Glutton Abroad: Downtown to Chinatown

Lunch at Crystal Harbour

After my last post, people could be forgiven for mistaking me for a rabidly nationalistic Australian (not true), or a grumpy chubby person (true). Things have changed in 2011. The rain in New Zealand has stopped, the sun is in the sky, swimmers are in the water, and rugby players are on the fields. All is right in the world. Well, except if you are trying to blog on an iPad, which is a bit like writing with a wet squid head (I had to throw one complaint in there. I am, after all, still me).

Yes, I am still in fabulously sun-shiny Auckland, but you wouldn’t know it from what I’ve been eating. Oh, let’s start from the beginning: my parents are here to visit. They are wonderful people, but also very old-school Thais when it comes to their food choices. Rule no. 1: there must be rice, at least every other day. Rule no. 2: chilies, somehow, every day. And rule no. 3: when in doubt, go for Chinese.

Not just any Chinese, mind you. For old-school people like my parents, it must be Cantonese, or nothing at all. I think Thais look to Cantonese the same way British people used to see French food — as the foundation of their cuisine and as the most noble embodiment of cuisine. Naturally, in NZ, there are plenty of Cantonese restaurants, in keeping with the many Asians who have come to live on the Island of the Long White Cloud in the past few decades.

If you are like many people and judge the quality of a chinese restaurant by the number of chinese diners inside, then Enjoy Inn (530 Great South Road, Greenlane) is the place for you. Packed to the gills with Chinese, the restaurant offers good-value dishes of frankly gargantuan proportions, with en emphasis on “crayfish” (basically lobster without claws) and Peking duck (delicious) which is served three ways: meat and skin with pancakes, minced meat with lettuce, and the carcass as soup.

In keeping with the restaurant’s reputation as THE go-to place for the local Chinese community, the waitstaff don’t speak much English, and much gesticulating is needed. Just like in the homeland! But they try very hard, are more pleasant and personable than they need to be, and are prompt and efficient.

Which is more than I can say for Grand Harbour (Pakeham St and Custom St West, Viaduct Harbour). Not to say the food is lacking — aside from the usual suspects, there are alarmingly large crayfish, stuffed with noodles; fresh abalone, sliced thinly and stir-fried with snow peas; and a personal favorite, geoduck. But communicating with the servers (in English) can sometimes be a bit like talking to a box of rocks. Just a wee, tiny bit.

For service that goes all out, look no further than Crystal Harbour (39 Market Place, Viaduct Harbour), distinguishable from its other Harbour neighbor by the flash dining room. Whatever your whim, be it SIX plates of ice cream Mochi (my husband) to an assortment of tofu-like treats (SpecialKRB) to Thai-Chinese flat fried noodles in gravy to finish the meal (my parents), it is fulfilled in the blink of an eye. A bit of a shame the cooking is characterized by, in SpecialKRB’s words, “gentle flavors”. Some real subtlety at work here, unfortunately going over the heads (and tongues) of chili-addled Neanderthals like us. Again, a shame.

This is my last post from NZ, mainly because I am not masochistic enough to post regularly from this #%*+ing iPad (hence the lack of photos for now, sorry SpecialKRB). Happy new year, folks, and here’s hoping 2011 will be great.

(All photos by @SpecialKRB)

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