Monday, July 15, 2013

A Guide to Auckland's Farmers' Markets

Weekend markets are such an ingrained part of my cheese-sampling, poodle-patting, busker-tipping lifestyle that I’m always surprised when I meet Aucklanders who don’t spend their Saturdays traipsing across town to buy spray-free cucumbers. But these people exist, in far greater numbers than those of us with harissa-stained car upholstery, so with them in mind here are some of my favourite super city markets.

I’m at La Cigale’s French Market every Saturday with my little girl – she used to spend an hour exploring every stall and jumping in every puddle but now, fifty Saturdays in, she’s all business: find a park, smash a croissant, throw some gold at the violinist then start lobbying heavily for a visit to the playground. Yep, she’s jaded at two and a half years old but then, her dad is a food critic. At least she’s still excited by things she doesn’t see very often, like snowflakes, unicorns and takeaways.

Forget her, you’re your own person. Visit La Cigale for that incredible harissa, the very good mozzarella and a crate of Mahurangi oysters you have to shuck yourself. Others like the rotisserie chickens and hot pork belly sandwiches, although I’m not convinced that either of those dishes do anything but rely on the fact that they’re very difficult to fuck up. La Cigale market is open Sunday too but it’s a much lesser thing – visit Saturday for all the good stuff and play this game: whenever you see a well-to-do local lady of a certain sour disposition, turn to your partner and in a deep voice sing “oooooold troooooooout” in unison. It makes you feel better about the way she looks at you like you’re something stuck to her shoe.

Other Saturday contenders include Oratia market, a horse shoe-shaped facility out west, with a good community feel, excellent music and wine tasting close by. Go for the little containers of fried shallots and garlic, which you can sprinkle on any old muck to make it taste of Bangkok. There are some fairly decent heirloom tomatoes too, and a guy sampling Pic’s peanut butter but really, doesn’t a product lose the right to boutique farmers’ market status when it’s available on the shelves at the Huntly Countdown?

Once a month on Saturday is the new Sandringham market, still in its infancy but with some cool little stalls you don’t see anywhere else. That’s the problem with market hopping you see, running into the same old stallholders one hop ahead of you. But Sandringham has a unique cheese man doing a good strong blue, as well as Olaf’s bakery and some Japanese dumplings, 8 for $6.

The Sandringham people have big plans to expand into other suburbs on a sort of rotation basis – nothing wrong with that, it works in Provence – and they have a nice sort of approach to doing things differently. While exploring the market on Saturday I stumbled across a room full of white people listening intently to a talk about citrus trees – and who says pakehas have no passion?

On Sunday you have two choices, at opposite ends of the spectrum. Avondale market starts early, with dozens of stands selling the same varieties of fruit and veg, forced to compete head to head on price which is good news for the consumer. Visit Avondale for specialist Asian ingredients, from bok choy to mudfish paste. The fringe junk stalls on the market outskirts are also the place to go if you’re after, say, a thirty year old pair of second hand leather boots with no laces. Mind you, the way food courts are going in this city it’s possible they’d qualify as ‘specialist Asian ingredients’ too.

Forty minutes southeast of Auckland city is Clevedon market, much posher than Avondale, with free range chickens, multi-coloured macarons and pony rides. But the customers and stallholders are lovely – the food offerings aren’t all that different to La Cigale but the Parnell ladies never venture far beyond Remuera, so you mostly get locals and those city folk interested enough in country life to make the trip. You can sit on a hay bale, eating your lunch, feeling a long way away from life in the darling suburbs. When you’re done, get back in your car and hit the open road.

I recommend accidentally taking the wrong turn, driving for twenty minutes into deep South Auckland, refusing to consult a map and eventually pulling into a service station at Bombay for help while your partner loudly lists your inadequacies as a navigator. Yes, the trailblazer’s life is all very well, but I can see why those old trouts never leave Parnell.

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