An Actual Visit to Martha’s Backyard

A few weeks ago, Jacquie and I were swilling buckets full of the local vintage with our friend Rob, an American who moved to New Zealand when he was a teenager, and never looked back. Or if he did ever look back, it was only to make sure nobody was following him.

Anywho, Rob had just returned from a visit to the States where, as he told it, he ate a lot of the sort of food you just can’t find anywhere else on Earth. Or in New Zealand, for that matter. Rob said the only vegetables he ingested during his trip were onion rings.

Inevitably, the conversation got around to the subject of pickles.

“The only place to get a decent pickle in Auckland is from Martha’s Backyard,” Rob said.

“What a coincidence,” I said. “I wrote an authoritative piece about Martha’s Backyard for my insanely popular and internationally acclaimed blog.”

“Oh, so you’ve been to Martha’s Backyard?” Rob said.

“Never,” I said.

“So you espoused a strong opinion based on hearsay and not on the weight of empirical evidence?”

“Well, I’m mostly writing for an American audience.”

Rob convinced me that it was time to go on a fact-finding mission. I needed to see Martha’s Backyard for myself so I could figure out what I’d been talking about.

Martha's Backyard. Technically, there is no backyard. Unless you count Stonefields, a defunct quarry at the foot of Mt. Wellington, which is slowly being turned into a gruesome-looking subdivision.

Martha’s Backyard wasn’t like what I’d expected it to be. It was the only shop in a dusty strip mall beside a gigantic housing development that had been under construction for almost four years but seemed to have run out of credit before a tenth of it was built. Naturally, I was overcome with homesickness. Then, when Rob and I went inside the shop, I was overcome with regular sickness. For stretched before me, as far as the eye could see––about 60 feet to the back wall––was a row-and-a-half of good old American-made (mostly*) junk food.

Ameri-cornucopia.

Say "cheese product."

And all along I thought you couldn't get a decent pizza in New Zealand.

We looked around but to our disappointment we couldn’t find any pickles. Then we brought our stuff up to the cashier.

“Hello,” Rob said. He pointed to me. “This is an American.”

“Oh, sorry,” the cashier said. “No refunds.”

I paid for the things that I’d grabbed off the shelf at random, to tell the truth. I bought an eight-pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups*, a “family sized” bottle of French’s yellow mustard and some bunting to spruce up the apartment, all for about $17 (U.S.)

Then Rob and I drove up to the top of Mt. Wellington where we got a decent view of the $2 billion, 270-acre (less than half the size of Prospect Park in Brooklyn) housing development which some day 6,500 people may call home if the developers ever get around to finishing it.

Stonefields Urban Village. Never will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Then I went home and inspected my booty.

And seeing that my booty was good, I then looked at the stuff that I bought at Martha’s Backyard.

These colors don't run. Most likely because they're filled with emulsifiers. Most of the 1.3 kilograms of Americany Goodness you see here was actually made in America*.

Then I ate the peanut butter cups*, the Fritos and the Bugles.

Then I washed them down with some mustard.

Then I ate fried chicken made with the Progresso bread crumbs.

Then I…oh, whatever. You get the picture.

All in all I was glad Rob took me to that shop, but I probably won’t go back. Not unless they get a shipment of decent pickles.

Otherwise, I think I’ve about had it with American-y Goodness

*Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: Hecho en Mexico.

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32 comments

  1. Ba-Tampte pickles——the best. Other than Florida and NYC, I’ll bet they are hard to find even here in the states.

  2. Reese’ peanut butter cups not readily available!!! I thought NZ was an outpost of the civilized Western World! Guess it’s a country on the wrong side of the Junk Food Curtain.

  3. @Maeghan Twinkies are Martha’s top selling item. Apparently they disappear as soon as they hit the shelves.

    @Victoria I don’t think I ever tasted a Ba-Tampte pickles. I have to go back to see if they ever get a shipment of kosher dills, or do it myself at home.

