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I OFTEN HEAR the same refrain in New Zealand: “Country’s gorgeous, but the food’s crap.” I wonder if these people have ever roamed Auckland’s international food courts.
Most backpackers have enjoyed the ubiquitous New Zealand meat pie, but there is also a generous amount of good quality Asian food to be had here, and often at a bargain price.
While the term ‘food court’ would normally have you running for the hills, here it often means freshly cooked Asian food. If you’ve arrived here on a round-the-world ticket from say, Singapore, you’ll feel right at home. It’s in these food courts and small restaurants that you’ll find the best Asian cooking in New Zealand.
So, what can you eat? At my current local food court in the centre of Karangahape Road (K’ Rd. to locals) my choices are Japanese, Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, Thai and a steamed bun stall. And that’s a smaller food court.
Heading downward from K’ Rd., you might want to check out Upper Queen Street for individual restaurants that have prices similar to those of the food courts. If you are staying in one of the YHAs you’ll find this area right outside your door. It’s a mini-Koreatown, but there are also Chinese, Brazilian, and Japanese restaurants.
From Upper Queen Street, keep heading downhill. Look for the Strand Arcade which is about a twenty second walk past Smith and Caughey’s Department Store on the left. It’s easy to miss, but worth the effort to find because tucked underneath is another popular food court. The Korean and Chinese stalls are especially good and the portions are huge.
If you head further downtown you can find the original Food Alley, which has been in Auckland for years and is popular with the lunchtime business crowd. It is a two story place on Albert Street with anything Asian you can imagine. And if they don’t have it, they’ll often try to make it for you. My picks would be either of the two Thai stalls or the Chinese hotpot stall, but it’s all good here.
There are also some great Asian food courts in the Newmarket and Ponsonby areas. Take the Link bus to get to either and then just ask around. Most people can point you in the right direction.
If you’ve rented a car, or are keen to get on a bus, try to take a trip out to Dominion Rd. in Balmoral. Both sides of the street are literally lined with places to eat from all corners of the Asian continent (not to mention your usual burgers, pizzas and kebabs if you’re so inclined). Catering especially to the local communities, some of these restaurants don’t even have English on their signs. But don’t be intimidated. Just walk in and they’ll either produce an English menu or simply tell you what’s good.
Plan to spend between $10 and $15 NZDs for a good feed including a drink from the drink stall, or pay a little more for a full-on feast. New Zealand, and in particular Auckland, has become a truly multicultural place. Although Szechuan hotpot may not be the thing that first comes to mind when you think of Kiwi nosh, it’s become just as much a staple as the classic meat pie.
If Asian food’s your thing, check out these five Asian food blogs. If you’re interested in the wilder side of Asian food, you might want to find out about dog meat and rooster balls. And if you want to recreate the food at home, have a look at essential cookbooks for the culinary traveler..