To Market, To Market…

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Virgil Evetts

On Sunday I had cause to head out to Avondale market. I hadn’t been for a year or so (it’s a bit out of the way from Devonport, you know), but nothing had changed, in so much as it was still full of surprises. Unlike many farmers markets, which can feel somewhat contrived, Avondale is a real market with produce presented honestly and at no-frills prices. Stall holders are primarily of Chinese, South-East Asian or Indian ancestry, as are many of their customers.

Several of the Indian stall holders offer produce rarely seen in New Zealand, such as drumsticks (a delicious, horseradish-flavoured tree bean), white (zedoary) and orange turmeric’s, fresh tamarind pulp and a vast array of mangoes ,much of it grown on family farms back in Fiji.

At various times of the year Chinese stall holder offer rarities such as fresh bamboo shoots, ginkgo nuts and preserved duck eggs.  This week I was particularly smitten with the wine-red snake beans that are obviously at peak production right now. I’m not sure why snake beans aren’t more popular here; they have a lovely crisp texture and sweet beany flavour that works well in both western and eastern dishes, and they grow well outdoors in warmer parts of New Zealand.  But westerners are fickle creatures. Putting ‘snake’ before ‘bean’ is probably enough to scare many off.

For the record they don’t bite.

I was delighted and genuinely surprised to find a stall devoted to handmade Thai sweets. Many Thais consider sweet making to be the highest expression of their culinary arts, and once you get  used to their various quirks (lurid colours, tapioca flour, coconut custard, pandan, lots of eggs yolks and salt in unexpected places…), you can see why. This is the first time I’ve found genuine handmade Thai sweets in New Zealand, and they were every bit as good as the ones I’ve eaten in Thailand.

A little further on is a stall that’s been trading at Avondale for years now, selling first-rate Samoan takeaway treats, including the sublime panipopo – yeast buns baked in gloopy sweet coconut cream.  Auckland has the largest population of Polynesian people in the world, yet the cuisines of their various islands are all but impossible to find outside of the home. It doesn’t make sense!

Apart from being a lively, friendly and interesting place to while away a couple of hours, Avondale market is also a great place to buy your produce, and possibly indulge in a little Christmas shopping too.

The only problem with visiting a market this good is that I end up going home with bags full of impulse purchases. I now have a fridge full of okra, bitter melons, green papaya and turpentine mangoes in urgent need of no doubt laborious, attention.

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