Explore the flavours of South India on a food tour through Sandringham in Auckland. Photo by Mark Smith.

Auckland food tour: the spicy side of Sandringham


The sky is pink-orange and the air is thick with spice. Cumin, garam masala, cardamom, garlic.

Handwritten menus rest against storefronts, while shop owners shuck coconuts on the roadside, sitar music escaping tinny radios at their feet. Families gather at worn picnic tables, feasting from takeaway containers in the dusk.

We are in Sandringham, a mere 10 minutes’ drive from Auckland’s CBD, with Perzen Patel: food writer, entrepreneur, owner of Dolly Mumma curry pastes and our guide for the walking food tour this evening.

Sandringham Perzen INP

Perzen Patel leads a food tour through Sandringham. Photo by Mark Smith.

As the rest of our group arrives, Perzen passes around some snacks: masala makhana, also known as fox seeds, and moong dal, yellow lentils reminiscent of savoury Rice Krispies. Both are salty, crunchy, and do well to get us excited about the night ahead.

Our first destination is Madras Café. Tucked around a small plastic table, we are served steaming plates of dosa: thin, crispy crepes with chutneys and sambar. We try ghee podi roast dosa (crispy dosa with red masala), and rava masala dosa (dosa made with semolina with potato stuffing). The first is light and flavourful, the second filling and moreish.

We also sample idli, another popular South Indian breakfast food, made of fermented lentils and rice. Perzen is full of stories and knowledge about the rich history of South Indian cuisine – it makes for great conversation while we eat.

Our next stop is down a suburban side street, in a small carpark behind a doctor’s office. In this unexpected location we discover two food trucks and more than a handful of waiting customers. This is the kind of hidden gem foodies are all about; a place for those truly in the know.

One food truck serves us a Mumbai-style toasted sandwich with onion, tomato and spices, and a bread pakora: cheese and spices between slices of deep-fried bread.

Sandringham street INP

Sandringham, in Auckland, is bursting with interesting South Indian food options. Photo by Mark Smith.

From the other, Perzen hands around hot cups of chai. Greeted by warm, flavourful notes of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, we look at each other, eyes wide in agreement. Not a single drop is wasted.

We soldier on; our next stop, a humble eatery called ‘Eggs n More’. It seems we are here for the ‘n More’, swiftly presented with trays of chaat: savoury snacks or hors d’oeuvre often served in the early evening to tide hungry stomachs over until dinner which, in many parts of India, can run close to midnight.  

Both dahi puri and pani puri are small, bite-sized snacks, consisting of round, puffed crispy shells (poori) filled with fresh chutney. I am partial to the dahi puri – an explosion of spice, crispiness, and tangy yoghurt, while others in the group prefer the pani puri, which replaces the yoghurt with a coriander-infused water.

Other chaat on the table include aloo tikki chat: a crispy potato patty flavoured with spices and topped with the same yoghurt and chutneys, and bhel puri, a crunchy combination of puffed rice, vegetables and tangy tamarind.

We take a break from feasting to peruse the local grocery, admiring the towers of spices, pastes and confectionery, awash in warm yellow light. Perzen’s guidance proves invaluable, helping us know what to look for and pointing us in the direction of the best of the best.

Sandringham grocery INP

Perzen Patel provides expert advice on what to look for in a Sandringham grocery store. Photo by Mark Smith.

We wander back into the evening, arms laden with treasures, and are directed to the park benches at the end of the street. It’s here Perzen lays out our final meal: a large tinfoil tray of lamb biryani from local favourite Bawarchi. This staple dish comes in many versions; this one is in Hyderabadi style with layers of lamb and basmati rice, garnished with a handful of crispy chicken. The smell alone is enough to reinvigorate our appetites and everyone goes back for seconds (and thirds).

Sandringham curry INP

Sample the flavours of Southern India on an Auckland food tour. Photo by Mark Smith.

With the sun starting to set behind the skyline, Perzen ends the evening on a sweet note, with assorted mithai (sweets): diamond-shaped kaju katri (fudge made with cashews and sugar), silver kesar pista (rolls of condensed milk and pistachios), and bright red coconut barfi (squares of desiccated coconut, milk, cream and sugar).

It’s been two hours of eating, drinking, walking, and learning – not only about South India’s cuisine, of which we’ve barely scratched the surface – but also about the incredible culinary experiences we can find on our own doorstep, when we take the time to look.


Story by Emily Draper for the Winter 2024 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Emily Draper is the Deputy Editor of AA Directions magazine. 

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