Long distance recollections
A number of years ago, I stopped in Auckland, New Zealand for a few days on my way back from Sydney, Australia to La Serena, Chile.
I was stunned to find mum’s cooking.
I immediately called mum in Vancouver to let her know someone stole her recipe for claypot rice.
She was skeptical and told me to get back to Vancouver for the real thing.
I told her the commute back home from the southern hemisphere was a little rough, but I’d be back to visit in a few months …
The holy urban trinity
It might be an odd combination, but when I’m in a city for the first time, I look for three things: green spaces, art spaces, and decent food.
With subsequent visits to Auckland, I’m happy to have found all three in New Zealand’s largest city.
Getting around Auckland isn’t as difficult as it might seem, as various Link Bus services are an inexpensive and effective way of getting around the city for both residents and visitors. After my visit to the Auckland Domain and the Auckland Museum, I step off the Inner Link bus on Albert Street, and I make the short way to Food Alley for dinner.
Food Alley in Auckland’s CBD
Recommended as a cheap-eat by various sources including the New Zealand Herald, Food Alley is an unassuming looking no-nonsense food court, consisting of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Indonesian, Korean, Malaysian, Thai, and Vietnamese stalls.
While some might express disapproval at eating in a food court, Food Alley is similar to the Cooked Food Centres (the old “dai pai dong”) in Hong Kong or the hawker centres in Singapore. Drawing comparisons with southeast Asia is a very good thing.
In late-afternoon and early-evening, Food Alley is packed with people, and every stall is seeing some action.
This is a first indication of a good thing.
Many minutes of indecision ensued when faced with all of the choices. But I feel an invisible force tugging at my sleeves, and I’m “pulled” toward Claypot Rose, where a number of dishes are cooked in … well … claypots. They even include little pictures of how the dishes appeared.
Now, a common piece of wisdom is avoid places with pictures of food, but every stall in Food Alley has little pictures showing what they have on offer. But it’s busy here, and people are quiet as they’re digging eagerly into their food. They’re in animated conversation once their plates are empty.
This is the second indication this place is going to be good.
I remember looking into our family’s kitchen while mum prepared steamed chicken with ginger and Chinese sausage on a bed of rice and bok-choy. I see that memory come alive in front of me: “claypot chicken rice with Chinese sausage” (煲仔雞飯) consists of chunks of steamed chicken and sausage, seasoned with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and crowned generously with chopped green onion and red chiles. To augment my round of gluttony, I order an extra BBQ-pork egg foo yung.
Pure taste was my third indication and the ultimate clincher.
Like a question of what came first or, simply, what’s better, both chicken and egg are really good, but the claypot chicken rice brings me back to the past with the familiar flavours. I never thought I’d experience that taste outside of my childhood home, until I stepped into Food Alley and discovered the replicated stylings of mum’s cooking.
Address & Map for Food Alley
Food Alley is located in Auckland’s Central Business District at 9 Albert Street, just minutes on foot from Britomart Train Station. They’re open every day from 1030am to 10pm. The Link Bus, including the City-, Inner-, and Outer-Link services, runs in both directions on all routes with 10- to 20-minute frequencies every day until about 11pm.
Other recent commentary about Food Alley: The Selfish Years, and The Food Pornographer.
I made the photos above with a 4th-generation iPodTouch on 31 July 2012. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.
Disclosure: No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions. I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein (cmp.ly/0).