It’s hard to find good Thai cuisine in New Zealand. I don’t know why. Maybe it can be found in the kitchens and dining rooms of Thai immigrants here, but sadly, what exists in restaurants and takeaway joints isn’t exactly going to bring about flashbacks to tropical downpours and Bangkok nights. Too much sugar. Not enough (if any) fresh herbs. And soupy curries that taste of not much more than coconut milk.
Oddly enough, the Avondale Markets (see my post from June 9, 2011) is one place you’ll find pretty decent Isaan Thai nosh. (But unless you want to trigger instant depression, don’t bother settling down in the filthy, drab grandstand to eat it; take it home). Mekong Neua in Kingsland is reliably authentic and place you can trust to care enough about what they’re serving up in Zap 2, from where I’m hungrily awaiting takeaways right now.
Owner Yao is from Northeastern Thailand and, together with her Kiwi husband Hamish, has built up a bit of an empire in the Thai food scene in Auckland, with a downtown location Zap 4, and another apparently planned for Pt Chev (I must follow up on this info Yao gave me a few months ago now). The best dishes from Zap are the Isaan ones, but most things I’ve eaten from there are pretty tasty, and, happily, not saccharine. My only qualm is that they, like almost all Thai eateries here, are stingy with the fresh herbs. I guess it’s an expensive ingredient to buy in, but it’s pretty affordable at the markets and easy to grow. I once asked at a Thai eatery where the basil was (it was in the description of the dish but was nowhere to be seen or tastedin the dish itself) and was told they used a jar of paste. Let down. Nothing better than handfuls of citrusy coriander in an Isaan salad, or the liquorice kick of Thai basil in a spicy stirfry.
Zap 2, 639 Dominion Rd, Balmoral, Auckland, phone 6386393.
Addendum: I can happily report that my beef with green beans, chilli and basil last night came with enough fresh basil to make a difference – yay for herbs!