A walk on the East side: exploring Auckland’s Korean food scene

When I lived in London, it wasn’t until my sister demanded ‘a proper London tour’ – several years after I’d moved there to go to college – that I got around to finding some of the really cool spots in my home town.

Twelve years after moving to Auckland, the cityscape has changed quite a lot – but there’s still stacks of it that I’ve never seen. Because I live on the North Shore, my knowledge of the city centre has been somewhat limited to places I’ve worked, and old favourites like Ponsonby Road and Dominion Road. So when I was invited by Eat Auckland Tours to come along on one of their walking food tours to discover the Korean food available in central Auckland, I was pretty keen. I’ve had Korean food before – surely there can’t be all that many? Oh, how wrong can a non-native be…

Part of the interest for me was personal; from January 2019, my daughter Jessica will spend a year in Gwangju, the sixth largest city in South Korea. We’ve done a bit of investigation into Korean food, and gochujang, the ubiquitous chilli paste found in many Korean dishes, is now a staple in our fridge. But we were merely scratching the surface of what Jess is likely to live on next year. So the two of us headed along to the meeting point, outside the City Library on Lorne Street one sunny Saturday afternoon.

First stop was Number 1 Pancake, on the corner of Lorne Street and Wellesley Street. We happily tucked into piping hot chocolate and cinnamon pancakes, while a steady stream of students and locals picked up their favourite flavours, both savoury and sweet, from this iconic little street food kiosk. This one was given a resounding tick by Jess and I!

‘Army stew’ is a clever compliation of items that were available when food was scarce in the 1950s

Next up was Kaya, site of former restaurant favourite Tony’s. Here we tucked into Budae Jjigae, an ‘army stew’ so named because it contains many of the foods Korean soldiers had access to during and after the Korean War, when food was scarce. Dried noodles, bacon, ham and, of course Spam and kimchi, bubble away on the portable flames you’ll find in many Korean restaurants – Koreans firmly believe if food is meant to be hot, it’ll be hot! While you’ll find several versions of this depending on where you go, the principle is the same, and the historical significance of this dish gives you an insight into how resourceful the Koreans were, and are, when it comes to creating delicious food.

BannSang  a little further down High Street, gave us a taste of Bibimbap, a dish which opens up so many more ideas if you’ve got leftovers in your fridge. A Korean rice base is topped with whatever you might have in the fridge (for Koreans, colour is important), and plated with a fried, or raw egg; the most important part is that the yolk is super-runny, so when it’s cut up, it mixes with the rice and flavours to create a creamy dish that’s tasty, economical and filling. This delicious dish was served alongside Galbi jjim, a popular beef (and SO yum) short rib dish that’s normally served at special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, which comes with banchan, the collective Korean name for any number of small side dishes that are served, along with rice, at every meal.

 

Directly across the road is DDM The Spicy Korean, one of several Korean restaurants designed to feed lovers of late nights and alcohol! Much of the food here is served with cheese and plenty of spice, like the Chicken Cheese Buldak, and it’s definitely a favourite for a younger crowd – Jess reckons she’d have been happy to stay here for ages!

Our final stop was Snowman in Chancery Square, a dessert station guaranteed to satisfy lovers with a sweet tooth. Massive bowls of flavoured shaved ice flavoured with a range of seasonal organic fruits, as well as several regulars such as Oreo, cheesecake and green tea (which I loved, but if you’re not keen on red beans, opt for something more traditional). This is a fantastic option for dessert lovers, and now I’ve discovered there’s another outlet on William Pickering Avenue on the Shore, this won’t be our last visit to Snowman!

Chock full, completely inspired and with a reinvigoured sense of the amount I don’t know about our multicultural food scene, we headed home. While there are several good reasons for doing a food tour like this, one of them is to rid reticent Kiwis of the fear of walking through an unfamiliar door. While the High Street area is multicultural, while we were visiting, it was rare to see a non-Korean face at any of the eateries – a shame, because Korean food is well worth a try. If I’ve learned anything, however, it’s that Koreans are hospitable, creative and very happy to explain what you’re eating – just take it with a pinch of salt if some of them tell you it’s ‘no, not at all spicy’!

For more information, visit www.eataucklandtours.co.nz