Growing up in Raglan meant a trip to Auckland was always a major outing and one that we took only on very rare occasions. Sometimes it was to visit my aunt's house, where we would chase Mr Whippy down the road when we heard the jingle, foreign to our country-bumpkin ears. But more often than not it was to accompany my dad on a business trip to pick up leather (he's the founder of Soul Shoes) or rubber for the soles of shoes. If we were lucky, a trip to Auckland also meant a quick stop at Atomic cafe, in uber-cool Ponsonby. There were no cafes in Raglan back then so we'd feel rather flash stealing little scoops of milky froth from Dad's coffee. This was also back in the day when being vegetarian meant the only things on offer in cafes were bread and dips and bean nachos. Man, how times have changed. The drive home felt like foreeeeeever and I'm always amused at how little time it actually takes, now that I'm an adult. In order to get us kids home without too much whinging, we'd stop at Pokeno for one of the biggest icecreams around, something we all looked forward to nearly as much as getting a big fat cream doughnut if we were really lucky. It makes me sad to think that this once thriving little icecream-stop town is all but deserted since the motorway bypass was completed years ago.
I still don't often find myself in Auckland and, to be honest, it's usually a quick in-and-out-style visit; visiting friends, buying hard-to-find-in-small-town-New Zealand-ingredients or checking in with my publisher. I'm surrounded by nature here in this little town I call home, so though I know there are plenty of beautiful spots to spend a little moment in and around Auckland (hello Waiheke), it's the fast-paced city vibes and good food that draw me in.
The abundance of food and variety of produce - much of which you can only get your hands on in my hometown if you grow it yourself (yes fennel bulb, I'm looking at you) - gives this slightly food-obsessed lady more joy than is probably normal. If I can time a trip to Auckland to coincide with local farmers' markets, I will. If I can get lost in the many and varied ethnic grocery stores in town, I will. If I can spend half a week's pay in the numerous organic wholefood stores, hell yes - I mean, no, no I won't. Oh, who am I kidding? Yes I will. If I can explore new tastes and ideas from my fellow chefs, you bet ya I'll be there. Auckland, you are my city fix.
It may seem strange to many that I've never lived in Auckland, I mean, it's where everyone ends up at some point in their life, right? All of my childhood friends moved there after school and nearly all still call Auckland home. When I left school I was drawn instead to the brighter lights of Sydney. I guess I figured if I'm going to live in a city, let's make it a big shiny new-to-me one and though I do have moments of wondering what life would be like if I lived in Auckland, lucky for me it's only a two-hour drive to get my fix, before back- pedalling as fast as I can, all the way home.
1 Matakana Farmers' Markets. Bustling, brilliant and beautiful.
2 Ponsonby Central. So much great food.
3 Little Bird Unbakery. Their bibimbap and ginger raspberry slice are legendary.
4 Tai-Ping, New Lynn. The kind of Asian grocery I love to get lost in.
5 Huckleberry Farms. Lock up my wallet!