Night markets were introduced to Auckland in 2010 when the first one opened in Pakuranga with 120 stalls and drew a crowd of 3000. Now there are five markets, each attracting up to 10,000 people a night.
On any other day, the underground carpark at Pakuranga Plaza is just like any other mall carpark.
But come Saturday evening, trucks arrive, tents go up, wok fires are set going and within two hours the place is transformed into a bustling night market.
The Cow Devil King serves a Chinese specialty dish, cow offal stew.
Close to 200 stalls sell everything from international street food and fashion and services that range from ear candling and haircuts to eyelash extensions and massage.
"I'm here to get dinner for the family," said Andy Tofilau, 45, holding up his buy of Filipino barbecued ribs and Chinese pork and chives dumplings.
"This place is just the best and the food's our family favourite, better than any restaurant ... and it's cheap."
The night market, a brainchild of Chinese businesswoman Victoria Yao, started as an experiment in 2010 at Westfield Pakuranga.
Its success meant that within two years the concept was extended to five venues in Auckland and one in Hamilton, with markets now running from Wednesday to Sunday at different spots.
Ms Yao, 49, originally from Shanghai, said night bazaars were common in China and she thought of introducing one here because she had found Auckland "quite boring" after dark.
"If you don't go to the pub or drink, there's really not much you can do in Auckland at night, especially for kids," said Ms Yao, who had owned and operated bars and restaurants in China with her husband.
"Malls closed so early here, so I thought it would really be great if we could put the carpark space to good use and introduce the culture of the night market here."
Before the project could take off, she faced the challenge of convincing the mall owners such a concept would work.
She wanted space for between 150 and 200 stalls, but was offered a small part of the carpark for just 20 stalls.
"They just cannot imagine what I was trying to do and so I told them to just let me try, let this be an experiment," Ms Yao said.
"I will find all the stall owners and if it doesn't work, then we will just shut the whole thing down."
The first night market opened with about 120 stalls in November 2010 and attracted a crowd of 3000 to 4000, husband and night market manager Paul de Jonge, 54, said.
"Victoria knew the excitement a night market could bring as soon as she thought of it, and after the first night, we could just feel it was going to be a huge success."
Soon the couple started talking with other malls to extend their concept, and night markets were started in Glenfield, Papatoetoe, Onehunga and Whangaparaoa.
They have also brought the concept to Hamilton, but the stalls are run mainly by operators from Auckland and Rotorua.
The seventh, and largest, night market in the city will be starting on May 16 at the Waitakere Mega Centre.
Running the permanent night markets is now a full-time job for the couple.
The Glenfield night market, at the covered carpark of Westfield Glenfield, was bustling when the Herald visited just after 8pm on Easter Sunday.
About two-thirds of the 140 stalls sold food, ranging from Japanese takoyaki squid balls, American beef ribs and Malaysian satay to Korean tteokbokki spicy rice cake.
Operating under temporary brightly lit tent set-ups, the market had a very carnival-like feel.
Other stalls sold consumer goods, from watches and mobile phone accessories to clothes, and offered services from massage to eyebrow threading.
Food sellers say autumn sales are slightly lower compared with the weeks leading up to Christmas, but most said their turnover was still between $800 and $1200 a night.
They are charged between $40 and $150 a night, depending on what they sell and the location of the market, and the fee includes power and water hook-ups.
Tina Quang, originally from Vietnam, who runs a stall selling Vietnamese beef noodles and fresh durian shake, said she had been operating at the market since it began.
"I am doing this as a full-time business now," Ms Quang said.
Another operator, who gave his name only as Jack, runs the Cow Devil King stall specialising in "cow offal stew" and said the night market was an opportunity to introduce his cuisine to non-Chinese. "People who don't normally step into a Chinese restaurant do come to the market, and here I can get them to sample my speciality," he said in Mandarin.
At the Dress-Smart Onehunga night market last Thursday, Alan Atilano, 40, said business was "very good" at his Charcoal G'rillas stall.