    @Moriah You’re telling me.

    @Peter If worst comes to worst, we can eat our way through the junk food curtain. Freedom is just another word for 25 pounds to lose.

    @Michelle It probably should read “It’s just differently abled”

  4. “Differently abled” …. I LOVE it!

    Simon, American English continues to morph into obscene new coinages in your absence. Next time you visit you won’t be able to speak the language. Exs. of new verbs: architected, dearchitected, derisk. Another new word: rewardification. And how’s this for a nice turn of phrase: “a basket of metrics”.

  5. Make sure you really know where it is before you go. Maybe call first? I didn’t find it the first time I drove over there.

  6. Why get the breadcrumbs? I don’t miss US breadcrumbs – I just use the ones I buy in the grocery stores here in NZ, or I make my own. Mustard, candy, junk food I can understand buying at Martha’s – but breadcrumbs??

  7. Hi y’all. I needed a good laugh and your postings cracked me up. Here in NZ 13 years now and definitely still being caught out by Kiwi culture. The other day we sent our daughter to school in uniform on “mufti day”. What is that? I thought it had something to do with helping Pakistani flood victims, as the school was collecting donations on the same day. Luckily she didn’t mind being the only kid of 1200 in uniform that day, ah well…. oh but I was going to post something about Martha’s backyard ….

    This is going to sound a bit like an AA meeting but here goes. I am nearly addicted to American junk food cereals and am late 40’s. I love Martha’s for Cap’n Crunch (original) and Cheerios. I hide the former from my 5 year old — too much sugar is how I justify getting to eat the whole box. Wish they carried Frosted Mini-wheats and real maple syrup in jugs. Why stock Aunt Jemima? You can buy rubbish like that all over the supermarkets here. And why buy mustard from Martha’s when it is in the shops here? Maybe there is something extra special about the imported stuff at Martha’s that I don’t know about. Anyway I consider going there to be a grown-up treat even though it mainly reminds me of all the crap I ate as a kid.

  8. Hi everybody, been here 16 years now. Found Marthas re freshing and fun to be reminded of all the crap I had as a kid too. But wasn’t in the mood to buy a big tub of Crisco!! I just wanted to let you know they have pickles now. A big ol’ jar of pickles. I only went in there once but noticed the pickles 🙂

    Let me know when they get some graham crackers, I cant even explain them to people. I need to show them a box and then have my kids build little edible houses with icing and lollies . Hope Halloween brings some interesting things…

  9. Hi, just responding to Jennifer who wants graham crackers. I haven’t been to Martha’s, but have a friend who goes there with an American friend and she has bought me graham crackers twice so they must have them.

    I tried to tell my Kiwi friends about somemores, but until I got the graham crackers they didn’t have a clue. Wanted to make damper over the fire to show me something Kiwi. Needless to say, Kiwi kids love s’mores.

  10. Hey all,

    I found graham crackers in NZ!!! They are stocked in most all of the Asian food stores, even here in Taupo! I have been buying them for about a year plus now. I am dying to go to Martha’s to get some regular Cheerios and I hope some Fritos, though I never really ate them in the States much. I need albacore tuna too! Anyone???

  11. I am the reverse of most commenters here. I am a kiwi that has wandered through the US. There aren’t many foods I miss from over there though. Mostly I wondered why everything looked like it had been packaged back in the 60s. Where are all the shiney foil wrappings that make people me go “Ooooh Shiney!” *buy*?

    What I do miss however are Buffalo wings. MMMMMmmmm. And Ice Cream snickers bars. The Dunkin Donuts breakfast menu… Deep fried Mozarella sticks. And most of all I miss the free things you get when you sit down at a restaurant. Free bread, Free olives, free chips… it all depends on what type of restaurant it is. It just showed a good sense of hospitality.

