For the nearly 18 years that I’ve worked as a journalist at the NZ Herald, more often than not, I’m on the hunt for affordable meals. With the rise in cost of living, the idea of getting lunch at a wallet-friendly price may sound a little far-fetched, but believe me, there are still lots of deliciousness in the city even if you’re on a budget.

Steamed dumplings from Little Tiger Dumplings, $4.49 for two large dumplings | 62A Federal Street
A colleague of mine who frequents this little eatery tucked away on Federal St swears that it serves some of the finest dumplings in the city. The little parcels sold here are larger than your normal dumplings, and are packed with fillings that explode in your mouth. Must haves are the three delicacies (shrimp, pork, woodear mushroom) or chicken and corn.

Dragon Boat Restaurant's $2 vegetarian spring rolls and $1 fried wontons | Atrium Food Court, Elliott Street
The Cantonese restaurant nestled within Atrium on Elliott, famous for its yum cha, has a stall at the mall’s food court. Crispy spring rolls and fried wontons are classic appetizers on the restaurant’s menu, but order a couple of these and they can become a decent lunch meal for the cost-conscious. The fillings in the spring rolls differ from time to time, but mostly they are filled with cabbage, mushrooms, carrots and glass vermicelli noodles. Have two spring rolls and two wontons and the total price is just $5.

Daikoku Convenience's Char Siu Bao (steamed BBQ pork buns), $3.50 | 109B Victoria Street
OK, so these pork buns are factory supplied and not store-made, but they do make a tasty, on-the-go lunch. Steamed buns filled with savoury and slight sweet char siu pork fillings are what I’d get when in need of something cheap, hot and comforting. In countries like Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, it is pretty common for stores like Daikoku to serve convenient food like steamed buns, rice balls, fried chicken and bento boxes.

(Top left and bottom: Dragon Boat Restaurant, top right: Little Tiger Burger)

Little Tiger Dumpling
Dragon Boat

Japanese curry rice from Japanese Dining You, $7.50 large bowl | 1B Hobson Street
The next time you get a spice craving, go grab a bowl of this very affordable Japanese curry and rice meal. Japanese curry is thicker, sweeter and generally quite different to Indian, Malaysian or Thai curries. Two of my favourites are the You signature beef curry and the creamy chicken curry. Pay a little bit more for toppings that include cheese, vegetable croquette and fried shrimp roll.

Jianbing at Flowers Restaurant, $5 | Victoria Street West
If you’ve passed Victoria Street West across SkyCity recently, you’d have noticed a new Chinese eatery that recently opened called Flowers. You may have also seen a middle-aged woman cooking pancakes on a circular cast-iron grill just by the main door. What she’s making is jianbing - one of China’s most popular street foods. The savory crisp-fried crepes offer a contrast of flavours and textures - eggs are spread over the surface of the wheat and mung bean flour crepe as it cooks, and fillings added that include puffed strips of fried wonton skin, peppery scallions, pickles and sweet and spicy hoisin and chilli sauces.

Samosa Chaat from Bal Ganga Indian Takeaway, $5 for one, or $7 for a double | 51A Hobson St
This is a real hidden gem, located by a back carpark on Hobson Street. Bal Ganga is a vegetarian takeaway stall that offers puris, chapatis, parathas, curries and Indian burgers. But one of my favourites is the samosa chaat - the potato-curried filled samosa is crumbed and topped with yogurt, onions, chutneys and spiced chickpeas (channa chaat). One is enough for a snack, but the double two-samosa portion will fill you up as a full lunch meal.

(Top left and bottom: Japanese Dining You, top right Flowers Restaurant) 

Japanese Dining You
jian bing from Flowers
Japanese Dining You

Samgak Gimbap from Dosirock | $5 each | 39 Chancery Street
 I remember my travels in South Korea and picking Samgak Gimbap from convenience stores there. So I was thrilled to see this being offered at a little Korean eatery in Chancery called Dosirock. Samgak Gimbap translates to mean triangle gimbap - rice and fillings shaped in a triangle form and wrapped in seaweed.
Options of fillings here include bulgogi beef, spicy pork, tuna mayo, spam or the super-spicy buldak chicken. Part of the fun is learning the art of removing the plastic cover that keeps the gim (seaweed) fresh before eating.

Egg fried rice from City Best 3, $9.99 | 29 Vulcan Lane
Quite a few new eateries are opening in the central city, and City Best 3 on Vulcan Lane is one of them. One of the great value meals I had on my first visit there was the humble egg fried rice. Simple and comforting, this classic Chinese dish reminds me of the type of fried rice you get from the hawker stalls back in Singapore where I grew up. The eatery has fried noodles too for that same price.

Lunch-size banh mi at Nam Viet, $10 | Atrium Food Court, Elliott Street
Banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich filled with a variety of ingredients has become pretty popular in Auckland. It comes with a crispy baguette, savoury meat fillings, herbs and fresh salad and served hot. Like many other things, prices of banh mi across the city are slowly creeping up. But at Nam Viet, another stall located inside the Atrium on Elliott food hall, you can still request lunch-sized ones (which is about two-thirds the normal size). The banh mi here is really tasty and satisfying.

Oden from Pop Hut, $8 for 9 pieces | 239 Queen Street
This little eatery on the street level of MidCity Mall sells pretty decent oden - a classic Japanese stew where an assortment of fish cakes are simmered in a soy sauce-based dashi sauce. You get to pick your choice of items, and with the days getting colder, this makes for a perfect lunch that would not only fill you but also warm you up. If you’re feeling hungry, they also have a large option of 12 pieces for $9.90.

(Top left and right: Dosirock, bottom: Nam Viet)

Nam Viet

About Lincoln Tan
Lincoln Tan is a Journalist from New Zealand's Herald and an avid foodie who is most happy when he gets to discover great food or an exciting new eatery. 

Last updated: 15 May 2024