A smiling face is half the meal.
~ Latvian Proverb
Those who know me may know about my not-so-secret tendency to avoid most food courts in New Zealand. Mostly, food courts here bring to mind stale sushi, artificially-flavoured milkshakes, grease-coated chairs and a collection of brightly coloured, mass produced, scary food.
In other words… bad food.
In my mind, bad food has less to do with dirty seats or cheap food than it has to do with authenticity, freshness and a real love of and respect for food (as opposed to a penchant for overeating/eating anything and everything).
I love hawker centre breakfasts in Singapore, for instance – even those open, humid places where stray cats strut around your feet, seats are slick with other people’s sweat and grease, and Singaporeans do this
awful, unreasonable quirky thing of using packets of tissue paper to “reserve a table” while they go and get their food (also known in Singapore as “choping” a table… gotta love it).
Anyway, if you successfully navigate all challenges at a good hawker centre, it’s worth it. Everything will be forgiven and forgotten when you get to sink into that $1.50 mug of warm fresh soybean milk (not to be confused with New Zealand soy milk), and stir fried chai tow kway/char kway (rectangular slabs of daikon cake with eggs, garlic, sauce) or $3 plate of mee siam (thin vermicelli in a spicy, sour and sweet broth complete with dried bean curd, boiled egg, tamarind, chives, spring onion and a squeeze of fresh lime juice)… it’s quite difficult to make it sound as good as it is, but you’ll know what I mean if you’ve tried it!
Anyway. When I first heard about Food Alley in Auckland, I was a little skeptical. Warning bells went off in my head as I contemplated stale sushi and brightly coloured sweet and sour pork.
It turns out that I needn’t have dragged my feet so much the first time I went there with my colleague.
Really, it’s the one food court in Auckland that I won’t say no to going to more than once every month. It gets madly busy at lunchtime, and I can quite see why. A rapid lunch for under $12 on a busy day is a great thing; a spicy flavoursome break from salad and sandwiches is similarly good when you want one.
There’re plenty of choices available – think steamed buns filled with pork/chicken/red bean paste; spicy Thai larb gai (minced chicken salad with chilli and citrus – palate cleansing!) and sticky rice; fried Malaysian char kway teow with chicken, seafood or beef; bento boxes; Indonesian fried rice… they have everything you need for a quick dash to Asia, right in the heart of Auckland Central.
You can expect tasty food cooked to a mostly consistent standard on every visit, with perhaps a little more salt, spice and oil than you’re used to. Freshly cooked food (with the number of people who pass through, you can be reasonably sure that you’re not eating stale reheated stuff). Quick service. A few dirty seats and a sticky floor.
In the unlikely event that Food Alley leaves you outraged and disappointed, though, just remember you’re not spending very much for a very generous lunch.
Food Alley – 9-11 Albert Street, Auckland