The promise of ‘you’ll love this: it’s foodie heaven’ was enough to draw me eagerly to
La Cigale. With high expectations and a rumbling tummy I arrived one soaking Sunday morning, hoping that this French city market would satiate my hunger and fill the shelves of my empty fridge.
Tucked away in the backstreets of Parnell, nestled amongst pretty suburbs and rolling parks lies this not-so-hidden treasure, a culinary gem worlds away from the busy docks and industrial feel of Auckland itself. After tasting my way through the bustling stalls I head right into the heart of the place, towards an island laden with ripe cheeses, fresh breads, patisserie goods and a wonderfully-smelling coffee station. More extensive sampling later and I’m ready for a coffee myself. The bistro is tucked away in one corner of the market and has the feel of a side street Parisian brasserie, all easy chatter over long a long lunch and a flat white. As I soon find out, it is this particularly French way of eating, drinking and socialising that initially inspired the concept behind La Cigale.
Elizabeth Lind and her now husband Mike first travelled to France in the 1980s, looking for artists to collaborate with in creating designs for their thriving fabric business. The couple’s journeys took them around the world searching for fashions and foods which would capture their imaginations. Having visited eateries in many different countries and sampled the foods from a host of cultures, it was the French cuisine the two really fell in love with and were inspired to bring home to their native New Zealand. And so the seed of an idea was sewn: a creative, collective space where classic French delicacies and traditional ways of creating dishes could work in harmony with the kiwi attitude towards eating – the freshest ingredients, cooked and eaten al fresco in the company of friends.
They began small, with only a handful of dedicated producers sourced from the local area, but the seed continued to grow as the market took over more and more spaces, gradually expanding as word spread and people began to relish the great produce for which this country is famed. La Cigale has slowly evolved into a thriving lifestyle emporium, a place to experience new foods, celebrate passionate growers, makers and sellers, pick up the coming week’s veggies and enjoy a gentle, easy weekend ambience.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to choosing the foods to fill our pantries and picnic baskets. Only stall holders with the best quality goods are invited to sell at La Cigale, with Elizabeth, Mike and their passionate team of chefs tasting everything you see before it goes on offer. Wooden tables groan under the weight of stacks of jewel-coloured preserves; mounds of fat speckled sausages; pots of snowy-white cream cheese; piles of roots, herbs, leaves and bulbs jumbled into truggs and crates. Smoke hanging in the air is heavy with the smell of grilled meat and awash with the calls of the women selling whitebait fritters, enticing us to opt for a hot patty strewn New Zealand’s most prized seafood. But the thing that really sets this market apart is the way it thrives upon a slow-paced, leisurely way of eating, inspired by both its French and Kiwi influences. Whether we choose to eat under the coloured canopies, in our fingers, with sauce dripping down our chins; on a bench with a cup of steaming coffee and a rustling paper bag containing a warm flaky pastry; at a table with a plate of delectable brunch and the morning paper: it doesn’t matter. La Cigale is about appreciating food in all its glory and embracing a relaxed way of shopping for, learning about and devouring it.