can promote a ‘no-nonsense’ approach – a let’s-get-down-to-basics perspective that can be usefully grounding at times – and explains the enduring value of a good cup of tea after a trying day!


And if you’re wondering what to do with a fresh pomegranate – I was certainly puzzled at first by this exotic fruit – try leaving the fruit whole and rolling it firmly back and forth on a hard surface to soften its flesh. Then cut it in half and squeeze out the refreshing juice. The seeds are edible too, and crunchy, and leave a slightly dry sensation in your mouth, which is precisely the effect astringent foods have in your body – they’re a little drying, which is beneficial if you’re inclined to retain fluid.

Summing it up

Ayurvmeal-2Most foods have a combination of tastes. Most people have definite preferences for certain tastes. One type of food, or one type of meal, does not suit all. Both macrobiotic and Ayurvedic traditions are inclined to have the cook place their range of dishes on the table and diners choose the foods and amounts – and tastes! – that most suit their individual needs.

One of the delights of being vegetarian is how sensitive your taste becomes to the natural qualities of different foods – not merely a matter of pleasing the palate, but instead your palate becomes a guide to what your body really needs. It can take a while to re-learn this. If you feel unsatisfied after a meal, and it isn’t to do with the quantity, perhaps you’re instinctively seeking a missing taste that will provide the physiological and emotional stimulus your body needs.

And once you become aware of the possibilities, the world is your pomegranate…

The ‘wake-up call’ of the sour good taste

The fifth taste – but not quite the last – has a definite ‘wake-up’ effect at any time, not just after the more closed-in chill of winter.

The sour taste belongs to the spring season.

When yoLemons&thymeu think of the spring harvest veges, note how they have a little bit of ‘zing’ (or sometimes a lot!) – spring onions, chives, lemons (left), celery, sprouts, tomatoes, and you can add tamarind, short pickles, umeboshi plums, any plums, and fermented food such as sauerkraut and yoghurt.

Yoghurt is especially interesting. Made with whole milk so it retains the proteins, it not only provides the benefits of dairy products along with those of the sour taste, but like all fats it aids the digestion of legumes. This is why the traditional use of legumes in most cultures includes an accompanying dressing – olive oil, tahini, sour cream, cheese, and so on. Yoghurt contains acidophillus which is regarded as valuable for intestinal health, especially after the use of antibiotics as it assists in the restoration of the healthy bacteria which have been inadvertently destroyed.

The sweet version of dairy in cooking is ghee (clarified butter). Ayurveda uses only soft dairy – yoghurt (sour), ghee and paneer or panir (a cottage cheese), which is also sweet. In Indian vegetarian cafes, Butter Paneer (below) in a creamy spiced tomato sauce is as popular as Butter Chicken is for non-vegetarians, and there are many subtle variations on this theme.

butter_paneer_masalaPaneer is so easy to make. Simply heat gently 2 litres of whole milk until it just begins to simmer, stirring so it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan; remove from the heat and add 2 – 4 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar. Stir for a couple of minutes as it literally curdles the milk (start with 2 tblsp and add more as needed), and watch as the curds and whey separate. Then strain it all through cheesecloth and allow the curds to set. You can eat it fresh, or sauté in slices, or add to sauces. Paneer will keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days, covered so it doesn’t dry out. The whey can be used as a stock for soups or sauces: be mindful that it contains a little sourness from the lemon or vinegar.

Springtime grains include oats, wheat, rye and pearl barley, and the legume is soybeans. Soybeans are regarded as one of the least digestible of legumes so in most traditional cultures they are usually put through a fermentation process to produce tofu and tempeh, natto and miso.


The relevant springtime seaweed is wakame, which resembles sea lettuce and needs little preparation. For a wakame salad (left) simply soak a small amount of the dried seaweed in cold water for 5 – 10 minutes (and I do mean a small amount,  as wakame will swell to several times its dried size), drain, and its ready to slice and use. Mix with salad veges and toss with a very light dressing, such as rice wine vinegar with a tiny pinch of salt – no oil needed – done! 

I noted some Spiral brand wakame in a health food shop today, so would add that to my preferred brand of Mitoku, along with the US Eden brand of macrobiotic supplies.

Preferred springtime cooking styles are quick sauté and boiling.

Sour foods stimulate digestion and have a mild warming effect on your body. As you’d expect from the season, spring foods have a rising energy; you may have noticed that a little bit of sour food can have a ‘wake-up’ effect on you. The positive energies are inspirational, with humour and a refreshing sense of realism; the negative qualities are anger, frustration, envy and ‘sour grapes’. Balance, as with anything in life, is crucial.

The most frequent colour of spring foods – no surprises here – is green. Though that doesn’t explain the deep reds of tamarind and tomatoes!

Nori-avocado-rollsOf course, we instinctively combine some tastes every time we cook a meal. Even a simple nori roll (left) can contain all five tastes – short grain rice (pungent), shoyu or soy sauce (salty), wasabe (pungent), ginger (pungent, sometimes sweetened with sugar), avocado (sweet), nori (bitter), and spring onion and/or umeboshi plum (sour). Just add a little protein and salad to your place and it’s a winner.

