Vegan Mecca in Auckland

Vegan Mecca in Auckland

Food so flavoursome that even non-vegans come back for seconds. 

Words Carolyn Enting

Babak Sarfarazi and his son and business partner, Ali. 

Flavour was the founding factor that inspired Babak Sarfarazi to open Auckland’s Wise Cicada Café 10 years ago. 

As a child he was surrounded by the amazing aroma of watermelons and cucumbers grown on his family orchard and farm in Darab, Iran. When he arrived in New Zealand in 1990 he was initially impressed by the “big and beautiful fruit”, but wondered why it was so tasteless. It got him thinking about opening something that was a bit different, with an emphasis on organic produce and good, tasty food.

Today, Wise Cicada is an organic plant-based café as well as a wholefood and organic super store that sells dry and fresh organic goods. These include the Sarfarazis’ own Back to Basic range of high-quality frozen fruit and vegetables. There’s also a holistic health clinic, and the space has become a community hub often used for workshops.

The food on the café menu is 100 per cent vegan, gluten-free and organic. And because organic is hard to sustain when the seasons change, Wise Cicada changes its menu three or four times annually; Back to Basic products help bridge the gap to maintain consistency. The café’s name is inspired by a Greek fable about an ant who worked hard over summer to put provisions aside for winter, while the cicada simply sang.

“It’s about being wise,” says Babak. “We are actually fortunate in New Zealand because we have an opportunity to live healthily, in some other places it’s just all about survival. We are really lucky.”

Two years ago, Babak and his business partner and son Ali moved Wise Cicada to a bigger and better space at 88 Broadway in Newmarket. 

“I always wanted an outdoor garden for people to sit and eat in, so we made one,” says Babak.

Already well-known for their counter food – tasty salads and sumptuous raw desserts – a new a la carte menu has stepped things up a notch, with everything made using the best ingredients. The Mexican burrito bowl is award-winning, and stack of banana matcha pancakes served with house-made mango ice cream is mouth-wateringly good. The kitchen has more than 30 raw desserts on rotation, some of which are sugar-free and instead contain stevia to sweeten them up.

“The cafe has evolved a lot since we started,” says Ali. “We used to have a gift economy, for example, where people would come in and pay for what they thought the meal was worth. But the one thing that has stayed the same is how we deliver the food – vegan, gluten-free and organic. The ethos is the same but we try to make it new and exciting for people to come and keep wanting to try new stuff.”

 “Flavour is the main thing, and the quality,” says Babak. “Before a new menu is released we ask our customers to taste the food and give our chef feedback. There’s lots of little things to consider before we put the food in front of you. We think about the nutrition part as well and making sure you get your proteins through a plant-based diet before we say, ‘here is your menu, choose your food’.” A wise move, indeed.


Wise Cicada Lower Level 88 Broadway, Newmarket, Auckland. 8am-6pm Monday-Friday. 9am-6pm Saturday-Sunday. wisecicada.co.nz

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