174 Mokoia Road, Birkenhead, Auckland
The words “authentic” is thrown around in food reviews of Asian restaurants all the time without little meaning. What do they mean by “authentic”? Do they mean the nationality of the chef, of its owners, of the ingredients, of the food, of the service? Like, if a server at a Hong Kong restaurant in Auckland barely makes eye contact or acknowledge you, could you sing praises of “authenticity”? Also, who do you have to be to decide what ‘authentic’ is? If you just went for, like, a two week trip in Bali and spent the whole time getting sloshed on Bintang at Ku de ta, are you an authority on Indonesian food? (I mean, probably not.) In my case, the only cuisine I feel comfortable enough judging on it’s authenticity is Malaysian because, well, I am. The rest of the time I’m making vague guesses and probably wrong judgements based on my own pre-conceived ideas (I really don’t know how to tell if pasta is fresh. I’m sorry), but you know, Malaysian food – I’m pretty solid there.
It’s a weird and nuanced topic for sure, and I have my own, personal measures of an authentic restaurant. This thought arose after eating at Malaysia Recipes, a restaurant in Birkenhead, tucked away from the main streets opposite a Domino’s and adjacent to Manna Coffee and Bread Store. I was absent-mindedly scrolling through their reviews and saw someone saying that had eaten more “authentic” Malaysian food elsewhere in Auckland.
The chef at Malaysia Recipes is Malaysian. In fact, he grew up a short while away from my Dad’s own hometown, which he found out after hearing him speak in Hokkien, a dialect home to the area in and around Penang. It’s a small, no nonsense store that also oddly sells fish and chips, a hand-me-down from the previous owners.
We come here often for quick, satisfying food which resembles the cuisine so familiar to us, served by people with undeniable Malaysian accents. It isn’t the best Malaysian food in Auckland, but it’s one of the closest to ‘home-style’ cooking that we’ve found.
On this day, I had the Hainanese Chicken on Rice, a classic meal you can find at any Malaysian restaurant in Auckland. Theirs is boneless, served on a bed of beansprouts with two slices of cucumber. (I shamefully left the vegetables on the plate.) It’s tasty, does the job, and leaves the unmistakable garlicky taste in my mouth even after brushing my teeth.
My parents both had the char kway teow – also a classic. (You honestly can’t get more Malaysian than our choices.) My dad still prefers the kway teow at PappaRich in the city (as it’s fried more to the Penang style) but again it’s comforting, delicious food which, although you may forget about within hours, still makes you want to eat it again and again and again.
The undeniable ‘at-home-ness’ we feel in ‘authentic’ Malaysian restaurants can’t be replicated anywhere else. The way my accent slides from the Kiwi accent I usually use to the more Malaysian-tinged one I use at home, the delight my dad feels at not having to say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ or go through Western niceties when talking to wait-staff (in defence of my dad, it’s not really being rude – Malaysian’s are notoriously direct), the fact they serve the food with fork and spoons. (If you serve your food with anything but fork and spoons, or chopsticks with noodles, are you really a Malaysian restaurant?)
So for me, those are all measures of authenticity – and Malaysia Recipes ticks the boxes.