The solo dad and former mechanical engineer said running the market stall business full-time gave him the freedom and flexibility to look after his 11-year-old son.
"It would not be possible to do this full-time if it was just one weekly market, but it is very possible when I operate four nights a week atthe different markets," Mr Atilano said.
Onehunga local Edmond Hills said the "cheap food" had converted him from being a "takeaway regular" to a "night market addict".
"When you can get your fill for $5 on 15 dumplings or $4 for a Chinese lamb burger, it sure beats buying $15 chow mein from the takeaway."
Asian influence will leave enduring mark, expert says
Night markets are a "natural progression" in Auckland's diversity growth and are here to stay, says Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley.
Night markets are common in many Asian cities. Photo / Dean Purcell
"It's an extension of the food courts and day markets, such as Avondale and Takapuna, which have also become more Asian-influenced as the make-up of Auckland's population changes," Professor Spoonley said.
According to the 2013 Census, more than 200 ethnic groups now live in the city, which makes it even more diverse than London or Sydney.
Nearly one in four, or 23 per cent, identify as Asian.
"Night markets are common in many Asian cities, including in China, Taiwan and Malaysia, and it is to be expected that such markets be established here as increasing numbers from Asia continue to move here," said Professor Spoonley.
A study on immigrants' impact on the food in New Zealand by Professor Spoonley found it was the British immigrants who transformed the food which by the 20th century was considered traditional to New Zealand, such as the Sunday roast, flour-based baking and British dishes including scrambled eggs and baked potatoes.
But by the 1990s, migrants from Asia had changed the food landscape of the country with food halls, Asian festivals and markets with a strong focus on food.
"The night market is especially popular because it offers people a chance to sample exotic delicacies they may not be familiar with, and if they don't like it they wouldn't have been hit in the pocket too hard," Professor Spoonley said.
The food on offer ranges from Hungarian bread and Spanish churro doughnuts to Asian traditional food and Polynesian desserts.
Brian Waters, who was the centre manager for Westfield Pakuranga when the first night market started, said its popularity was "evident from the start".
The concept was introduced to Westfield Glenfield when Mr Waters transferred there a year later.
"Having it in an undercover parking area with natural ventilation was indeed a natural choice to overcome any issue with inclement weather," he said. "The markets proved popular, and they provide a unique customer experience and a broad cross-section of cultures and cuisine."
He said any impact on the mall was kept to a minimum because the markets operated outside the centre's core trading hours.
Organisers of the market estimate between 20 and 40 ethnicities are represented at the stalls.
Job turned life around
Former street kid Hiriwini Taylor, 20, says the night market helped him turn his life around.
Hiriwini Taylor loves being part of the market. Photo / Dean Purcell
"I used to get into heaps of trouble and got suspended a few times from school, but being offered a job in the markets has really given my life some direction and meaning," said Mr Taylor, who is the supervisor for the Auckland night markets.
The high school drop-out used to hang out with his mates when the first market opened in Pakuranga, and was soon offered a job by the organisers - first for general duties such as setting up the tables, but he progressed to supervising a team of four for the entire market set-up.
Now he is also responsible for laying the power cables, setting up the temporary tents and assisting individual stall operators at each of the Auckland markets.
"I find everything about the market exciting, from how it runs to all the different food and varieties of products," Mr Taylor said.
"If the markets are going to be permanent, I want to make my career being part of it."
Mr Taylor admitted running the markets was not without problems. Security had to be called several times after fights broke out between "trouble-making kids" at Pakuranga.
Organiser Paul de Jonge said besides exposing visitors to the different cultures of people who now call Auckland home, the night markets also aimed to help create jobs and provide opportunities for extra income.
He said many of the stalls were run by families to bring in some extra cash, and the stalls earned between $500 to $3000 per night.
"Most of the stalls have turned this into a full-time job, and are making a decent income."
Mr de Jonge said the markets were also a place where people from all walks of life are brought together. "Tables are arranged in such a way where people often share, and where else in New Zealand can you find people from Otara and Remuera sitting on the same table eating their dinner?"
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