Steve Braunias: The man who ate Lincoln Road digs chicken lollypops

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Steve Braunias is on a mission to eat (and drink) at each one of the 55 food joints on Lincoln Rd in West Auckland. Episode 12: Saaj
On the menu at Saaj: a range of "Indo-Chinese dishes", or "curry woks", which apparently mashed-up Indian and Asian cooking.
On the menu at Saaj: a range of "Indo-Chinese dishes", or "curry woks", which apparently mashed-up Indian and Asian cooking.

The man who ate Lincoln Rd eats quite a lot of chicken on Lincoln Rd, and not just from the great states of Kentucky and Texas. Just about every place cooks chook. It may even be on the menu at the Cheesecake Shop. There should fix a statue of a giant chicken at each end of Lincoln Rd; they died so Lincoln Rd can live.

The sheer overwhelming chickenness of the Lincoln Rd experience sometimes transports me back to a damp, poignant afternoon a few years ago in Samoa.

I was writing a book. I decided it needed a chapter set in Samoa, because the book was about New Zealand life. More than half of the Pacific island population in New Zealand are Samoan; what's it like over there, where did they come from, and what were they leaving behind on the great migration to Mangere?

I travelled with the wonderful photographer Jane Ussher. We booked a motel in Apia, and that was a bad scene.

One of the guests was a Samoan woman and her eight-year-old son. They were expecting his father to arrive from Australia. While she waited, she drank heavily, and screeched vile abuse at her son in the middle of the night. Another of the guests, a quite hot lesbian from Canada, gave the boy swimming lessons in the motel pool. She gave him a mask and snorkel, and he learned to dive. He was quiet, sensitive, anxious. He adored her. She was in Apia for a week. Everyone at the motel braced themselves for the boy crying his heart out when it would come time for her to leave.

READ MORE:
• Episode 9: The man who ate Lincoln Rd rates Burger King
• Episode 10: Bad times at Burger Fuel
• Episode 11: Mr Burger

I got bitten by a wild dog, I interviewed Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, I watched dragonflies land on pink water lilies on the surface of an open drain. It was a beautiful island and everyone we met was friendly and sometimes kind of lost.

We stopped the car and got out when we saw Tanielu Pololua, 39, all alone in his seaside village of Fatalii. It was raining. We welcomed us into his fale. He was a holy man and also very large. I asked him how much he weighed, and he said, "468."

He washed blood off his sapelu. It was a poor village and the knife seemed to be more or less his only possession. He spoke about it with something close to reverence.

He said, "When you got a sapelu, oh man, you can cut grass, it's a bread knife - it does all those things!"

Bits of chicken and onion were on a chopping board. And then he said something true about life and about chicken in the Third World all over the planet. "If you don't have money," he said, "you have chicken. It's the cheapest."

Saaj operates like a food hall, with buffet curries and also has a menu. Photo / Michael Craig
Saaj operates like a food hall, with buffet curries and also has a menu. Photo / Michael Craig

If you don't have money, you have chicken. I had dinner the other night on Lincoln Rd at Saaj, a few doors down from Nando's Chicken, and discovered an amazing new invention in food - the chicken lollypop. It cost $1.70. It was a chicken drumstick cooked in cornflour and spices, and the bone was wrapped in tinfoil, so you could hold it like a lollypop, and suck it like a lollypop, too, if you so wished.

It was ingenious and delicious. Much else was certainly ingenious on the menu at Saaj; it had a range of "Indo-Chinese dishes", or "curry woks", which apparently mashed-up Indian and Asian cooking. It also specialised in goat.

Steve was stoked with his $1.70 chicken lollypop. Photo / Steve Braunias
Steve was stoked with his $1.70 chicken lollypop. Photo / Steve Braunias

Saaj operates like a foodhall, with buffet curries, and also has menu meals. There's another one in New Lynn. It's fast and efficient, and popular - I was there for 30, 40 minutes, and 17 other punters arrived for dinner.

I bet Tanielu Pololua would have loved it. That unfortunate little boy, too. God I hope they're both okay.

Anyway, I got a dhal dish, rice, and bottle of Charlie's spring water to go with the chicken lollypop. The bill: $13.70. Great value, and good food. Rating: 8/10.

STEVE'S EARLIER ADVENTURES ON LINCOLN ROAD:
• Episode 1: Entering heart attack alley
• Episode 2: Moto sushi
• Episode 3: Sierra
• Episode 4: Sal's Pizza

• Episode 5: Langtons On Lincoln
• Episode 6: Nando's Chicken
• Episode 7: The man who ate Lincoln Rd's doughnut dilemma
• Episode 8: The man who ate Lincoln Rd rates Eves Pantry

•All views expressed are the author's.

- NZ Herald

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