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Some people say that Palmerston North has the most places to eat per capita than anywhere else in NZ. Of course, Wellington also likes to claim that title, so who knows if it is true. But the fact is that Palmerston North is a student city, and students like to eat out a lot. Over the years, I have sampled my fair share of the restaurants and cafes in this city, and here are my top 10 favourites (in no particular order), that range from the high-class to the cheap and comforting:

1. Bella’s Cafe

“Cafe” is a bit of a misnomer for this cosy and classy restaurant with bright red-painted walls. Josh and I actually went here for the first time two weeks ago for an early “6 years together” anniversary dinner because we were lucky enough to get a voucher that made it more affordable. It isn’t cheap, but the quality of the food is very worth it. This is the kind of place you take someone that you want to impress 🙂

Best things to try: Venison on kumara mash with blue cheese stuffed figs, and their frozen chocolate mousse with pecan brownies.

Me about to tuck into my venison.

2. Alexandre Patisserie

I have a good friend called Hannah and she and I used to go out for “tea dates” every week before she went on a student exchange to Spain (Hannah, if you’re reading this, come back soon!). She introduced me to this Parisian-style cafe and I have to say that I couldn’t believe what I had been missing out on. This cafe is crammed with traditional French treats and is surprisingly cheaper than many chain cafes in the vicinity. It also sells freshly made bread every day and Josh and I have got into the habit of buying a baguette every weekend for an easy Sunday dinner. Who knew bread could be so tasty?

Best things to try: I’m a fan of the macarons, and Josh’s favourite is the black forrest mousse cake.

3. Noodles & Dumplings

Ever since moving to New Zealand I have been on the hunt for Asian food that reminds me of home. And nothing came close. Until my brother discovered Noodles & Dumplings (right next to Pompeii’s and under my very nose!) and insisted we go. I have been in love ever since and we go here with my siblings more times than I like to admit. You eat the food here “family style,” there’s free Chinese tea, and the food gets to your table as soon as it is cooked, within about 5-10 mins. It’s perfect when you’re in the middle of a busy week and really don’t want to cook.

Best things to try: Pork & leek fried dumplings, sweet and sour chicken, and the beef fried noodles (or mie goreng, as we call it).

While my family were visiting in the middle of this year we ate at Noodles & Dumplings frequently.

4. Cafe Cuba

This cafe on Palmy’s Cuba Street is always full. Its walls are covered with Cuban and socialist memorabilia and local art and Josh and I like to come here on the weekends for afternoon tea. They’re also open for brunch, lunch, and dinner.

Best things to try: Chocolate silk pie (I dare you to finish this by yourself), old-fashioned milkshakes, homemade sausage rolls.

5. Barista

Barista likes to straddle the ledge between fancy-pants dining and budget art-snob. It’s decor looks like industrial loft meets English tearoom. By day, I like to come here for sweet treats and tea in fine china cups. By night, their tasty mains have brought Josh and I here for quite a few Valentine’s Day and anniversary dinners. Live music often plays here on Saturday nights, they serve High Tea on Sundays from 3-5pm, and there is a mural on the wall that has been growing over the years with images from literature and pop culture.

Best things to try: Steak with garlic butter (the best garlic butter Josh has ever had…and he has had a lot of garlic butters), and their chocolate terrine. That terrine is hands-down the best dessert in Palmerston North. No lie. Go eat it now.

Barista’s glorious chocolate terrine. Oh man, I would do a lot of things to eat this dessert.

6. Chokolato

I could hardly contain my glee when this gelato bar and cafe opened up a few years ago. The gelato here is authentically handmade on the premises and the flavours range from the traditional (strawberries and cream) to the intriguing (chocolate and chilli) to the weird (“V” icecream, anyone?). They also serve hot chocolates made with Belgian chocolate.

Best things to try: The dark chocolate, gold rush, and banana flavours have been some of our favourites. They let you try before you buy!

7. Mao Bar

This is another restaurant in Palmy which has a bit of a socialist vibe…I am not sure what this has to say about this town! Hmm. Anyway, Mao Bar is an affordable place to go for birthday or date dinners. They have an upstairs section which is good for socialising over drinks.

Best things to try: Chargrilled chicken & feta salad, lamb shanks.

8. Pompeii’s

I like to think that I make a good pizza. But Pompeii’s pizzas leave mine in the dust. I don’t have much more to say on that matter other than: their pizzas are good. Go eat them. Oh, also, they make a great chocolate cake. This place is usually where we go for birthday dinners because they are affordable and I have never once been let down by the food. I recently discovered that they deliver too.

Best things to try: Pizza, duh. The Gladiatorr is our family’s favourite. And that chocolate cake.

“The Gladiator” pizza we ate for my 23rd birthday dinner.

9. Mr India

My family and I have always been big fans of Indian food. My dad spent a lot of time experimenting  with curries while I was growing up and it was usually the takeaway of choice whenever we could finally reach a consensus (it is hard to get six people to agree on something!). Mr India’s dishes may take awhile to come to the table but their taste is worth it and this family-run business is full of friendly faces.

Best things to try: Garlic naan, pakora, chicken tikka masala.

