Herald’s ethnic affairs reporter and devoted foodie Lincoln Tan visits unique restaurants around Auckland. Video / NZ Herald
Herald Lincoln Tan, ethnic affairs journalist and devoted foodie, introduces you to a world of restaurant delicacies hidden around Auckland.
Treasure Kitchen chef Sam Ng didn’t have the heart to say no when a client who had just given birth asked her to cook a dish that she says will restore her maternal health.
Soon after, another client also made the same request – but this was just because she had a strong urge.
Now, Ng, 55, has become a go-to person for the popular gelatinous pork knuckle dish, slowly cooked until chewy and tender with sweet ginger and vinegar. The stew is believed to be nourishing especially for women during their childbirth period after birth.
In Guangzhou, China, this stew is traditionally eaten by new mothers to restore health and strength, and is often also presented to friends and family to mark the arrival of a new baby.
“It’s not something you eat every day, but rather a therapeutic food and preparation takes time,” said Ng.
It is believed that the vinegar dissolves calcium in the bones of pork knuckles during cooking and will help new mothers replenish the calcium lost during pregnancy.
Pork knuckles are also braised with a generous amount of ginger which the Chinese believe is “warming” and therefore would remove “wind” from the body and aid lactation.
Stew is also traditionally served with eggs, which provide the protein needed for muscle repair.
Ng also prepares the collagen-free meat dish without vinegar, which can be eaten as a normal meal.
Originally from Johor Bahru in Malaysia, Ng moved to New Zealand with his wife Jennie Tan in 2004.
After a few years in the hospitality industry here, with Ng working as a Thai chef and Tan as home front, they opened Treasure Kitchen in Henderson in 2016.
This business was sold this year and the couple moved their work to Station Rd in Otahuhu.
Over the years, Tan said many of their clients have become “like friends and family.”
“Some people treat Treasure Kitchen like their home away from home, and we often talk about the food that we miss at home,” she said.
“As part of the conversation they sometimes ask Sam if he can cook these meals for them and of course we’ll try to accommodate their requests if we can.”
The woman, who first ordered the pork knuckle stew, has become a regular and comes back at least twice a month for the dish that is not on the menu.
Popular dishes at Treasure Kitchen are fish head vermicelli soup, bak kut teh, beef rendang, and clay pot pork belly with salted fish.
But Tan says another popular request is for the classic Malaysian fish dish assam pedas, or literally translated as “spicy sour.”
“A lot of our Malaysian customers like to have the fish ‘whole’ rather than filleted because they say the meat is sweeter when cooked with bones and all,” Tan said.
The Malaysian state Ng is from is right across from Singapore, and because of that his cuisine is also influenced by the dishes there.
Although Malaysia and Singapore share a common history, some versions of the same dish, sharing the same name, can vary widely.
Fried Hokkien mee for most Malaysians would be the dish of braised fried yellow noodles in a dark soy sauce, but the Singaporean version is light in color and fried with a tasty shrimp broth.
Treasure Kitchen is one of the few places in Auckland that has Singapore Hokkien mee on its menu.
Mixture of vermicelli and yellow noodles, Ng fry them with eggs until crispy with shrimp broth and serve them semi-dry with large shrimp, squid, pork belly and chives.
• Treasure Kitchen, 6 Station Road, Otahuhu https://www.treasurekitchen.co.nz