Did you know that Auckland has the highest Pacific population in the world, with a total standing at over over 160,000? About 50% are Samoan, followed by Cook Islanders (20%), Tongan (18%), Niuean (8%), Fijians (4%) and Tokelauan (2%). If you want to experience Pacific culture and cuisine in Auckland, the suburbs to visit are Otahuhu and Otara.
Otara also hosts the only the only Pacific farmers/flea market every Saturday morning. After being in Auckland for 2 years, it was about time for me to do an immersion course in the daily life of Polynesian culture. For baptism by fire, there is the annual (and claustrophobic) Pasifika Festival which takes place at Western Springs every March.
The periphery of the market is the farmers’ stalls with their colourful displays of the freshest fruit, vegetables and herbs in inviting, overflowing piles. I saw some Asian vegetables that I hadn’t seen elsewhere, – fresh bamboo shoots anyone? These were small though, and likely to be more hassle than they are worth to prepare, but fresh bamboo shoots are a taste sensation. There were also fresh turmeric and lemongrass, and mountains of crimson chillies. The fresh produce here is cheap and the quality is second to none.
There are several Pacific grocers, takeaways and bakeries in the buildings flanking the market, and it’s a wonderland of sorts browsing through the offerings. I felt like I was in a different country, staring at the pink and white taros of gigantic proportions and the colourful labels of the dozens of brands of canned mackerel and tuna.
The Polynesian takeaways sold delicious deep-fried dough (panikeke), with their crunchy exterior and soft chewy centres, and variations such as German bread (panikeke with sweet coconut filling). I wasn’t brave enough to order the pigs head, but I did try some palusami (boiled taro leaves in coconut cream) and boiled taro and banana. The palusami went well with taro, but the boiled banana tasted like crunchy cardboard.
It was a fascinating way to spend a morning and I look forward to making a return trip, and one of these days, I might even have a go at the pigs head!
Otara Leisure Centre, Newbury Street, Otara
Opening hours: 6am – 12 noon Saturdays