To help keep costs down and because we love cooking (and eating!), we prepared as many of our own meals as possible while traveling around New Zealand and Australia in our camper vans. It turned out to be a great decision, as the meat and produce were fresh and delicious almost everywhere we stopped and many of the smaller towns didn’t have appealing (or in some cases, any) restaurants. For the price of a mediocre meal out, we could prepare something more extravagant ourselves.
Our favorite meals revolved around the great meat and produce that both countries had to offer. In both New Zealand and Australia, the beef and lamb appears to be grass fed by default. There is plenty of pastureland and no subsidized corn industry, so the the sheep and cows spend their days in the gorgeous open pastures munching on grass. Happy grass fed animals made yummy meat. (Interestingly, we did just notice a restaurant in Sydney that advertised “grain fed rump steak”. Apparently some prefer the fatty taste of grain fed beef. Not us!)
It did take a little while to figure out and get used to the way that meat is butchered down here. The most common cut of beef is the “Scotch fillet,” which we eventually figured out is the same as an American “ribeye”, although it tends to be cut thinner. We preferred the Porterhouse steaks because because they have less marbled fat and gristle, and were able to find them most places except for the really small towns.
We tried a few different cuts of lamb, but rack is far and away the best (and most expensive). The loin chops were quite good too, but they tended to have a lot of bone and fat so are a little more difficult to deal with. We tried the leg chops once and didn’t like it as much: tougher meat with more fat and connective tissue makes the leg a better candidate for roasting or braising.
Rack of lamb with roasted cauliflower.
It was more difficult to find cuts of pork that we liked; but when we did they were always great. The Kiwis, at least, seem to prefer loin chops with lots of bone, fat and skin. Yes, they leave the skin on the meat (”with rind”)! Maybe the skin fries up nicely, but it made us squeamish and we always cut it off. Not surprisingly, we loved the bacon, and in New Zealand the bacon section in the market was often as big and varied as the sections for lamb and beef.
Although we ate less seafood, the Atlantic Salmon (farmed raised in New Zealand and Tasmania) and the green lipped mussels from New Zealand were really yummy.
Pan-fried Salmon with paprika, green salad, and broccolini.
Most places we stopped had great produce, although it was expensive at times and there was typically less variety than in the US (probably because it was all local rather than shipped in from around the world). Avocados, onions, cucumbers, green beans, asparagus, broccoli and broccolini, cauliflower, and lettuce were all very good. We were surprised at how was difficult to find good garlic: it all seemed to be imported from China and was often old and sprouting. Whenever possible, we stopped at some of the local farms or veggie stands for our produce, as the prices were lower and the selection fresher.
In New Zealand, there was some very good (but also very expensive) cheese. Apparently, parts of Asia are developing a taste for cheese and as a result it has become a big New Zealand export, and to the dismay of the Kiwis, this is driving up the price at home. (I think I heard that the price has tripled in the last few years). The eggs in New Zealand are also amazing…the yolks are a bright orange color and they are super fresh and delicious.
Both of the vans that we rented came equipped with stove, fridge, sink, pots and pans and utensils. It was actually quite liberating to cook and eat with one pan, two plates, two forks, and two cups (Hope’s comment: especially for Jeremy, the “use-every-utensil-in-the-kitchen” type of chef!). We became masters of the “one pot” meals. All holiday parks in New Zealand come equipped with a fully-stocked kitchen, though this is not the case in Australia. Typically, Aussie “caravan parks” only have a barbie (though their barbecues are simply large outdoor metal pans with a hole in the center for drainage). Even in New Zealand, we preferred to cook over our little propane stove, as our camp views were typically much nicer that the inside of a kitchen.
The fridge and storage space were limited in the van, so we shopped every day at times. We bought a few staples to stock our pantry, but overall tried to keep things simple.
- Sea salt flakes
- Black pepper grinder
- Olive oil
- Red wine vinegar
- Red pepper flakes
- Smoked paprika
- Fresh rosemary and thyme