A Cook Islands Guide for Gluten-Free Diets and Coeliac Disease
Here we go again; another trip another dietary minefield! Luckily, the island that most visit in the Cook Islands, Rarotonga, is not only prepared for gluten-free diets but it’s actually a delight for those who are gluten intolerant! You’ll find that like in Westernised countries, menus on Rarotonga and Aitutaki are labelled with gluten-free options (well, at least half the time), making it easy to stick to a gluten-free diet. If you have a more serious intolerance to gluten, however, there are some extra precautions you’ll need to take, which we cover in this complete gluten-free guide to Rarotonga and the Cook Islands!
5 Tips for Gluten-Free Dining in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
Before we get into the heavy stuff, here’s a summary of the guide in five quick tips:
- Most cafes and restaurants have gluten-free options that are well labelled on menus about half of the time, so it’s best to know yourself what you can and cannot eat
- There may be traces of gluten in food labelled “GF” in cafes and restaurants, as all of a restaurant’s food is typically prepared in the same kitchen
- Completely intolerant to gluten? Let your resort/accommodation know your dietary circumstances before booking to see how their restaurant can ensure there are options for you
- Self-catering is the safest option for those with coeliac disease, as gluten-free ingredients are readily available in supermarkets, especially on Rarotonga
- Note that many of the traditional foods of the Cook Islands are free from gluten, such as ika mata, rukau and poke – so don’t be afraid to be adventurous and attend an “island night” buffet or Progressive Dinner Tour (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).
Rarotonga and the Cook Islands with Coeliac Disease
Of course, the most serious form of gluten intolerance is coeliac disease, which comes with the most challenges. While many restaurants in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands will happily claim “gluten-free” on their menus, there’s no telling whether there could be cross-contamination with wheat products, so precautions need to be taken depending on how intolerant to gluten you are.
If staying at a resort with a restaurant, we recommend contacting the resort prior to booking. Some resorts, like the Pacific Resort Rarotonga and Pacific Resort Aitutaki, can organise a meeting with the head chef on arrival to curate a menu for you taking your needs into account. You can also take this approach with restaurants across the island, particularly the fine dining restaurants that are willing to put in the extra service.
On the outer less-visited islands, such as Mangaia, Atiu, Mitiaro, Mauke and the Northern Group, you are typically hosted in accommodation with meals provided. As you’ll be one of the only or very few people staying at the accommodation, hosts are typically happy to cater to dietary requirements, especially gluten-free as the typical Cook Islands diet outside of Rarotonga is certainly not heavy on the gluten – take a look at the Traditional Rarotongan Food: 10 Foods to Try in the Cook Islands to get an idea of what they eat.
Alternatively (or additionally), cooking your own meals is a safe way to make sure that your gluten-free needs are seen to. There are plenty of gluten-free ingredients in Rarotonga’s supermarkets. You may have to take your own supplies to the outer islands. Find out more about self-catering in the “Gluten-Free Self-Catering in the Cook Islands” below. Check out some of the best accommodations with cooking facilities in the 10 Best Self-Catering Accommodations in the Cook Islands.
Gluten-Free Self-Catering in the Cook Islands
Rarotonga is fantastic for gluten-free shopping! The largest supermarkets, CITC Supermarket and CITC Foodland in Avarua and Wigmore’s Superstore in Vaimaanga, in particular, are well-stocked with dietary-specific goods, from gluten-free flour if you want to go all-out on the baking to gluten-free pasta to spruce up a quick dinner. There’s also, of course, everything in between that is naturally gluten-free. All you need to do is take it back to your self-catering accommodation on Rarotonga!
There’s understandably less choice when it comes to gluten-free products on the outer islands, including Aitutaki. If you want to eat any gluten-free substitute food, such as gluten-free flour, gluten-free pizza bases, etc. then it’s best to take these to the outer islands with you. Take a look at self-catering stays in Aitutaki in the 10 Best Self-Catering Accommodations on Aitutaki.
Note that while the other outer islands’ accommodations tend to have self-catering facilities, it’s typically your hosts that provide meals due to the lack of supplies on the islands. Find out more about what food is available to purchase across all islands in A Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
10 Best Restaurants with Gluten-Free Food
We’ve scouted out the best restaurants in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands with gluten-free options so you don’t have to! Note that these are restaurants with gluten-free options only – we can’t testify to any foods not coming in contact with gluten products.
- Sandals Restaurant & Barefoot Bar (Muri) – At the Pacific Resort Rarotonga, this restaurant offers an elegant menu with particularly seafood dishes, like sushi and sashimi, as gluten-free options.
- Rapae Bay Restaurant (Aitutaki) – The Pacific Resort Aitutaki also offers an array of gluten-free options, particularly their seafood dishes like ika mata.
- Silver Sands Restaurant (Muri) – The restaurant of the Muri Beach Club Hotel has a well-labelled menu and breakfast buffet with multiple gluten-free options for a creative meal.
- The Anchorage Restaurant & Bar (Arorangi) – Pretty much all of the mains at this restaurant by the Sunset Resort are gluten-free, from striploin steak to seared tuna.
- La Casita (Muri) – Rarotonga’s Mexican restaurant means gluten-free tacos and nachos!
- Beluga Cafe (Arorangi) – Ask for anything on their menu as gluten-free (within reason) and they’ll be happy to cater to your needs. Otherwise, their garlic prawns and turmeric fish are darn good gluten-free-ready meals!
- Tamarind House (Avarua) – This fine dining restaurant has many opportunities to turn their popular meals into gluten-free, such as their curries, ribeye steak, halloumi salad and more.
- Koru Cafe (Aitutaki) – Gluten-free options on the menu typically include the “Koru Seafood Platter” and the “Steak and Egg Stack”.
- Kai Guy (Avarua) – This food truck serves up healthy salads and not-so-healthy loaded fries as gluten-free options.
- The Brasserie (Arorangi) – The menu at the Edgewater Resort & Spa is so extensive that there’s something to please any gluten-intolerant foodie, from sashimi to tacos.
For more restaurants we love, take a look at The Food Guide to the Cook Islands: Places to Eat, Food Tours & Best Resorts for Food.
More About Food in the Cook Islands
That’s it for our complete gluten-free guide to Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. Now plan more foodie endeavours with these extra guides:
- Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for Vegans & Vegetarians + 10 Best Restaurants
- 10 Best Foodie Experiences in the Cook Islands
- Traditional Rarotongan Food: 10 Foods to Try in the Cook Islands
Finally, plan a trip around the Cook Islands with food in mind using the following itineraries: Rarotonga Food Itinerary: 3 Days, Rarotonga Food Itinerary: 5 Days, Cook Islands Food Itinerary: 7 Days, Cook Islands Food Itinerary: 10 Days and Cook Islands Food Itinerary: 14 Days.