The selection is amazing but watch out for those escalating prices, writes Hayley McLarin.
La Cigale won't be new to many reading this. Inspired by the food markets of France, without the cobbled streets, it has long been a popular Parnell weekend destination.
But maybe you're like me and hold a certain blase attitude towards it. That would be at detriment not only to you but also the eclectic collection of food providers.
Encircled by industrial carparks and warehouse apartments, during the week it is the site of a thriving cafe and bistro and much of that joie de vivre lingers for the weekend festivities.
There are a wide range of French-style foods sold by La Cigale itself, from imported cheeses to warm oozy croque monsieur and pale, crispy baguettes.
But venture beyond the La Cigale building out to the clutch of more than 30 vendors and you'll go on a mini world tour. Even for lapsed regulars, it will lead you to discover new vendors, new foods and a few forgotten favourites.
There's Spanish paella sold from metre-round pans, Turkish dips and flatbreads, Moroccan crumpets, Serbian Salash sausage, naturally-fermented Czech Republic sauerkraut from a recipe passed down the generations, Sicilian olive oil, Italian freshly-made pasta and authentic limoncello.
Asian fusion goes to a whole new level at Dumplings with Wings. Prepared in a commercial kitchen to be sold exclusively at La Cigale, these mouth-wateringly good dumplings challenge your senses. There is a Pakistani Seekh Lamb Kebab dumpling, Indian Chicken Tikka Masala, Mexican Beef and a vegan Vietnamese dumpling, each with its own sauce to enhance the flavour profile.
Also unique to La Cigale is Sweet & Me, Pacific-inspired cakes and desserts, handmade by Fijian-born Bertrand Jang. Bert has his own cakery and sources his coconuts from Fiji, vanilla from Tonga, coconut oil from Northern Vanuatu and Koko chocolate from Samoa.
Beautifully presented with banana leaves, his cake-pops, fudge and coconut puddings disappear fast.
What a difference a day makes: Early Saturday, it was a shoppers' market. People came, bought, snacked and went. Sunday was a totally different vibe. People were here to hang out with friends, brunch, chat and maybe grab a few things. A spare seat was a rarity, indoors or out, "fast-food" providers were kept on their toes. Many of the vendors are there both days, but some are one day only. That includes Clevedon Buffalo on Saturdays only, with their soft cheese cloistered in either olive oil or chilli oil, and delightfully soft buffalo mozzarella. Must see, must try, must buy! On Sundays their spot is filled by Midnight Baker, whose Freedom Loaf replaces wheat, gluten, diary, nuts, refined sugar and eggs with seeds, oats and psyllium husks. These dense, moist, textured loaves are delicious on their own, but at the market they are sliced and toasted, topped with butternut pumpkin, caramelised onion and coriander for a savoury hit, or spiced cookie almond butter and raspberry chia jam for a sweet tooth.
OMG GF: With a friend resigned to living a Coeliac lifestyle, I am always looking for products for her. The Gluten Free Store had a range of baked loaves, as well their pre-mixed dry ingredient concoctions so you could make your own paleo bread, brownie, muffins, batter and even fettuccine. This is the first range I have tasted where I wasn't able to taste the difference. That has to be good! (Saturday and Sunday.)
Meat lovers: Karapiro Prime have grass-fed hormone-free beef that has aged 21 days and lamb for seven days. They do a three-pack special for $29. (Saturday and Sunday)
Seas the day: There is an abundance of seafood here – from smoked fish to freshly-shucked oysters from Mahurangi (Saturday only) to whitebait fritters, at only $10 (Saturday and Sunday).
5+ a day?
The broad array of fruit and vege was predominantly organic or spray-free and very good quality. There were bunches of fresh herbs, select-your-own salad greens, root vege, citrus and even guava. A large broccoli head was $3 (the nearest Countdown was selling medium-sized gumboot variety ones for $1), large cauliflower was $4.50 (Countdown $2.50). (Saturday and Sunday)
Caffeine fix: The market has two coffee stands, both with Gravity coffee beans. My coffee was hot, rich and strong and only $3.50, surprisingly cheaper than many other markets. Both days were busy but their teams are slick and fast.
Wee ones? Yes, although there isn't a huge amount of room for a pushchair. And other than trying foods, there isn't much for them to do either, so take your own amusements/distractions.
Dogs: This is a French market and they are not only welcome, there's even a doggie treats stall. Aunty Briar's has croissant-shaped biscuits that are good for their teeth, cow's hooves stuffed with liver-enriched meal, liver fudge and more. (Saturday)
Eftpos: Will cost you $2.50 here, the most expensive of any of the markets I have been to. Maybe seek out your favourite vendors who also have it, to get cash back from them with your purchase. A win-win for you both.
Parking: Is in the carparks surrounding the market. There are plenty of spaces but plenty of visitors too.
While you're here: Pop into the La Cigale shop, where you will get a true sense of French living, with imported homewares, kitchen equipment, antique furniture and cosmetics. You may, however, need a small loan for much of it.
Verdict: La Cigale has been one of the city's most popular markets for years, it stands the test of time with a broad range of goods to try. It had been years since my last visit and there were still stallholders I recognised. However, there were plenty of fresh new offerings. The prices may make this a once-in-a-while treat rather than a weekly destination. You are in an affluent suburb, paying a princely sum for quality goods - but you will enjoy every morsel!
La Cigale French Market
69 St George's Bay Rd