Auckland: An Asian food crawl

By Alexia Santamaria

Our city has much to offer chefs with an Asian persuasion, writes Alexia Santamaria.

Chef Wan cooks his Malaysian Johor Laksa dish at Santhiya's in Mt Roskill. Photo / Greg Bowker
Chef Wan cooks his Malaysian Johor Laksa dish at Santhiya's in Mt Roskill. Photo / Greg Bowker

From the footage I had seen of his TV shows, I knew it was going to be an entertaining day with Malaysian celebrity cook Chef Wan. I would be spending the day with the king of Asian food who is as much known for his vibrant personality as his cooking. I was not disappointed.

The mission for the day was to collect ingredients from Auckland's Asian food shopping spots to make his famous Johor Laksa at Santhiya's Restaurant in Mt Roskill.

I picked him up from his hotel and he started talking nineteen to the dozen. For a man who'd had very little sleep, he was amazingly energetic, a trait he is well known for.

Our first stop was Tai Ping on Beach Rd, a great place for Asian ingredients. We picked up corn oil, dried chillies, curry powder, coconut milk, galangal and lemongrass. It was fascinating to watch his ease among the shelves that so regularly baffle me.

Then it was on to the Auckland Fish Markets. The recipe calls for mackerel and herring but Chef Wan was happy to substitute trevally. He was impressed with the selection and freshness of the fish at the markets and we also picked up fresh and dried prawns and salted fish.

Nosh Mt Eden, was our next stop for garlic, ginger, shallots, cucumber, bean sprouts, long beans, basil leaves, grated fresh coconut, small green limes and spaghetti.

There are hundreds of types of laksa in Malaysia and this one includes actual pasta. Chef Wan said it was to do with Malaysian royalty visiting Italy many moons ago and developing a taste for it.

The recipe required a lot of ingredients so next we were off to Yogijis Food Mart, a delightful treasure trove of Indian food, music, cooking ingredients and religious icons in Mt Roskill.

We picked up fresh turmeric and coriander and were on our way - although I could have spent much longer ferreting.

Our last stop was Hong Lee's in Three Kings, a favourite haunt of chefs from ethnic restaurants around the city. It's good for hard-to-find ingredients like candlenuts and good quality belachan (sambal paste).

Shopping done, we headed for Santhiya's, one of my favourite Malaysian restaurants in Auckland.

Owner Yougeswari Subramaniam is a gentle, soft-spoken lady who makes the best roti canai in town.

The combination of her laid-back quiet personality and Chef Wan's utter madness made for fabulous cooking comedy.

Watching him cook really was a joy. For all his joking around, the man is a genius in the kitchen.

He has cooked since he was a young child and it really shows.

The final product was stunning with complex but perfectly blended levels of flavour.

Spaghetti in laksa, who knew it could taste so good?

Definitely check out the recipe on page D6, it's a great excuse to take a tour of some of the amazing Asian food stores in our fabulous multi-cultural city.

Best spots to shop

Tai Ping, 105 Beach Rd, City

Auckland Fish Market, cnr Madden and Daldy Sts, Freemans Bay

Nosh Food Market, 422 Dominion Rd (and other locations across Auckland)

Yogijis Food Mart, 26 Carr Rd, Mt Roskill

Hong Lee, 540b Mt Albert Rd, Three Kings

Santhiya's, 1270 Dominion Rd, Mt Roskill

- NZ Herald

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