Meet and do vege
- Daniel Lui, regular market shopper
Jet gaar and sze gaar – just two exotic vegetables on show at the Victoria Street Produce Market that sees around twenty, largely Chinese growers roll up in their lorries from around the lower North Island.
Victoria Street is the oldest of the two city Sunday markets, founded in 1999 by a guy just lookin’ to sell his greens. That guy was Graham, now granddaddy of the enterprise. ‘It’s a close-knit co-operative. We’re here to sell our produce at a fair price.’ I’ll vouch that they do, because I shop there most weekends.
Stallholders grow almost all their own produce, typically topping up with fruit brought in from sunnier climes. Assembled in a large car park, they deliver a feast for the eyes all the more glorious for its occasional imperfection – avocados with a bout of skin trouble, potatoes with too many eyes, bulgy aubergines and cucumbers bent out of shape.
Then there are Gisborne oranges, eschewing Pantone perfection in favour of uneven tone and a few splodgy spots. Find me an imported orange that tastes as good. While you’re at it, look for supermarket limes at seven bucks a kilo and we’ll celebrate with Mojitos.
I note the feijoa is slap-bang in season. These should be free to all New Zealanders by law, of course (along with lemons), but at least the market price is fair at $2.99.
Nutters can shell out mere peanuts for walnuts and chesnuts right now, and there are tonnes of tomatoes and so many apples that they’re rolling in the aisles. You may even find a delectable black doris plum, hanging on like a rare dress in an end-of-season sale. The rare and strange are Victoria’s speciality, such as bitter melon and bottle gourd, poblano chilli and pumelo.
The relaxed yet frenetic atmosphere encourages fondling and sniffing, and chatting with your fellow townsfolk. ‘It’s very social,’ Daniel Lui tells me as he inspects ripe tomatoes. ‘You get to meet the growers, and there’s so much more variety than the supermarket.’
Too true. Sometimes – I confess – I feel almost anxious as I set forth on my foray. What if I buy four small avos for $4, then pass three large ones for $3? This concern is not uncommon. Last Sunday I overheard mother-to-son: ‘There’s so much to choose from. What are we going to do?’
I also heard this, from a beautiful buxom woman plucking peaches from an over-flowing fruit bin: ‘What a fantastic stall. What a beautiful day.’
Victoria Street Produce Market (Vivian Street corner; accessible also off Willis, where Le Moulin baguette awaits you, hot out of the oven). Sunday, daybreak till mid afternoon (that’s every Sunday, even the ones when you wake up to a sleety, sideways southerly and pull the covers back over your head. Fruit and veg never sleeps.)