Digesting Auckland’s Asia

Stepping off the plane into Auckland City Centre may surprise those first visiting New Zealand and expecting a sense of typical kiwi-life. Having not yet visited Asia, I did feel as though I had arrived at the wrong place, perhaps a miniscule Tokyo or a shrunken Seoul.

Auckland didn’t simply seem to me as though a fusion of New Zealand and the Orient, but, with its streets heaving with Korean and Japanese restaurants and the number of migrants seemingly out-doing the indigenous, Auckland appeared to me as though a small Asian city with a touch of the West. In fact, I don’t think I spoke to a single Kiwi within my first week. However, I am like a magnet to Asian food so this is partly because I surrounded myself by this heavy influence.

In Auckland my friend and I were in our element. Our hearts skipped a beat when we saw Sushi vendors at the corner of every street selling for $1 a piece, especially as we usually have to spend a fortune on a small plate of Sushi or a dressed up bowl of instant noodles in London. After living in Auckland for 5 months we can safely admit to eating our way through the majority of its Asian eateries. But here are some relatively affordable places to chow down, devour and soak up the Asia in Auckland.

SUSHI PAC VENDOR ON CUSTOMS STREET WEST

$1 for a roll or $2 for a hand-roll. Freshly Prepared and generously filled. Try the rolls with deep fried Kumara (Maori for Sweet Potato) or beef Teriyaki.

A typical Take-out Lunch from Sushi Pac

ASIAN FOOD COURT ON PITT STREET

Delicate Sushi, hearty Curries, flavour-packed Middle Eastern Kebabs and steaming bowls of Ramen. This food court tightly packs all corners of Asia under one small roof. Located in a strange area, there is nothing else on Pitt Street worth coming here for. Start at the roundabout where Union St meets Pit St and head towards K rd. The food court, a black building with an outdoor seating area, should be on your left.

FALAFEL KEBAB

Bust up to any Kebab Shop. They may look like your usual greasy spoon or a place you would only dare walk into after a night out, think again, these are not Kebab Houses serving Donna kebabs filled with questionable meat. The Kebab shops here offer fresh and flavourful middle-eastern wraps, my personal favourite being the falafel.

Choose from an array of salads and sauces and ask for a generous dollop of hummus to accompany your warm crispy falafel. Wrapped in Lavash (typical flatbread), toasted and folded in tin foil at the bottom, your kebab will be a perfect hand-held lunch to slowly work your way down as you ponder the back-streets of Auckland.

TUNUKI’S SUSHI AND SAKE BAR- UPPER QUEEN STREET

An extremely popular place which often has queues forming up the stairs and down the road. This underground cave serves japanese snacks in a dim-sum style.

Try the crisped and oily delicacies which are not for the light-hearted. Choose from such dishes as Deep Fried Chicken Mince with Shitake Mushrooms; deep-fried Kumara with Almonds; Battered Chicken oozing with melted cheese or the most delectable off the menu- Tender Scotch Fillet in Butter Salt.

Open until late every night, this is not a place just to dine, order a carafe of Sake after your meal and blow your head off after a few shots. I tried the Chrysanthum Medium-Dry, thought it tasted like an extremely dry port and couldn’t handle more than one shot. If you like Sweet flavoured alcohol, opt for sweet Sake, the ‘Medium’ in ‘Medium-Dry’ adds no sweetness (for my tastebuds) to dry Sake.

After Dinner Sake Shots at Tanuki’s Cave

CHINESE LANTERN FESTIVAL- ALBERT PARK

Late January to early February each year marks the start of the Chinese New Year and the Chinese community in Auckland do not hold back on their celebrations.

Over one weekend in February, Albert Park magnificently glows as lights shine through lanterns of all shapes and sizes evoking colours of the orient.

Performances take hold from the early evenings and proves to us that the Chinese nurture talent from a rather young age.  Delicate-looking women serenade us with their sweet voices, solo men Kung-Fu fight and groups of infants throw some bendy moves with their impressive acrobatic skills. However, the real show-stoppers are those not on the bill to perform, but those, without a care in the world (or sense of musicality) who choose to march onto stage later on in the evenings and take on Karaoke. Every screech, squeal, wail and wobble is heard over the course of the weekend, but each is approved with great laughter and applause and will leave you wanting more.  And it’s not just the Chinese who volunteer, Kiwi locals, tourists and Maoris are all up to the challenge and it really gives a sense of how these ethnic festivals highlight Auckland as a place open to new cultures and traditions.

Of course, all this entertainment is complimented with an abundance of food stalls all lined up and overflowing with hungry customers down Prince’s Street. Deep fried Won-Tons; Gyozas; steamed dumplings and noodles are in the palms of everyone’s hands. You can also attend Tea Ceremonies and watch the art of making Chinese Tea- which involves a lot of transferring liquid from one pot to bowl to another and back again. Taste the different traditional flowering teas made from soaking exotic dried flowers and tea leaves then accompany this by tasting some traditional cakes and biscuits.

February 10th 2013 marks the year of the Snake and The Chinese Festival will be held in Auckland, Albert Park, on February 22nd to the 24th next year.

Chinese Lanterns reflecting the importance of tea-drinkng to Chinese Culture- Chinese Lantern Festival

Traditional Sweet Cakes and Biscuits- Chinese Lantern Festival

Traditional Flowering Tea- Chinese Lantern Festival

RENKON- FAST JAPANESE DONBURI

There’s 4 of these in the City including Auckland CBD, Parnell and Ponsonby. For around $10 slurp on a comforting bowl of Donburi which is basically fresh veg and often teriyaki glazed meat over steaming rice served with Fresh herbs, and in this case, a serving of Mayonaise. Order the Miso Katsu Don and you won’t go wrong, a crispy chicken bowl dowsed in Teriyaki sauce. Order at the counter and your dish practically follows you to your seat.

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4 thoughts on “Digesting Auckland’s Asia

  1. Great roundup! I always look forward to the festive eating of the Lantern festival and Renkon is one of my favourites. I’ve travelled through Asia and I’m always proud of how good Asian food is when I come home to Auckland. Of course like any city, you can find bad ones, but there are some really goods ones with terrific value.

      • Is it kind of similar to Wagamama’s in London? I’ve heard good things about Wagamama’s in London, but it’s not that good here. It’s improved a lot from what it was 5 years ago, but still not quite there yet.

      • Yes it’s similar to Wagamamas, which I used to love…met someone whilst travelling who used to be a chef there, he said even though they claim the food is ‘fresh’ the sauces are all packeted and the meats are also in frozen packets. Plus, he had got the job without much cooking knowledge. I got the impression from Renkon that the food was being cooked by people who understood the food and the food was fresh…I hope so anyway!

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