Fuelling New Zealand’s unique street food scene

Food trucks and pop-up food stalls are changing the way New Zealanders think about eating standing up.

Though New Zealand has a long history of food served from caravans – Nin’s Bin on the Kaikoura coast has been dishing up crayfish for decades – a new generation of cooks is getting out of restaurants and onto the street. 

If you needed any confirmation that Aucklanders – heretofore obsessed with eating anything with kale in it – are equally happy eating fried things while standing up, head to the city’s Silo Markets on the waterfront at Silo Park. On Friday nights between spring and autumn, films are projected onto a former grain silo – and alongside is a market full of pop-up food outlets, including a bar selling an excellent range of craft beer. You sit in the humid, slightly cool city evening, eating dinner and watching a movie as the sun goes down behind the Auckland Harbour Bridge. 

Highlights at Silo Park include Tiger Burger, which combines Korean kimchi and chilli with burgers – a combination that is somehow deeply logical – and Judge Bao, which serves slow-cooked pork belly inside a puffy white bun (Chinese restaurants across the city sell bao, but none as delicate as this). 

There’s also The Lucky Taco, a brilliant operation within a beautiful 1991 Leyland DAF truck owned by street artist Otis Frizzell and wife Sarah. In many ways, the food-truck trend started with them. Frustrated by not being able to find authentic tacos in Auckland, they made a month-long research trip to Mexico, then came back and bought the truck despite having no hospitality experience. “We were insane,” says Sarah Frizzell. “We just wanted to start a truck.” They make everything from scratch, right down to the habanero sauce. The tacos are fresh and zingy, and their weekly specials, like tongue, have changed how many people think about tacos.

You don’t always have to go and stand outside, either. Judge Bao and The Pie Piper recently took over the uptown eatery Coco’s Cantina while its owners were in Italy; and along with Lucky Taco and Tiger Burger, are now regulars at the city’s new StreetFood Collective. You’ll find this communal eating space down an alley in bijou Ponsonby where a couple of commercial kitchens host different vendors every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are also rustic tables, and AstroTurf, in the Collective’s courtyard, plus a caravan selling beer, wine and unique cocktails.

Meanwhile, in Wellington, the annual Visa Wellington On a Plate festival features a Food Truck Trailer Park, in which the city’s finest vendors park for up to a month. Year-round Antojitos Taco Truck and The Greek Food Truck's souvlaki are worth checking out. But, you don't need to just visit for the festival to enjoy Wellington's growing food truck scene. Head to the waterfront any day of the week and you'll find an assortment of the city's 40+ food trucks offering great food...on the move!

Though street food has a long history in New Zealand, it hasn't always been as hip as this. Not far from Silo Markets and the Streetfood Collective in downtown Auckland, the White Lady has been serving burgers from a long white caravan throughout the night to hungry revellers – and late-working lawyers in neighbouring office towers – since the 1950s. The menu for this family-owned business has barely changed over the years – the “Classic” is, well, classic – and they’ve never served fries. 

Further south, meanwhile, generations of road-trippers have stopped at Nin’s Bin, beside the road just north of Kaikoura on the east coast of the South Island: a pre-cooked crayfish and a stack of white bread and butter, which you eat at picnic tables beside the crashing ocean. It’s perfect: the smell of the sea, the taste of the crayfish and the fact that you’ve just paid about a quarter of what you would anywhere else.

Back in Auckland, The Lucky Taco is about to launch a range of taco kits in supermarkets, part-funded by a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. You might be able to find them in supermarkets around New Zealand, but the heart of the operation is still that little truck. “I used to find it exhausting, but now it’s the thing that gives me energy – seeing people every weekend and feeding them,” says Sarah Frizzell. “The truck is everything. It’s the nucleus, it’s the soul.”

How to Get There

Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest city, and also has the country’s largest international airport, with connections to most major international hubs. Silo Park is a pleasant walk around the waterfront across the pedestrian-only Te Wero Bridge from downtown; Ponsonby is a short bus- or taxi-ride away.

Best Time to Visit

Winter is short and mild in Auckland and summer is glorious, of course – but the city is most active time in spring and autumn, when the city’s residents are back from long summer holidays and the place comes alive with concerts, film events and markets.  

How to Find Them

The nature of food stalls and pop-ups can make them a little hard to track down. Keep an eye on silopark.co.nz for the summer’s events, or head to streetfoodcollective.co.nz for a run-down. Alternatively, most vendors have a good presence on Twitter and Instagram to check for daily updates.  

What’s Nearby

For a taste of the city’s vibrant food scene, book in with Finding Flavour, a specialist foodie-tour company run by local blogger Lynn Huhtala. Her tours cover everything from street food to back-alley noodle joints and markets. When you’re done eating, head west to Piha and Karekare for reinvigorating kauri rainforest walks and spectacular black-sand beaches, or north to the white-sand beach and native bird sanctuary of Tawharanui.