Saturday, March 10, 2012

Two Food Halls--worlds apart?

Two Food Halls—worlds apart? ---- I’m not so sure. One (The International Food Hall) is in Ponsonby, an upmarket Auckland suburb. The other (Ethnic Food Hall) is in Otahuhu (Mason Ave), an old ‘working class suburb that has undergone many changes in the last few decades.
I go to them both and in a way they have a linked personal history for me. I know one of the store holders who has rented premises in both establishments. I like them both, for different reasons. Any tourists looking to save their dollars would get a relatively cheap and tasty meal, usually not having to spend more than $15, less if they share, meals within a group---you know---- buying two meals and sharing them between three people. Naturally I can manage one on my own, and then some.
What about value for money? I swear that the meals are a bit bigger in the Otahuhu one, but that may be because they know me and see me coming and make some sort of ‘addition’ to my purchase. Oh to be big and trying to lose weight, only to have that little additional ‘feature.’ Of course I tell them to stick to the programme or I tell myself that I don’t have to eat it all.’ ‘Yeah right!’ (Kiwis will relate to that). They both represent value for money. I have rarely been disappointed by the offerings. Any fault is from my own ‘miss-choosing.’ I learn each time I make a mistake.
What about authenticity?  I am not a good judge or whether the cuisine on offer reflects the ‘real thing.’ One must take into account the availability of fresh produce. From comments by many Asian people I know (most of the little shops in the Food Halls are Asian, although there are some Middle-Eastern, Italian and Mexican outlets) say that they are reasonable. One can judge authenticity by the number of Asians frequenting both halls. If you travelled down Dominion Road (the nearest street we have to something anywhere like a true ‘China Town) you would see many shops with predominantly Asian customers; indeed some have very little in the way of English in their signage. The Two Food Halls are far more representative of the general Auckland population; one that enjoys all of the many different cuisines now available.
Let’s look at what is available at the two Food Halls. One of my favourites is the Vietnamese one in Ponsonby. It often seems a little healthier, with many quite ‘lite’ dishes to choose form and less of the oily stir-fried versions. Try the Lemon Grass chicken. Another favourite is the Indonesian shop, which replaced the Mexican.  (I loved the food, but it was getting a little expensive once you started adding their ‘accompanying dishes—all of which seemed necessary to complete the meal). The Indonesian shop is influenced by Balinese food, but does include other options from different parts of Indonesia. Of course Malaysian food is similar, but don’t tell any red-blooded Indonesian that. (Does that statement sound suspiciously like the ‘battle’ between NZ and Aussie---? The history between the two Asian nations is little more problematic though). I would not want to belittle any of the other choices available. I have tried them all, including, Malaysian, Chinese, Middle-Eastern, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indian and Laos.  Yummy--- all of them!
The Otahuhu hall has equally good choices (if not as many) but it has some different ones too. The Fijian/Indian has goat and what I can best label as fusion options. It used to have an Indonesian shop, but the stakeholders went back home. The Thai choices are in abundance. What is different is the clientele; a mixture of the people who live in the area and faithful customers, who keep coming from wide and far. It is also a little more laid back. Families representing three generations often take up several tables, noisily discussing the events of the day. I like it and I always feel very comfortable. Part of that comes forms the fact that a good friend runs the ‘drinks’ concession. We always sit close by and enjoy a certain advantage in that we don’t even have to order. The lovely lady just brings us something she thinks we will like (like Mango Lasse---yum).
The drinks concession at Ponsonby mirrors the difference in the two Food Hall customer bases too. They carry a large range of wine, whereas my friend tends to stock a good range of beers. The difference does not detract from either establishment--- it just reflects ‘good business’ practises.
Would I choose one over the other? NO! They both do the trick--- leaving me satisfied and happy. I say--- check them both out.
OH----- BY THE WAY--- THEY BOTH HAVE ‘A’ CERTIFICATIONS---something that you should always look for.