We do tend to stick to the tastes we’re most comfortable with, although for a whole bunch of health reasons – because these foods have different elements our bodies need – we do need to get out of our comfort zones just a little. Really good cooks understand this and know how to use the full range of tastes.

Next blog: number 6 – the down-to-earth astringent good taste


The salt-of-the-earth good taste

Salt… we can’t live without it – literally!

There are a number of ways we can view healthy eating. Modern science examines food in terms of nutritional content and counts calories or quantities of fat or carbohydrates.

Traditional societies established a foundation of healthy nutrition from trial and error over many centuries. There is much to be learned from their wisdom. Using the five (or six, depending on your point of view) essential tastes is one of the guides to happy eating:  bitter, sweet, pungent, salty and sour, with an optional sixth – astringent.

Salt scoopSoldiers in the Roman empire received part of their wages in salt, which is where the word ‘salary’ comes from. Salt is that important to our survival.

Salt has had a bad press for many years, with some good reason considering the standard modern processed and fast-food diet and its devastating health effects. Happily, whatever the reasons that have determined we become vegetarian, once we start that journey we have a growing awareness of the value of healthy natural food. The problem for some vegetarians can be in getting enough salt. We don’t need much, but we do need some, and it’s more than just a matter of suiting our palate.

Salt is associated with winter and has a warming energy. Veges classified as salty include fermented foods such as miso and shoyu, and long time pickles, which are all used in small amounts just like salt itself. Also hard leafy greens.

Deep, cold, salt water – think of the ocean and you’ll understand that the related seaweed is the hardy kombu (below), or deep sea kelp.

Macrobiotic cooking does not use dairy or indeed much of any oil but recognises and deals with the issue of indigestibility of legumes by Kombuadding a small piece of kombu while they’re cooking. The kombu helps to break down the liptase inhibitor, which is what makes beans hard to digest. A good quality kombu such as the Japanese Mitoku brand will likely dissolve into the cooking liquid and flavour it; if it stays in one piece it will be soft and delicious to eat as it is – cook’s treat!

All sea weeds contain iodine, which is essential for healthy thyroid function. Lack of iodine can cause low-grade chronic fatigue, among other symptoms. A little-known fact about iodine is that when your natural iodine intake is insufficient, your body will take it from any source, including radioactive iodine resulting from the emissions of nuclear power. The increased rate of thyroid cancer is linked to the release of these radioactive elements. But natural iodine protects you – when a thyroid is fully loaded with natural iodine it blocks the uptake of radioactive Iodine 131. There’s more about the benefits of seaweeds here

Like all edible sea vegetables, kombu has many virtues, and this one includes binding with heavy metals such as lead to remove them from your body. Kombu is also a good source of fibre, Vitamins C & Vit K, pantothenic acid, zinc, copper, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese. That’s a whole lot wrapped up in one small package!

Buckwheat flowerWinter grains include buckwheat (left) – think of where it has been most widely grown, in the Himalayas, Northern Europe and Russia, and the need for hardy, warming grains to deal with their harsh winters. Incidentally, although buckwheat is regarded as a cereal it is technically not a grain but a member of the grass family, so is gluten free.

The most warming of the legumes are the small red aduki beans.

Wintertime cooking styles are long slow cooking such as baking, or using more water as in heartening winter soups, so remember to add a strip of kombu to your soup or casserole pot; after slow cooking a while it will almost dissolve into the mix with all its minerals and other goodies.

All these foods and slow cooking styles have the effect of aiding digestion.  Not all warming food has to be cooked for a long time to be effective – take miso, which has already been fermented for anything up to two years, and is ready for virtually instant use. Who doesn’t love a bowl of delicious light miso soup (below) on a chilly day?

miso-soupA small bowl of clear miso soup typically begins a macrobiotic meal, and those busy little digestive enzymes in the miso are much more effective than a glass of red wine. Plus its so quick and easy to make. Here’s a recipe for a mushroom variation, though you can leave the  mushrooms out if you wish and make the basic clear soup

And a tip about miso, which is most valuable when its added at the very end of cooking: place your miso in a small bowl and add a little of the warm stock. Mix into a sloppy paste, then when you stir the warm miso paste back into the soup pot, reheat it very gently until the miso just floats to the surface, very like champagne bubbling, and it’s done – too much heat will destroy those valuable digestive enzymes.

And another tip – the most versatile miso is Mugi, which is made from barley; it’s also the sweetest of the dark savoury miso types.

Used in balance, salt contributes to a flexible, adaptable personality, with courage, a sense of adventure and a sense of purpose. Too much salt produces rigidity, not just in our arteries, but in our thinking. In excess it is also regarded as being able to push our adrenal glands, sometimes to excess performance.

Salt can be addictive – look how hard it is to stop at just a couple of salted chippies or corn chips or salted nuts. And as we all know, too much salt results in too much moisture or fluid retention.

Next up: the ‘wake-up’ call of the sour good taste