I could see my day with Ella Kumar was going to be fun when we met for a hot ham and cheese croissant at Eiffel on Eden on Mt Eden Rd. The bubbly, friendly local board member has been part of the team organising the Taste of Puketapapa festival which will run from November 15-22, and I had the arduous task of sampling some of the dishes with her. Tough job.
Puketapapa is the country's most ethnically and culturally diverse community with more than 100 languages spoken, so I was fairly excited about the diversity of the food that was in store.
The croissant was, it turns out, excellent - pillowy soft and made fresh on site. The ham is cured in-house too - not just a little sliver either, this baby was loaded! Served hot with melted cheese and a lovely fresh salad, it was delicious and will be selling at $9 for the duration of the festival.
Charles Millet, owner of Eiffel on Eden, is one the business owners taking part in the event, where 25 restaurants and cafes in the Wesley/Three Kings/Hillsborough/Waikowhai/ Lynfield area will discount their signature dishes to between $5 and $10 to give people a chance to sample their contribution to Auckland's culinary landscape. His patisserie looked amazing but I remembered this was one of five places we would visit and managed to restrain myself. Pure torture.
Next on our whirlwind tour was Narm Thong, a Thai restaurant at the edge of Akarana golf course. It's a cute spot with friendly staff all in traditional attire. Saichon Pruksununt is doing his Pad Thai for $6 for Taste of Puketapapa and it's pretty tasty, with generous amounts of tofu and chicken. The restaurant is very popular with locals and he even does cooking lessons every second Saturday of the month. After tasting the Pad Thai (and some of his other dishes too, my pleas for "just a small taster" had no impact) I would love to go along.
In contrast to the ambience of Narm Thong, Bombay Chinese in Three Kings is pretty basic - more for takeaways, but you can eat in. But don't let that put you off! The food is excellent and larger-than-life Darryl Fernandes who does the cooking - and the banter - turns out a mix of Chinese and Indian cuisine. Darryl explains the style originates from the Hakka people who emigrated from China and had to alter their cuisine to suit the local market; make it spicier for Indian tastes. His special dish for Taste of Puketapapa is $7 Hakka Noodles, big fat round noodles with chicken, veggies and a distinct Indian spice. It was super-tasty but I was even more blown away by his Chicken 65 (he says if you ask nicely he'll do any of his mains for $10 during the festival) - great tender spicy chicken loaded with ginger, garlic, lemon, cayenne pepper, mustard and vinegar.
By the time we got to Cafe Abyssinia in Stoddard Rd I was wondering seriously about my ability to eat any more. Luckily the food was so excellent it made me forget I was full. The owners, an Ethiopian husband and wife team, gave us a small sampler of all of the curries, veges and stews to eat with their traditional bread - enjera. The bread is flat and the same consistency as a thick crepe with a sour, fermented taste. I liked it, especially with the very fragrant lamb dish which had a gorgeous freshness of herbs and lemon. Everything else was fabulous, too. I can't wait to come back to this corner of Puketapapa - a haphazard treasure trove of spice shops and ethnic food outlets.
Our last stop was at Sasuma at the Mt Roskill end of Dominion Rd, where we tried the Ragda Pattices (potato patties deep fried and drowned in a white pea dahl with an onion, sev and coriander topping) - $7 during Taste of Puketapapa. Kamal Pancholi and his wife opened this Gujurati-style place this year and it serves good, 100 per cent vegetarian street food plus larger dishes too. It was magic with all the contrasting textures and flavours and had a good kick, although Kamal says they can adjust the spice to your taste.
After sampling five out of 25 places my impression is that I'm pretty keen to get my passport and try the rest. There's a great mix of old favourites plus new exotic tastes in this diverse area - guaranteed to please all.
Where to eat
* Eiffel on Eden, 985 Mt Eden Rd, Three Kings Ph: 09 624 0660
* Narm Thong, 1484 Dominion Rd, Mount Roskill , Ph 09 620 1485
* Bombay Chinese, 2 Dornwell Rd, Three Kings, Ph 09 6243786
* Cafe Abyssinia,190 Stoddard Rd, Mt Roskill, Ph 09 620 5599
* Sasuma, 1278 Dominion Rd, Mt Roskill, Ph 09 620-9955
For more information, list of participating restaurants and to download a "passport" see here.