It’s a frosty morning in the deep South and I’m staying at a central B&B in Dunedin.
I’d heard rumours about a world-famous bacon buttie at the farmers' market and I’m feeling a little seedy from a birthday party I was in town for the night before. The thought of a crowded café wasn’t appealing, but the fresh air, fast food, people watching and hustle and bustle of a farmers' market definitely was.
It’s a short walk from most of the central accommodation to Dunedin Railway Station where, every Saturday morning, the Otago Farmers Market is in full force. As well as excellent seasonal produce – certainly better than any you’d get in a supermarket any day of the week – there are food stalls aplenty.
But the famed bacon buttie stall is where I head first – after grabbing a coffee, of course – and it lives up to the hype: supermarket white bread, plenty of butter and soft onions mixed through small pieces of the crispiest bacon. It’s the perfect starter before I taste a piece of local venison sausage, then sample a crisp, juicy apple.
My friend buys a whitebait fritter, which I steal a bite of, and I grab a croissant: flaky, buttery and fresh. Wandering amongst the people – travellers, students and families doing their weekly produce shop – there’s a lot to take in.
This is a great way to eat: wandering the stalls, chatting to artisan producers and tasting simply whatever takes your fancy.
The Christchurch Farmers' Market in Riccarton is another perfect place to find a Saturday morning breakfast fix. The famous posh porridge stall sees a giant vat of creamy oats steaming and bubbling away, with bowl after bowl topped with such delights as boozy prunes, dark chocolate and walnut crumb, or poached apples with salted caramel sauce and custard. Pudding for breakfast and it’s delicious.
Japanese pancakes, fresh fruit, free-range eggs, smoked salmon, sandwiches made to order, smoothies... This market has it all, all year round.
There’s a real romanticism to be found in food markets, whether it comes from being outside in the fresh air or from the energising hustle and bustle of people and their pets. There's really no better place to feel and see the seasons on their best display, in terms of produce on offer and level of chill in the air. It’s not just at breakfast time, though; the proliferation of street food in New Zealand has meant food trucks and night markets mean a cheap eat is never too far away whatever the time of day.
Each night in Auckland, all across the city, basement car parks of shopping malls transform into night markets. Anyone who’s travelled in Asia will be familiar with the concept of street food and market stalls as a way to get a cheap, authentic and damn tasty dinner or snack. But it took a while for them to appear down under. The basement mall night markets put on a veritable feast of global cuisines from some of the freshest falafel and dumplings to Japanese grilled squid, flavoured popcorn and Dutch doughnuts.
The Re:START mall in Christchurch is a different street food experience again. With coloured picnic tables and various semi-permanent structures, it’s the perfect way to grab lunch with a group where not everyone wants to try the same thing. Try iconic Dimitri’s souvlaki for a traditional Greek wrap, or Fritz’s Weiners for a German-style hot dog, followed by real fruit ice cream or American doughnuts.
On Friday lunchtimes on Ponsonby Road, a giant umbrella pops up next to a tree in a car park and soon wonderful smells of flaming meat, pickled vegetables and fresh tortillas start enticing passers-by and office-dwellers to the footpath. The Lucky Taco was one of the first food trucks to hit the local scene, as the trend slowly trickled down to New Zealand after exploding overseas. With an enormous social media following able to track where this mobile-restaurant would be next, owners Otis and Sarah Frizzell are also in hot demand to cater weddings and events, as people seek a more fun and fresh approach to feeding a crowd.
Any summertime event or music festival will see a long line up of food trucks and street stalls. It’s a really fun way to try something new, talk to some interesting people and, most importantly, fill up on something delicious.
The windy Wellington waterfront is where I would buy my weekly vegetables if I lived in the capital. Early risers, in particular, are rewarded with the best produce. There’s sometimes a boat moored offering fresh fish, as well as artisan baked bread, fresh honey and myriad street food stalls, too.
Markets are such a fun way to experience local food wherever you find yourself around the country; it's well worth hunting out where the best street food is before you visit any of our cities and towns.