10. Tomato

This is the latest cafe/ restaurant to open on George St. It boasts a large (possibly plastic?) tomato on its roof, reminiscient of the tomato squeezy bottles that many New Zealand homes used to (or still do) have for their tomato sauce. The kiwiana theme is carried on inside with paintings, bits of paua shell, and other kitschy paraphrenalia decorating the walls. The food is a mix of classic Kiwi favourites and Italian.

Best things to try: Blue cheese and mushroom pizza, eggs benedict.

As luck would have it, the vast majority of these places are located close to each other, in and around the Square and George Street. That either means that that’s where the largest concentration of good restaurants are in Palmerston North, or it says something about the fact that we don’t have a car and walk everywhere. Either way, if you don’t like the look of one place, you can always quickly find another!

If you could recommend one restaurant to a visitor to your town, what would it be?

A lot of travel blogs include a post or two on the benefits of visiting the author’s hometown, a “tourist in my own town” kind of thing. This isn’t one of those. This is more of a “in defense of my town even though it does have its drawbacks” kind of post.

Palmerston North has long been on the recieving end of disparaging jokes. It is flat and grey, windy like Wellington without the saving grace of being a quirky capital city, and some might even call it the “armpit of New Zealand.” Comedian John Cleese once famously (and rather distastefully) said that “If you ever do want to kill yourself, but lack the courage, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick.” The citizens of this city got him back by naming a rubbish dump after him.

But despite all of this, Palmerston North does kind of grow on you. A bit like mould, but still.

I have now lived in this place for almost 5 years. This horrifies me slightly. I like to say I am a South Islander from Nelson (the place of my birth) but the fact remains that I have now lived in Palmerston North in the North Island for much longer than I ever lived in the South Island. Though, if we’re saying where we come from based on years spent there, then I can just say Indonesia and call it a day.

I ended up in Palmerston North, or “Palmy” as it is often called, by default. After graduating high school in 2007 I wanted to go to Australia. Long story short, after hopping around Canberra, and then NSW for two months, I got ill and ended up on a plane to Nelson to live with my aunt and uncle. I got a job at a supermarket and a few months later realised that I should decide where I wanted to go for university. Auckland and Wellington were eliminated straight away because I decided they were too big for a city-shy girl like me. Christchurch, Invercargill, and Dunedin were too cold, and I didn’t know enough about Waikato to consider it. Which left Palmerston North.

I won’t lie, I hated this place for the first half of my time here. I still hate it on some days. But the university here has the most beautiful campus I have ever seen, and the daffodils here in spring are I think the brightest and yellowest in all New Zealand. The cherry blossoms aren’t half bad either. Maybe the fact that everything else seems grey means that bright things stand out more.

Spring is here!

So Palmerston North might not be the most exciting or the most attractive place to live. But, for a girl who spent a large portion of her life in a tiny mountain village, it has been a great place to find my footing in the world and grow. And when Josh joined me here in 2010 and we moved into our first place in 2011 it became a quiet place to begin our life together. Are we here to stay? Most definitely not. But I am finally at peace with being here for this time in my life.

Home sweet home. Yep, it looks a bit ragged on the outside but it’s cosy 🙂

 

In my next post I will talk about something Palmy does very well indeed: Food!

[This post was originally written on July 30. Unforeseen circumstances meant that this blog has got off to s slow start!]

We certainly have got around a bit over the last month or so. First Kaiaua, and then, a week later, Taupo. This is mostly because of my family being in the country for a bit, and we have made the most of seeing them before they head back to Indonesia in mid-August.

My mum, one of my sisters, and I on a walk around the lake.

So, Taupo. We were meant to spend a whole week here, but ended up only lasting a few days for various reasons (my sister had a dentist appointment, I had work to do, etc.).

Lake Taupo is New Zealand largest lake and a popular year round tourist spot. In summer there are water sports, and in winter it is reasonably close to the Whakapapa ski field. We didn’t actually lodge in Taupo itself, but instead stayed in a  “family unit” on a campground.

Mountain under blue skies.

We were lucky enough to have perfectly clear skies for the majority of our stay. The wind whipping off the mountains was icy but walks down by the lake were still pleasant. My dad and brother went fishing for trout but unfortunately didn’t catch anything.

The day before we left we drove through Tongariro National Park and up to the Whakapapa ski field on Mt Ruapehu. Snow is still a novelty for our family so we didn’t need to buy a ski pass to have fun.

Getting to make snowballs is a little bit exciting for my family.

New Zealand as a whole has always seemed to be an earthy-coloured country to me. Plenty of greens, browns and greys.

Look closely and you can see steam coming out of the side of this volcano.

But that day in the park and on the mountain woke me up to the more vibrant colours of this country. Teal lakes, raw red as a harrier hovers above the traffic so that he can snatch a bite of roadkill. A burst of orange on a ski slope as a Buddhist monk stoops to make a snowball.

Since moving to New Zealand to study in 2008 it has taken me a long time to feel any attachment to this land of my birth. It has always been a name on my passport, some letters that I fill in on immigration forms. But, days like that one on the mountain may be slowly changing that for me.