Get to know your food suppliers

Last updated 10:31 15/08/2011

Directly over the road from my work, (at Slow Boat Records in Cuba Street), is a place that I would describe as an institution, if that didn't sound like a bland, colourless, lifeless place, which it most certainly is not.

Sanjay Dayal, Cuba Fruit - photo by Kent Blechynden, Dominion Post

Cuba Fruit Mart has been selling the best fresh produce in that same spot in Wellington for about 40 years. Brother and sister duo Sanjay and Joshna Dayal are proper Cuba Street royalty - the third generation of their family to run the store. They are characters who define the neighbourhood, who know all the neighbourhood goss (you obviously see all sorts of things when you are out and about at 4.30am), who supply a great number of the capital's finest restaurants and cafes, and who, in the process of getting to know them, have significantly changed and improved the way that I eat. Chances are, if you have enjoyed food at Logan Brown, Floriditas, Capital, or Fidels, you have eaten some of Cuba Fruit's produce.

When I first came to Wellington, a decade ago, we did all our food shopping at the supermarket, like most people do, I guess. It's convenient, for sure - a massive range of every type of product imaginable, at discounted prices. I used to get the odd bit of fruit or things we'd run out of from Cuba Fruit, and then, when we decided to buy all our fruit and veg from them, I carried over the weekly shopping habit, to Sanjay's disgust - "why don't you just buy what you need for tonight - you only work over the road, you can come in every day!" he would say to me.

So that's what I started to do. I could buy exactly what I wanted to cook that night, and I could make up my mind during the day. It makes for significantly less waste; I can get just a handful of herbs or a single red chili, I can ask what's good and bad, and what's cheap (at the moment, pumpkin and kumara) and expensive (tomatoes, capsicums), and what's coming up on the seasonal calendar, and everything we eat is just that much fresher. I can keep stocked up with kitchen basics that I panic if I run out of like garlic, lemons, onions, potatoes. If I need any special ingredients - cheap berries to make jam, or cheffy, pretentious things like blood oranges, pomegranates, or pea tendrils - I can ask Sanjay and he'll get them from the market for me next day.

I think it is really important to deal directly, if you can, with the people who your dollar goes to; to develop a relationship with your food suppliers, so they can get to know what you like (and introduce you to new things!), and to support local businesses. It is usually worth paying a little more (though Cuba Fruit compared favourably to supermarket prices in a recent survey) to have expert advice and a bigger and better range of choices. They... know things. And if you are confused about anything, just ask them.

So who are your "local" food faves - people or stores that have shaped the way you eat, and the way you think about food?

Picture of Sanjay Dayal by Kent Blechynden/The Dominion Post

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JCC   #1   10:41 am Aug 15 2011

While i see how convenient it is for you, i just couldn't be bothered about shopping every day. I have a general plan of what i'll make during the week and then you often have that 'surprise' meal at the end of the week, using up bits and pieces left over, which can be fun and sometimes challenging!

Lols   #2   10:51 am Aug 15 2011

Having worked as a buyer at Moore Wilsons I really wish I didn't want to shop there, but they are onto a good thing with their Fresh market. Completely overpriced (trust me, I know) but they're the only place with what I want! So kudos I suppose. The wholesale section leaves a lot to be desired though, so thumbs up to Toops there. My fav places tend to be small Asian foodstores. So many flavours at excellent prices.

Janjan   #3   10:53 am Aug 15 2011

Agreed. I love fruit and vegetable markets. It actually feels like they're coming from somewhere, and you're contributuing to someones business rather than buying generic overpriced and bland produce from the supermarket.

Mandy   #4   10:56 am Aug 15 2011

Careful, your stalkers will know how to find you! Sanjay is always interviewed on TV when the price of veges go up. I love the idea of getting to know food suppliers, can't say I know many at the moment. My Dad was a chef who harboured a secret desire to be a dietician, he's had the most influence on the way I think about food. Will you blog on coffee soon? Hope so.

CP   #5   11:08 am Aug 15 2011

hmm, in my case, the local supermarket has driven me to find other places to shop. It is so horrendously overpriced, that even considering petrol as well as wear and tear on the car makes it worthwhile to drive 25 km to the next township. So regrettably, in my case, this means shopping less frequently - the price you pay for living out of town. Having said that, it has got me to discover fabulous new places, like the free range chicken one where you get a size 16 bird for $8 as well as the vege stall on the side of the road, where I bought 5 kg of sauce tomatoes for $3 at the end of the season and made the most delicious tomato ketchup. Unfortunately it has nearly run out. Next year I will make enough to last for 12 months, to the next tomato sale :) We also have a fabulous local butcher, who sources all his meat in NZ and is very well priced. I must say, I only go to the supermarket for cleaning products and red wine now. There are so many little specialty shops with better quality, range and price and I rather support them than an Australian food giant with 800% margins on avocados.

Linda   #6   11:47 am Aug 15 2011

I absolutely agree. My main "local" is the Hamilton Farmers Market, where of course everything is produced locally, and is therefore fresh. What I mostly appreciate about buying from there is that I can speak to the growers and producers of the food. I love that they can tell me how the food was produced, and their favourite ways of using it. And of course going there regularly means you get to know the stallholders and they look after you. I much prefer to buy quality local food from people who know about it and care about both the food and the customers.

Shopping this way has changed my attitude to food in the last few years. I am learning how to shop in season, and to create my menus from whatever is available at the market. It's great to see more people are becoming aware that supermarkets aren't always the best way to shop.

MRG   #7   12:33 pm Aug 15 2011

I totally agree.

Getting to know a local butcher is also a good way to go.

The other thing I would recommend is getting to know what is grown around where you live. You can usually get some really good deals (if you are into preserving) from the ACTUAL grower. They get more money than they will from the middleman, and you pay less.

El Jorge   #8   01:18 pm Aug 15 2011

In my opinion (others may differ) Fruitworld Greenlane has the best produce in Auckland. I have tried many other produce shops and find that the produce at this particular shop lasts longer and looks healther than elsewhere. Fruitworld Mt Roskill is a close second.

susushack   #9   01:52 pm Aug 15 2011

I only buy my fruit & veges at the Porirua market on a Saturday morning. I have my "organics guy" & my "garlic guy". I refuse to pay twice the price at the supermarket & only buy seasonal. For tricky things I go to Ontrays.

MANdy   #10   03:52 pm Aug 15 2011

How big are their cucumbers Jeremy?

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