This hungry traveller is thankful that there are takeaway options around Auckland that take me right back to a few of my favourite food destinations around the world.
In Ubud, Bali, the smell of food grilling over charcoal permeates the night air. The region's famous Bebek Bengil (affectionately known as the "Dirty Duck Diner") is the inspiration behind the bebek tengil on the menu at Ponsonby restaurant Bali Nights (4 Williamson Ave, Ponsonby). A quarter duck (In Bali it's a half duck, but Kiwi ducks are fat and healthy so even a quarter is huge, explains co-owner Adriana Ferdian) is marinated, fried till crisp, and served with a side of sayur urap, fried tofu and sambal matah. "It's scary recreating a dish that's been loved for generations, but we've been told our version is super close to the Ubud OG".
A favourite late-night snack of ours when staying in the Ubud village of Penestanan are the petite chicken skewers which vendors cook on the roadside – we'd order them by the dozen, smothered in spicy peanut sauce and wrapped up in brown paper. Bali Nights' version hits all the right notes. The chicken starts out marinating in kecap manis and a "mother sauce" which is chef Wawan's secret family recipe, and is then, as Adriana describes "Grilled to smoky perfection". If you've travelled further afield in Indonesia there's more than only Balinese specialities on the menu to spark memories. The restaurant is owned by three young Indonesian couples, who "Feel a responsibility to our country to help educate the masses on the wonders and the variety of Indonesian food", says Adriana. "A majority of our menu is "Nusantara" food (from the sanskrit nusa – island, and antara - in between, or including): so, hero dishes from different parts of Indonesia."
Penang is another of my favourite food destinations, with its vibrant Malay, Chinese, and Indian culinary traditions adding to the mix. Opened just before Auckland was plunged into Alert level 4 in August, Nasi Kandar Pulau Pinang (24 Queens Rd, Panmure) brings a welcome taste of Tamil-style Northern Malaysian fare. Chef Joe Singam may call on local ingredients, but his cooking stays true to the flavours you'd get in Penang. Joe and his team make all the spice pastes from scratch. The gravy for each curry is unique, and everything is bursting with the flavour and aroma of fresh whole spices and aromatics. Just like in Penang, you can pick and choose different curries and things grilled or fried to accompany a foundational rice dish of nasi kandar or nasi lemak.
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In late 2019 we took an extended holiday in Italy – an experience we've felt deeply grateful for since the world was plunged into the pandemic not long after. A few weeks in Sicily was enough to shape our opinion of its food offering being deeply desirable. So it was a total delight to recently discover Little Sicily, a food truck parked up right beside the train tracks in an industrial area (702 Great South Rd, Penrose), run by ex-restaurateurs David Perillo and Stephen Gilberd and emitting a seriously appetising and very Sicilian aroma of frying capers when I rocked up to order.
In less restricted times, there's indoor seating – a jumble of comfy old sofas and red check-clothed tables inside Perillo's adjoining recording studio. The grittiness is a big part of the charm: the place is only open Tuesday to Friday, and although it's tucked away, there's a steady stream of customers, with Thursday nights (seafood nights – hello, lobster tail pizza) especially abuzz. Order anything and you'll come away with a big smile on your face, but a few must-tries are the arancino (proper, large Sicilian-sized – watch the final episode of Stanley Tucci's Searching for Italy for a good spotlight on the Sicilian arancino), the fantastically light and tender calamari, and the tuna crudo served on garlicky pizza bread with fried capers, lemon mayo, and red onion.
The tuna crudo took me straight back to a brilliant restaurant we ate at in Ortigia, called Carnezzeria (a seafood restaurant housed in an old butcher's shop, hence the name). It wouldn't be a complete Sicilian flashback without a coffee granita – at Little Sicily it comes topped with soft-serve ice cream and is exactly the right sweet treat for these already hot and humid days we're enjoying in Tāmaki Makaurau.
Check alert level restrictions and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz