In Auckland, Food is on the Menu

A lot of friends back home seem to be under the impression that the only thing we eat down here is sheep. They have this silly idea that because sheep outnumber people in this country by roughly 8-to-1,  a cute ready-to-eat meal will curl up on your plate and overdose on sleeping pills right in front of you whenever you’re hungry. This might be true most of the time, but there’s a lot more to the Kiwi diet than lamb chops and mutton.

There are also what the natives like to call “restaurants.” These businesses really didn’t exist decades ago in the infancy of New Zealand’s hospitality industry. Older acquaintances here remember a time when there weren’t even cafes or bars and they had to go on long voyages to Sydney just to get into a drunken fistfight (a one-time common excursion known to the Australians as a “busman’s holiday.”) As the hospitality sector matured in the 1980s, Kiwis suddenly found themselves with a choice of bars in which to fight with Australians (while supplies last) and an even greater number of places to eat afterwards. Food was on the menu at last.

Auckland’s dining scene took on a decidedly Asian flavor. Immigrants from Sri Lanka to Japan settled here, blessing these shores with an ever expanding repertoire of gustatory delights. I could stab myself with a flat-head screwdriver for  writing that cloying sentence, but I’m actually being serious. I’ve had, on average, tastier and more interesting meals from Indian take-out joints here than in New York City. Japanese restaurants are cheaper (again, on average)  for similar, if not superior meals, and items that I didn’t normally order in the US, like donburi, I now enjoy on a regular basis. With so many choices–Korean, Mongolian, Nepalese–I was pretty much resigned to eating like a pig for the rest of my life.

Needless to say, when Jacquie told me about a Malaysian place where she and her co-workers liked to eat like pigs, I just had to make her take me there with her there too to go there with her to eat. We struck out on a Saturday afternoon, walking a roundabout way to work up our appetites, which happened to be what the name of the restaurant we were going to means in English. We arrived at Selera after hoofing it for 20 or 25 minutes. It was the last in a strip of a dozen restaurants on Khyber Pass Road near Broadway in the commercial neighborhood of Newmarket just  northeast of our house in Mount Eden.

Selera means "appetite."

We obeyed the English language portion of this sign and moved as fast as we could down the sidewalk.

The strip of restaurants on Khyber Pass Road in the commercial neighborhood of Newmarket.

Jacquie had been there eight times that week already so she knew exactly what to order. We shared an appetizer of Chicken Satay.

Malaysian Chicken Satay

It was delicious. Next Jacquie thought I should try the Sambal Chili Chicken, at the risk of being redundant.

Sambal Chili Chicken

Mmm. So good. And none too greasy. Finally, Jacquie had a fish plate.

Sambal something fish something something.

Our food was excellent and we were full. We looked around us at what the other diners ordered. Everything looked as delicious as the food pictured above. So I started taking pictures of their plates.

“Wait!” Jacquie said. I thought she was going to stop me out of a sense of propriety and respect for the other customers. Thank God that wasn’t the case. “Take a picture of me next to this curry laksa.”

I was leaning in for the money shot of a Five Spice Roll when the guy who’d ordered it started screaming in my ear. “What are you doing?” he said.

“I’m enjoying an afternoon out with my wife,” I said.

This guy started acting crazy, like some kind of Australian on a busman’s holiday. He started pushing and shoving me away and otherwise taking umbrage with my lifestyle choices, which really wasn’t fair or very reciprocal of him seeing how much I appreciated his lifestyle choices. The restaurant manager came over to see what the trouble was. Selera, to our surprise, had a “No Pictures” policy, judging from the fact that the manager asked us to pay, leave and “take that camera with you.”

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10 comments

    1. They use tea-towels here. One of these days I’m going to do a post on what I find most annoying about the local idiom. I’m so homesick for New York-ese, I’d be glad to hear someone say “Not for nothing” in that old Brooklyn twang.

  1. I love the pictures of the empty plates. HAHA!
    So you got in a fight for taking photos. I guess the Japanese must brawl there all the time! (Okay-bad cliche, but I was left with little to go on)

  2. @Jay I don’t know about a casino but there was a “Thai-style” massage parlor across the street. We didn’t see anyone go inside, but at one point, inexplicably, two dogs ran out.

  3. Do Kiwis eat Kiwi? If so, that’s gross. I like the photo of the big house. If you ever decide you never want to work again, you can rob a sheep farm and enjoy that architecture on a more personal level 🙂

    1. If you check their Facebook status, you’ll see that Kiwi birds are a seriously endangered species. Actually, there are five species of Kiwis but they’re all endangered. They are flightless, nocturnal and timid and, like many other birds in New Zealand, they have no evolved defense against introduced predators, especially rats and ferrets. But they do look delicious.

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