Adventures in Auckland: Food with friends

7FB80318-345E-488D-A766-93843559CE48Jessica Shih/THE REVIEW
Some students chose to spend their weekends traveling all over the island, as is the case for Jessica and her friends.

Study Abroad Columnist

It started as an impromptu pinkie promise among five World Scholars, conducted on a crowded Auckland, New Zealand, sidewalk. Huddled, they swore off Friday night clubbing (with a legal drinking age of 18 years, it’s an attractive weekend activity for many young Kiwis) and instead vowed to spend every Friday night exploring the city they’d inhabited for months, but had been too invested in coursework and university meal plans to experience in full.

One of those promisors was me.

To note, while most of us weren’t partiers in the first place, we each still held differing values. However, we found commonality in loving food.

So with that in mind, written below is a taste of how we’ve been spending our Friday nights in recent weeks.

The walk up between two apartment buildings to the Auckland Night Market’s main entrance seems to lead you to a vast pit. Glance into it, and beneath a canopy of Christmas lights and a heavy blanket of cooking smoke, you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of a crumbling, graffiti-covered parking lot, lined with food tents offering international cuisines, with customer queues for each stand longer than the last.

The dining area supplies mismatched, brightly-colored plastic patio seating. As diners sit and feast, a five-piece band plays James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful.” It’s a gritty, chaotic atmosphere, yet its authenticity — a mish-mash of world cuisines amidst modern New Zealand culture (and infrastructure, literally) — is what keeps the city real, and its diversity thriving.

It’s also what keeps the stream of locals (and off-the-beat tourists) coming and the knives of the food stand chefs chopping.

We bought our dinner from an Asian fusion stand. There wasn’t enough seating or even standing room for us to eat and chat, so we pushed our way through the noisy bustle and onto a more quiet city street, making sure to hug our precious “pick two” orders of Mi Goreng noodles and egg fried rice to our chests so they wouldn’t get lost in the crowd. We eventually found seating along the city wharf, and had an amiable conversation about interior design and our grandparents.

And yes, we ordered the same items … pact much?

On another occasion, we ventured into town for a taste of nostalgia.

Take a stroll along the wharf and you’ll spot the White Lady, a vintage food trailer that offers affordable (a term seldom heard in Auckland’s high-standard-of-living metropolis) American burger joint food. Although this mobile structure juts out into the street and has an order window just a sidewalk’s width away from the entrance of a high-end Japanese restaurant, the taste of its most popular items — the American-sized, made-to-order burgers, the right-off-the-grill-and-into-your-hands “cheese toasties” (grilled cheeses in American terms) and the “tallest drink in the town” milkshakes — makes up for its awkward placement.

As we ate, we chatted with the loitering late night crowd and learned about the White Lady’s establishment during Easter weekend of 1948, and its famous burger recipe that hasn’t changed in over 60 years.

I know, I know. We’re eating American food in New Zealand. But studying abroad in a country 7,789 miles away from home, we’re just glad to have access to a taste of familiarity, especially when it keeps our bank accounts in check.

At the end of every Friday night, it’s not so much about what we eat or how much money we spend. Sure, a decent-tasting, fair-priced meal is always a plus. But, all food is best served with a side of friends.

And that’s a pinky promise.

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