An ode to Spicy House by Metro columnist Leilani Momoisea.
We are all in need of our places of communion. A place to break bread and swap stories, to unload our burdens, whatever stress has built up over the week, whatever triumphs we want to share and share in.
Our place sits on Dominion Rd, as I’m sure is the case for many Aucklanders. It is worth the drive, worth the traffic, worth the many minutes circling the block trying to find a free park. When you finally give in and pay, it is worth the parking fee. It’s worth that cold wait outside. As the tables clear, the others arrive. A weekly tradition no one wants to break.
Inside, warm smiles over hot food and Chinese tea. And egg fried rice. There may be slight variations to the order, but never has there been a time when egg fried rice was left off the list. It has been the foundation for all the feasts we have consumed there. The question is always asked — spicy or not spicy? The reply, always, is not spicy. Which feels a little silly, considering where we are. But this “not spicy” fried rice is the best we’ve ever had. White and fluffy and seasoned better than KFC fries with extra seasoning.
The self-service fridge beckons with small boxes of milk tea, aloe vera juice and glimmering cans of Coke. The challenge is how many mouthfuls of fried rice you can go through before cracking open a can. There needs to be at least four of us, so we can fill the table with all our favourite dishes. And as the chilli chicken, stained red with chilli powder and flakes, is brought out, future plans are plotted.
The staff lean their bodies away as they deliver the sizzling beef with black pepper to the table. We have, over the years, learned matrix-like manoeuvres to save our faces from the spitting sauces of the dish. As the steam lifts, TV shows are dissected, debated. We pass the cucumber salad, delicious in its simplicity, spooning out its garlicky soy-and-vinegar sauce over the rice while old in-jokes are recycled. Eyes roll, voices raise, teasing commences, and new in-jokes are created. We eat, we laugh, we continue to eat.
Summer suits tofu in scallion sauce. Winter calls for the addition of the spare-rib hot pot, sticky sweet sauce over caramelised potatoes. Larger groups require deep-fried squid and dumplings. The food comes out quick, but we are never rushed, even as others gather outside, their hungry eyes peering in, willing us to leave. We have been them before, and though we could stay all night, leaning back in conversation and picking at our plates for hours, we move on. Making way for others to enjoy. Post-it notes above the till reveal simple love letters from customers to the owners, the staff, the establishment, the food.
We will be back next week. A group message goes out every Friday. The constant shining light at the end of a working week. “Spicy House?” “Yes. Let’s feast.”
This piece originally appeared in the July-August 2019 issue of Metro magazine, with the headline "Meeting & Eating".