Hayley McLarin has spent the past three months visiting every farmers' market in Auckland - and some out of town. Here's her pick of the crop.
Let's face it: weekends are precious. There's often demands on our time, from household chores to school sports, social events and gearing up for the work week ahead. You don't want to waste time trekking across town to try out a new market only to leave disappointed.
This winter weekend series was spurred on by my reticence to sit on Auckland's motorways for more than an hour to try a new market when there were others closer.
As well as the 15 or so that have featured, I also visited eight to 10 more that service their own community well, but I would not recommend you sacrifice a sleep-in to try them.
Friends have quizzed me about which was the best, and I cannot pick just one, as it is the people and their products that stand out, not the locations.
Each market has a drawcard, but to go to only one, you miss out on something special at another. So here's my must-try list – of products, rather than markets.
My tip would be to follow these brands on Facebook as they tend to promote where they will be at the weekends.
And the winner is …
My stand-out is not a food product as such, but a reason to visit the markets. If you try Hapunan, you will go home happy! This vibrantly-clad Filipino food truck offers fresh, made-from-scratch dishes that are restaurant quality. The gorgeous couple – Aldrin Tabora, the chef, and his partner Laura Caddick, who is front of "house" – used their upcoming wedding savings to launch Hapunan only six months ago. (There is a small irony that they are booked for weddings with the newlyweds often using the truck's banana leaves as a backdrop.)
They not only deliver exceptional food, they have an aura that is nourishing. Aldrin trained as an engineer in the Philippines, and when he came here faced having to study for another five years for his qualifications to be recognised.
"I couldn't get excited about that so I decided to see if I could make a job out of my love of food," Aldrin says. He started at Farro in the butchery, where he met Laura, who was working in the delicatessen. She encouraged him to study at the University of Auckland – where he was taken under the wing of celebrated chef Geoff Scott and worked at his Ponsonby restaurant, Vinnies. When it sold, Aldrin moved to Madam Woo in Takapuna with Josh Emett, sparking an interest in Southeast Asian dishes.
It inspired him to re-engage with his own cuisine, and with Laura he took a foodie trip back to the Philippines.
"That is where I fell in love with the culture and the food. I remember the first time I tried Filipino food and that's what I wanted people to experience," Laura says.
They offer only five dishes including Pata Tim (pulled pork hock in a steamed bao served with cucumber, coriander and chilli) and Adobo Del Diablo (chicken thighs in a coconut cream, turmeric, bayleaf and peppercorn sauce with Filipino slaw and coconut rice) and Prawn Siomai (prawns, bamboo shoots and vegetables teamed in a pastry case served with a garlic and chilli dressing).
I have tried them all and my recommendation is to take a friend, and share different dishes.
They have been going only six months and I predict that in the time Aldrin would have spent studying as an already-qualified engineer, this lovely couple will have evolved from a successful food truck to a sought-after restaurant. (Markets: Coatesville, Catalina.)
Another one to watch is Koh Koz. These, too, are traditional foods given a New Zealand twist. Lebanese Natalie Fakhoury is on the cusp of being stocked in retail stores yet she still goes to markets so she has time with customers. Her sunny personality draws you in and her silky – and surprisingly garlic-free – hummus, pita breads, tabbouleh and babaganoush bring you back time and again. (Howick, Clevedon)
Pick of the crop
The best tomatoes in Auckland are Curious Croppers' heirloom tomatoes. They come in wonderful shapes and sizes, varying degrees of acidity and a glorious array of reds, yellows, oranges and greens. (Clevedon)
All the markets I tried had top-quality meat. But for value, in a central market, you can't beat Neat Meat. I have stockpiled their wagyu mince to the point I worry about my hording capabilities. The restaurant-quality meat is very good value and well worth an expedition. (Mt Albert)
Over the Moon are regulars, Cheese on Wheels frequents several markets too. Both warrant a mention. But this series started with my all-time favourite cheese: Clevedon Buffalo soft cheese. This marinated cheese sits, actually hides, in the back of my fridge away from prying eyes. Amazing. (Clevedon, La Cigale [Saturday])
Go nuts for …
The Muesli Company's Raspberry Road muesli. A decadent combination of seeds and nuts – including macadamia, cashew and almond – roasted with maple syrup and freeze-dried raspberry. You can even take your own container. Feel good. Tastes good. (Hamilton)
Greens to envy
For an affordable range of fresh fruit and vege, seek out George's Garden. They are spray-free and should be enjoyed sooner, rather than later (which makes you wonder what is used to keep supermarket foods "fresh" for longer!) (Mt Albert, Oratia, Grey Lynn).
The life of pie
There are many great pies sold around our markets, and the Bread & Butter selection is highly-recommended, if you aren't lucky enough to hail from the Bay of Plenty where the beef bourguignon and blue cheese pies sell out fast at Flaveur. (Tauranga)
Best place to take visitors
No surprises, it is Matakana. From the utterly unique dog-watching service (note to all other markets, this would be a great school fundraiser) through to the quaint courtyard of stalls on the riverbank. Not to mention you're in wine country so there is more than enough to justify a day trip. (Matakana)
The participation award
In my humble opinion, each and every one who has a stall should be acknowledged with a participation award. When we look outside the window and it's wet, grey and cold – we can snuggle down under the duvet and spend a few hours reading the Weekend Herald.
These guys are already exhausted from getting their products ready over the past few days – often as a sideline to a full-time job. And then they have to get to their market, dress their stall and don a smile. They give us an alternative to overly-packaged, additive-laden products. We need to support local providers – and even after months of weekly market shops, I am still keen to go back. Join me!
PS: Telling porkies
What makes a market a unique shopping experience is the ability to find out where your food comes from (and it's not a chiller of a large, fluorescent-lit megastore's storage). Ask where their products are from … don't just trust the sign. This isn't the place to dob in the popular stallholder who professes to be free-range but isn't, but shame on you.