Your search for Greek food in Auckland is over!
Long ago, before either I or mobile phones were born, Greeks made the voyage to the land down under, in search of better job opportunities and a bright future. Then they must have come across Australia, figured that is far enough already and settled down for good. A few curious souls trickled down to New Zealand (which yes, is a different country) and the small Greek community that has been steadily growing here ever since, was born. Small is not an understatement. There are less than 5,000 of us spread around Aotearoa – New Zealand and I while I wish I could prove the old stereotype wrong, chances are we do know each other as well.
If you are Greek, have met a Greek person or traveled to Greece, you may have figured out that we get very particular about certain key food items, namely our olive oil!
So, what is one to do when upon moving their family to Auckland after living in Greece, realizes that not only have all the Greeks gotten off one stop earlier but there is no authentic Greek products to speak of anywhere in sight? Well, what about setting out to create little Greece in the suburbs of the North Shore in Auckland!
]I first heard of Taste Greece in 2014 when I decided to move to Auckland and did what anybody looking for a piece of home does, googled “Greeks in Auckland”.
A few Facebook requests later and my honorary acceptance into the official Facebook group, I was ready to set out on the true purpose behind my expedition. Finding some good feta cheese, Greek olives and extra virgin olive oil. Those were my priorities, my mother taught me well. In the process, I would meet Donald and Emily, the faces behind Taste Greece. They had just recently gotten whole ownership of the company after Donald’s brother who helped start the business back in 2011 decided to move on towards a different career path. The shop soon became the unofficial headquarters of Greeks in the area, with people coming and going during the day, not only to stock up on necessities but have a chance to talk and discuss in the Greek language or simply lament about rainy Auckland weather and life in general.
Recreating A Piece of Home
On this day I am sitting across from Donald the owner and Jerilyn, manager extraordinaire and someone who can talk about Greek olive oil better than most Greeks. While discussing aspects of the business you don’t usually get to converse about during Greek nights and shopping expeditions, both of which we have plenty of, Donald tells me about one of those funny looking-back-at-life moments.
“I first came here as a tourist in 1995 and I went to Takapuna market, and someone was selling Greek dolmades in a tin. I would never imagine that people would be buying dolmades like crazy so many years later.”
Not only that but that it would be himself, his brother and their families that would start importing the finest quality Greek products into Auckland and become the only specialized Greek importer in New Zealand. Yet, this is how the story unfolds. From their small warehouse in Albany to “Little Greece” becoming the first retail store of specialty Greek products in Browns Bay, their latest move into a bigger and central location for shopping customers at 7/25 Anzac Road, and the launch of “Emily’s Kitchen” where you too can learn how to bring to life Greek dishes you have loved and missed, the story of Taste Greece has continued to evolve and offer guests eager for a piece of Greece all that they would ever need and more.
Unknown But Known Greece
Greek summer destinations might be households name, but its products and their history are not as well known as Santorini or Mykonos.
Older generations might, however, remember of the special relationship between New Zealanders and Greeks forged when the ANZAC Corps were deployed to Greece. Wellingtonians might know of Hania Street, home to both the Greek community and parish church and the spot where the first Greek families settled down. If you visit Crete island and the city of Chania, which everyone should, you will find Wellington Street not far from the city centre.
During our conversation with Donald and Jerilyn I got to hear many stories of perplexed looks from customers who had no idea Greece produces and has a rich history of wine and cheese making.
While feta is now frequently found on pizza and salads, many are hesitant to give it a try, often traumatized from previous experiences with substitute white cheeses that should not by any means bear that precious name. Speaking of traumatic experiences, the curious case of the olive haters is worth mentioning, if only because reformed olive-hater Jerilyn used to avoid them even touching her food. Now it is one of those products that seems to speak to people the most. “We get a lot of phone calls about the olives from people that used to hate them” says Jerilyn with a laugh.
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The Learning Curve
The relationship of New Zealanders with Greek food is probably best described as a learning curve that more often than not leads to a long term love affair.
