Calder At Large

Peter Calder on life in New Zealand

Peter Calder: Around the world in eighty stalls

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The Sunday night market at Glenfield, one of four across Auckland, is a riot of aromas and customers.

Chris Pei cooks up a storm in his stall at the Sunday night market at Glenfield. Photo / Richard Robinson
Chris Pei cooks up a storm in his stall at the Sunday night market at Glenfield. Photo / Richard Robinson

At the entrance to the car park at Westfield Glenfield, they are handing out tiny pamphlets with a silver fern and the words "THE TEST" on the front. But it's not about the footy.

"There's a free chocolate if you complete a small survey inside," says the woman who presses one into my hand. As someone who has always understood the phrase "we're doing a survey" to mean "I have an ulterior motive", I'm instantly suspicious.

Not without reason. The survey inside invites me to tick boxes to indicate which of the five commandments they've listed I have broken. I get a perfect five. Later, I will walk past the stall where they're giving out the chocolate. People are sitting at desks deep in conversation, and I decide to pass on the treat. My mother taught me not to take sweets from strangers.

The other stalls that fill the crowded covered car park don't try to dissemble about what they're selling. In any case, you can smell it before you see it.

This is the Sunday night market, an event that, I suspect, I'm the last person in Auckland to become aware of.

It's a riot of aromas, and it's crammed with customers. The fruit-and-vegetable stalls are few, as are the tables of cheap cellphone cases and the like, though there's everything from watch repair to wellness evaluation. Along one wall there's a tarot card reader and henna tattooist, the cultural descendants, perhaps, of the ones who plied their trade in Cook St in the 1960s. A guitarist works one end of the room and a magician busks amid the mayhem.

But mostly it's a food hall on steroids. Dozens of national cuisines are represented by stalls that sell various nations' street-food staples. Before I've moved 50m, I've salivated at the sight of the extruded doughnuts the Spanish call churros and succumbed to the lure of a couple of glistening beef siu mai, those dumplings that are a yum cha standard. This is multicultural Auckland in all its gastronomic finery. Signs proclaim everything from Indo-Fijian and Thai to southern barbecue and burgers.

In a stall called Falafel Bro's, Assa Kohavy keeps up a rapid-fire patter as he accumulates a stack of orders in his head ("I can multitask, sir," he says when I hesitate to add mine).

Kohavy and offsider David Salama, both from the Israeli port city of Haifa, sell Israeli falafel and kofta sandwiches, much spicier than the Turkish standards thanks to a Yemeni hot pepper sauce called zhug. But interestingly, the people behind the counters often attest to a widespread cultural omnivorousness: Portuguese pastel de nata is made by Bulgarians in a stall with an Italian name; the man in charge of the churros, Damir Klun, is from the former Yugoslavia.

When I ask the latter what he is doing cooking Spanish food he smiles: "It's a good business," he says, with a "what can I say?" shrug. "People like what we sell and we always have a very big queue."

Next to him Fusae Kudo runs a stall selling Japanese crepes which are described as harajuku-style, after the hip Tokyo fashion district. This is not traditional Japanese food, she admits; crepes are French, but in the 1970s the Japanese filled them with fresh fruit, rolled them up and made them into food you could eat while walking.

The manager of Auckland Night Market, Paul de Jonge, tells me that he and his Chinese-born wife Victoria ("the brains behind the operation") run four markets across the city: in Onehunga on Thursday, Papatoetoe on Friday and Pakuranga (the original) on Saturday as well as the Sunday Glenfield one. He was inspired by the thriving markets in Taiwan - and the long queues at food stalls in an antique market here.

Each has a slightly different flavour, he explains, according to the area's demography and the night of the week: "Papatoetoe on a Friday night, a lot of people are buying their groceries; here on a Sunday night, people are out relaxing. Families often don't have a place to go that everyone likes."

Marissa Bell has come from Te Atatu Peninsula with her husband Kieran and their 2-year-old son Cohen, "because I didn't feel like cooking".

We normally go out south," says Kieran. "This is the first time we have come here. There's a lot of different cultures and you can try a bit of everything. It's good to do something on a Sunday night."

For more information: www.aucklandnightmarket.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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