    For anyone wondering – I was mostly in the New England area. Hence the Dunkin’ Donuts and all the Italian food I ate. And to think I only gained 10 KGs in 3 months!! 😀

  12. I suspect the reason expat Americans say “it’s just different” is so that they won’t be tempted to scream at one another that it actually sucks dog’s balls living down here, for some of us. Adopting the Kiwi practice of self-censorship is one way to survive. Negativity about the amazing trademarked lifestyle will isolate you further, so why say what you think. And yeah,I did the Star Trek Depression thing too. 🙂 Had to laugh. Martha’s Backyard is a trip down Memory Lane. Kind of bittersweet. In our straits, I found the prices depressing. Do not expect a warm arms-open Hello Fellow Expat welcome, either. I was surprised by the setting as well, and left with a funny feeling in my stomach, and some goldfish.

  13. There IS a kiwi alternativeto grahm crackers in the supermarkets, look for “digestive” crackers, sounds like health food, but surprise! pretty close to good ole grahm crackers, (and much cheaper than Marthas)

    1. Digestives are good. And you can trick yourself into thinking they’re healthy, so you can eat a lot more, if you want to.

  14. @Shayna:
    buffalo wings:
    60 grams butter
    65 grams american mustard
    1TBSP Hot Chilli sauce (Louisianna Red is best)
    1 TBSP Hickory Smoke
    1/2 cup tomato sauce

    Heat and blend together. The red sauce and Hickory is available @ Martha’s

  15. I found you off of E2NZ wordpress. I just returned from Martha’s, and they have Twinkies. If you want them. I took a bite of the one my friend bought, and it was too sweet and very stale and coarse. Not like I remember from my childhood.

    I agree it was more like a trip down Memory Lane (an expensive one) than anything else. Maybe not very useful for actual Americans living here.

    Piles of graham crackers. Lots of Crisco,Hamburger Helper, Chef Boyardee, Rice a Roni and things like that from your 1960s or 1970s Boomer childhood, you know. Kiwis seemed to be running the place. It was not well organized and I think they could use some input on how to use their space better (hint – not racks of dimestore electric cars and junky Elmo onesies. We can get those at Warehouse!). Housewife help foods. like canned pumpkin, they had goods of that sort. “Real” mustard instead of the “American-flavored” mustard they have in the stores here in New Zealand (which does not taste American at all). Tomato products without the sugar in them (they put sugar in everything tomato-y here). A-1 sauce. Some local items like Tony Chachere’s, other spice mixes. It takes some experience to figure out which New Zealand items can replace the American ones (Crystal mustard is ok for French’s) and which there are no replacement for (graham crackers – digestive biscuits are not the same).

    We were happy to get some marshmallow fluff for our fluffernutters. Mainly, as Lane above said, it is just a sad place for those of us here who are struggling. New Zealand is not an easy place to live for Americans unless you are rich. We are accustomed to everything being quite inexpensive back home.

  16. They have moved to a nice big new shop in the Harvey Norman Centre on Mt Wellington Highway at the foot of Mt Wellington and have lots of pickles now, hugest pickles I’ve ever seen.

  17. I see the ex pats aren’t that impressed with the shop which is actually run by americans and who I have found to be very helpful unlike when I visit america not that I’m letting that deter me as I am wanting to try and live in the US in a few years and when I visit, my friend always tries to introduce me to something new and so when I come back here this shop has some of my likes. They are always open to you putting in your preferences of stock you would like for them to get in on their next shipments . I realise for those who come here you have grown up with certain foods and tastes and adjusting to our equivalents is not easy but that’s where I feel the people from Martha’s are trying to help and I can’t knock them for that. I’m sure if my quest to get over there becomes real I too will need to find what works for me but I’m not set on only what I have grown up with here got to embrace the differences is all I feel. I’m off today to see what they have instore 🙂

  18. Only place to get pickles in Auckland and probably NZ is Skazka Deli in Newmarket. Russian/Polish imports. From NY since 60’s, it took me decades to find a real dill pickle in NZ.

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