Due to a multitude of reasons, including geographical distance and unfamiliarity with the Mediterranean diet, the first few years of operation were marked by curious but hesitant customers that were both intrigued and perplexed as to why someone would need a 5 L bottle of olive oil to buy for the house. But through the years, and to a large degree due to the passion and dedication of the team at Taste Greece in educating everybody that comes through the door on how to use the products and adopt a Mediterranean style of cooking, this is quickly changing.
“Five years ago, 80% of the people coming in and putting a 5 L bottle on the counter were definitely Greek, but that is not the case anymore”, says Jerilyn who is from America but has been on many research trips to Greece to meet with producers and see some of the places the products are sourced from.
Consumer Trust Is Always Earned
A key reason why Little Greece shoppers go back and are happy to extend their comfort zone with new flavours and products is because of their trust on what the shop stores.
“The original idea was to bring to New Zealand the products that were so familiar to us back in Greece and we couldn’t live without”, says Donald, a statement I can completely understand as a feta lover. Sacrificing on quality was never an option and even a quick look at the products in-store will convince visitors instantly. The organic oregano in store is hand collected and processed in the flat and fertile land of Thessaly in Central Greece. The hands behind the operation belong to the family run business Thetida.
Passionate for the land and the process of cultivation, they follow the principles of organic herb farming to deliver a product of the highest quality whose fragrance will elevate your Greek salad to new standards. Trips back to Greece to meet the people behind some of the products, visiting their facilities and learning more about the cultivation process from the field to the packaged product are a frequent necessity for Donald but he is not complaining! While I won’t be spilling any secrets, the team is getting ready to visit Greece for the 2020 Food Expo in Athens, the largest in southern Europe and one that will probably help bring more quality Greek products to our homes here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
- What Are You Most Excited For At The Moment
With a new store in Browns Bay, a fresh and fully equipped upstairs space for Emily’s Greek Kitchen ready to host lessons as well as more products arriving every month, it seems there is plenty to stay excited about. But what is the latest accomplishment for the Greek market in New Zealand among the many exciting ventures? Well, that must be the new frozen lines in stock as well as the “siropiasta” a term used to describe syrupy desserts, both a result of partnerships with some of the most innovative food companies that have come out of Greece.
The frozen section in a Greek supermarket is one of the most important aisles after the olive oil one of course, a fact that few know about outside of Greece. So, what should you be looking for? The playful packaging of Ioniki’s new line of frozen Greek goodies termed FILOSOPHY, a play with the words “phyllo” and “sophia” meaning wisdom, will be a new favourite for customers for sure. With a long line of awards from major trade fairs around the world, Ioniki brings to life special recipes from all around Greece that can compete with yaya’s homade spinach pie or feta cheese puff pastries. A specialty product you can’t miss is bougatsa, a custard cream Greek pie that can be served for lunch or dessert and is a favourite of anyone from Northern Greece and especially the city of Thessaloniki.
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What To Try & What Not To Miss
There is no doubt that Greek cuisine is grossly misrepresented in Auckland and New Zealand in general, but with a place like Taste Greece there is no excuse to miss out on new flavours.
Even if you live outside of Auckland, you can get products shipped all over New Zealand and be certain that you are getting the best quality 100% Greek products. The extra virgin olive oil from Iliada has won a myriad of awards, including Best EVOO in the world in 2018! Cooking with olive oil will change your life both in terms of taste and quality and lets not even get started on the health benefits. For busy households and interesting packed lunches try some of the puff pastries on offer from Ioniki. The spinach pie spirals have been a hit at every BBQ “bring a plate” I have been to this year. If you really want to step it up with something new during dinner, what about bringing a bottle of Nemea Grand Reserve Red? This bestseller comes from the Agiorgitiko grapes, the most widely grown variety in Greece and combines beautifully with red meat, offering intense spicy flavours of chocolate and butter.