Anna King Shahab writes for the likes of Metro and Taste magazines, not to mention for her blog, Eats by Anna, which switches between what she calls “other people’s kitchens” and her own – she’s lucky enough to live in the Balmoral / Sandringham food nexus, so regularly heads out on spice missions with daughters Maia (3) and Zara (1) in tow. It’s an approach that we like very much, so we asked her to give up a few of her favourite places to stock up.
The Avondale Sunday Markets (Avondale Racecourse, 6am-12pm) can’t be beaten for variety and price of produce. My favourite stalls are the Thai family who grow wonderfully sweet little red shallots, fiery chillies and Thai herbs such as holy basil (which you won’t find sold anywhere else), and the Fiji-Indians down the far end, with their green papaya, yellow and white turmeric and crisp, downy okra. Trawling the many rows makes me peckish, so I usually grab some sweet-salty peanut dumplings and chilli-laden chicken laab with sticky rice from the Northern Thai ladies. They also sell packages of fat Chiang Mai and Laotian sausages to take home and cook.
Other produce haunts of mine are the Wesley Community Centre Markets on Tuesday and Friday mornings (740 Sandringham Rd Extn) and the excellent Art of Produce (36a Crummer Rd, Grey Lynn). These places prove that really good, fresh produce needn’t command silly prices.
If my spice collection needs replenishing, I wander down to Khyber Foods & Spices (530 Sandringham Rd) and Top in Town Food City (583 Sandringham Rd) in the Sandringham Shops – also great for nuts, seeds, and other bulk supplies. There’s not a whiff of free-range or organic about the two halal butchers in S-Town, but do, I urge you, try the spicy lamb sausages from Khan’s (543 Sandringham Rd), whose sirloin steak is also bloody good.
I cook quite a bit along Middle Eastern lines, and favour a few neat little places to grab the right supplies. At Shefco (827 Dominion Rd) I buy chickpeas, tinned stuffed things – vine leaves, courgette, eggplant, and cabbage, fresh pita, labneh, and baklava that rivals any I’ve eaten in the Middle East. Their shawarma, too, are the best in the city. Persian Network (718 Dominion Rd) and Persian Trading Co (891 Mt Eden Rd) stock such exoticisms as dried barberries and giant bags of shelled pistachios to stud pilau with, Persian fairy floss, and the addictive fizzy yoghurt drink called ayran. It might involve quite a bit of popping in and out of different suburbs and shops, but I like that, and doing it on foot makes it that much more enjoyable.