Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The White Lady Pie Cart

Where do you go in Auckland when you feel like a late night scoff? One place in particular has satisfied the growling bellies of many a drunk, clubber, shift worker, insomniac and combinations thereof over the past few decades. And it's not on Twitter...

I was in downtown Auckland on Monday to catch Camera Obscura, one of my all-time favourite bands, performing at Toto's Montecristo Room. They're presently in the midst of a world tour promoting their album, "My Maudlin Career" (fingers crossed, I'll be able to see them play in their native Scotland later this year when I visit my sister and brother-in-law!). Below are two of their band members Tracyanne Campbell, singer and guitarist, and Kenny McKeeve, guitarist.

Their set was brilliant, packed full of melodic, charm-laden pop culminating in the most amazing wall of feedback at the end of their encore! Opening the gig were fellow Brits Slow Club, an awesomely rowdy duo from Sheffield. It was hot (poor Miss Campbell was wearing tights), noisy (I have tinnitus in my right ear, the price you pay for grabbing the best spot for taking photos), and all thoroughly enjoyable! All this, and I scored a band t-shirt too! With it all done and dusted by midnight, I felt like something to eat. With Auckland being rather big, I was spoilt for choice but I only really wanted something from a place I'd only ever heard about; a place I now had the chance to visit for myself.

The White Lady is a pie cart, one of the few remaining in the country. A pie cart is a mobile fast food outlet, usually in the form of a modified caravan or bus. These sprang up around the country not long after the second world war; The White Lady for instance first opened in 1948. The owner would park up in the main street of town and serve hot meals such as chips, pies and burgers to late night patrons looking for something to eat after the local pubs, milk bars and cafes had closed. The food was cheap, hot and filling; the cooks were kept busy, usually from opening at seven at night right through to the early hours of the morning. Pie carts predate the fast food chains and consequently suffered as they took root and spread throughout the country during the 1970's. Competing with their initial novelty value and then subsequent entrenchment in the food scene, as well as contending with the increasingly stringent health and safety demands of local councils, the pie cart became increasingly unviable and they slowly began to disappear; I remember the pie cart that used to be across the road from the Hastings police station when I was very little, now long since gone.

After wandering for a bit, there it was on Commerce street, draped in party lights and filling the air with the tantalising smell of fried food; I swear I could smell it before I saw it. There was a small line of people waiting to be served, and just as I'd been told, there on the footpath were the milk crate seats, presently occupied by three beautiful Asian girls devouring fat, juicy hamburgers.

The White Lady has gone through three different forms over its many years of trading, starting off as a caravan, through to its present incarnation, a heavily modified bus equipped as you would a standard New Zealand fast food kitchen. True to form, the cart was serving a small group of businessmen, eager for a bite to eat after sharing a few drinks. The menu provides the usual fast food fare, as well as catering to vegetarians. A true mark of progress: the presence of aioli on the menu! Imagine the scorn if someone requested aioli on their chips back in the 1950's...or even if you knew how to pronounce it.

What did I order? A steak burger, comprising a big, beautifully cooked piece of sirloin (perfectly seasoned), with sauce, onions, iceberg and tomato accompanied by a creaming soda milkshake. Apologies for the crappy photo - it only occurred to me as I was halfway through the burger that maybe I should fire off a quick shot - you're lucky you got that much, frankly.

Right, mission accomplished! Unbuckling my belt by two notches, I slowly waddled off back to my hotel. This could just be naivety on my part but it felt surprisingly safe wandering around downtown Auckland at that time, more so I'm afraid to say than in my hometown, Napier. I'd also forgotten the delights to be had by being in the city; late night eateries, clubs, gigs galore...To think I even lived in one once, Chicago. I think it would be good for a whole host of reasons to give thought to moving back to one...

Anyhoo, morning rolled round and it was time to catch my flight back home. Look what I found on my way to the shuttle stop:

I haven't had a Dunkin' Donut (and by "a", I mean a box of six for $9) for years - slurp! With my coronary fate sealed, it was back on the plane and off to Napier (after they chased the sheep off the runway). That's Lake Taupo down below:

The trip was done on a very meagre budget (thanks, Christmas), but it was grand nonetheless!

I'll leave you now with a couple of videos from Camera Obscura (linky goodness to be found after the videos):


The White Lady makes NBR clickety

The Great New Zealand Pie Cart - a book outlining the history of this phenomenom, as well as existing businesses clickety

Slow Club - video for their song, "Trophy Room" clickety & here they are on Facebook clickety

Under the Radar - handy source of gig and band info around NZ clickety

San Francisco Bathhouse - awesome music venue on Cuba street in Welly, plays host to many cool bands, local & international clickety


Barbara said...

We were discussing the Auckland White Lady recently. My son had some story about some visiting band members at one point saving it from closing. Can't remember who it was. I'll check with him next time he's here and let you know.

My husband's band had a fav place in Ponsonby for shawarmas after the gig.

peasepudding said...

Sounds like you had a good trip to Auckland! I, not growing up in NZ or hitting the night life had not heard of The White Lady but when I asked P he chuckled and said he had eaten there many times before in his earlier years ;o Maybe we will see you next time you are up this way.

I'm going to post the lavender martini on Tuesday evening if you want to post the same time? I will send the details through to your email. Alli

Nigel Olsen said...

Hi Barb! Yes, I'd love to hear the story. I've been looking around but not found anything.

Alli - Awesome! Thanks muchly :)