Think small

Denise Irvine shares her love of independent food businesses

I’ve spent a chunk of my life avoiding the supermarket. I think the small-town girl lurks deep within, and back in the day my family knew the butcher, the baker, the grocer, and the vege man. These stores, and their owners, had our enduring custom and loyalty.

I’ve kind of replicated this all my life. I shop sporadically at the supermarket, stocking up on cleaning products, loo paper (in moderation, I promise), decent specials, and a bunch of other necessary stuff. I top this up with comestibles from my favourite small businesses, the independently owned places that do things a bit differently.

It’s shop-hopping, as opposed to one-stop-shopping and it’s not for everyone because it takes more time to dip in and out of multiple places. The rewards are great personal service, knowing where your food comes from (in many cases), and supporting local. I’ve done some price comparisons and I reckon I just about come out even with supermarket purchases.

I’m mindful, though, that supermarkets offer 24/7 service and regular employment for many people so I don’t want to dis them. They have their place in the scheme of things.

Like when the latest Covid Level 4 lockdown was announced on August 17: I was caught short, it had been ages since I’d been to the supermarket. So a couple of days later I masked up and did a big shop at my local Countdown. Very well-organised it was, too, and the staff as helpful as ever as they dealt with lockdown pressure.

There is much debate about Level 4 essential services, who can and can’t trade, and why supermarkets get the nod from Government.

On the one hand, I can see the rationale that having fewer stores open – in this case, the one-stop-shops – means fewer points of contact and therefore less risk of Covid transmission. On the other hand, the restrictions are particularly tough for butchers, fishmongers, bakeries, greengrocers, all small food businesses who are required to close. As well as the many producers and food manufacturers who don’t have supermarket contracts.

It leads to food waste and increasing uncertainty for many operators, while the big guys go gangbusters. I’ve been pleased to see that some of my small favourites have met the criteria to open in Level 4, and many more independent suppliers and producers offer online sales.

Today, in these upside-down times, I thought I’d do a shout out – in no particular order – to some of my regular shop-hopping haunts.

Hamilton Farmers’ Market, Claudelands Park, Gate 3, Brooklyn Rd, Hamilton, Sundays, 8am-12pm; and Cambridge, Victoria Square, on Saturdays. waikatofarmersmarket.co.nz

I stock up each Sunday – in normal life – at Claudelands with fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, and a few extras, from friendly stall-holders. It’s a great way to eat with the Waikato seasons, and even in the depths of winter you score some great buys and bargains. I’m hanging out for Spring asparagus and strawberries. The Cambridge market is warmly recommended too.

Green Patch, 680 Grey St, Hamilton East.

Reliable, good quality produce: fresh fruit and vegetables, a well-stocked Asian grocery section, and basics such as eggs, bread and milk. There are other similar places in town, the New Save supermarkets are popular, but Green Patch is my excellent local.

Wholly Cow Butchery, 47 Victoria St, Cambridge. whollycow.co.nz

I missed Wholly Cow when it closed its Claudelands store last year. It offered consistently good meat, and service, and I admire the sustainable practices of this owner-operated butchery. So whenever I’m in Cambridge, I call into the Wholly Cow mothership and buy for the freezer. Luckily I’d done that not long before lockdown. Their lamb is particularly good.

Vetro Mediterranean Foods, 122 Rostrevor St, Hamilton. vetro.co.nz/hamilton.html

If you haven’t already found Vetro, it’s a spacious specialty store selling a wealth of Mediterranean goods as well as many lines from New Zealand producers. Think pasta, rice, spice, cheese, Italian wine, cured meats, black olives, anchovies, canned tomatoes, confectionary, olive oil, condiments … and much more.

La Cave, 51A Riverlea Rd, Hillcrest, Hamilton. la-cave-nz.myshopify.com/

La Cave’s been operating in Hamilton since 2004, specialising in European – primarily French – imported products. It has bread, pastries, cheese, wine, canned goods, brilliant chocolates, condiments, terrines and pates, some homewares, and many other treats. A taste of France tucked away in the Hamilton suburbs.

Bin Inn Hamilton East, 1B/20 Clyde St, Hamilton East. bininn.co.nz/bin-inn-hamilton-east

If ever I’m stuck for a last minute ingredient for a recipe, I’m bound to find it at my local Bin Inn. Recently it was orange blossom water, another time it was brown rice syrup. It’s all there, a vast range of specialty groceries, wholefoods and bulk items, and always something new to try. There is a New Zealand Post Agency in store, and it’s a Lotto outlet too. Friendly service and many loyal customers.

Volare, handcrafted sourdough breads, 272 Grey St, Hamilton East, and other locations including Cambridge.  volarebread.com for details

As well as their excellent signature sourdoughs, Volare does pastries, sweet treats, savouries and similar, umpteen different products, to a high standard. My online order has just been delivered as I write. Bring on the cumin and turmeric sourdough!

The Grumpy Baker, 595 Victoria St, Hamilton. thegrumpybaker.co.nz

Owner-operator Brent Hughes does tempting sweet and savoury baking (cakes, slices, muffins, scones, pies, quiches, lunch rolls, etc) and lovely European-style sourdough breads. Some of Brent’s breads are available at Vetro; the Polish loaf is a favourite.

Sea Treasure Seafoods, 62 Mahana Rd, Te Rapa, Hamilton, seatreasure.co.nz

I love this wet fish market with its glittering display of whole fish, fillets, smoked fish and various molluscs. There are always happy customers at the fish and chip counter, too.

And I’m a happy cook after I’ve done the rounds of these places.