When I say the words “food court”, what do you picture?
If you are from the UK, probably some wipe-clean section of a shopping centre edged with the chainiest of all fast-food joints, strewn with scrumpled wrappers, scented with rancid burger fat and echoing with the try-hard talk of teenagers.
I was quite excited to encounter my first food court years back. It was in the Friary Shopping Centre in Guildford, and I don’t remember much except bubblegum ice cream and baked potatoes.
When I started to make tentative forays into Thailand, the term began to take on a new meaning. There was still an abundance of shiny seating and plastic trays, but the food was much better, and subsequent visits to Malaysia and Singapore turned food courts into places I positively wanted to go to. The small stalls each specialised in a sub-set of Asian cuisine, and would generally execute it well and for bargain prices.
For anyone wanting to eat street food without the actual street part, food courts are a brilliant way to try new tastes without any lingering anxieties (unfounded or otherwise) about communication or cleanliness.
I’m not aware of any Asian-style food courts in the UK. There used to be one in North London called Oriental City, but no sooner had I learned of its existence than it closed down. Luckily for us, however, Auckland is host to a number of fine food courts of this type, and we managed to fit in 3 in the few days we were there. All were good value with an excellent range of dishes from the various stalls.
Food Alley, 9 Albert Street (c. 10.30am – 10pm)
A good range of stalls in an elongated interior space. I devoured a bento box from the Japanese shop here, but there were many other things on offer that looked delicious.
Atrium on Elliott, 21-25 Elliott Street (opening times vary but are listed on the homepage of the Atrium website)
I noticed this one while walking past it, and we stopped in for lunch. It was lighter and brighter than Food Alley, with a good Malaysian stall (Banana Leaf) from which H enjoyed a chicken curry, whereas I opted for a Vietnamese cold noodle salad bowl topped with some crispy spring roll segments (from Vietnamese Delight). I would have given the Indonesian stall (Bali Star) a try if we had returned.
Ponsonby Village International Food Court, 106 Ponsonby Road (c. 10am to 10pm)
Upstairs with good natural light and even a bit of outside seating. Italian and Mexican vied with the usual spread of Asian stalls, with H and I both going for Vietnamese cold noodle salads from Mekong Vietnamese (mine topped with spring roll, his with lemongrass chicken).