Despite Covid-19 border restrictions, there are still opportunities to have worldly culinary experiences in Oamaru.
Station Wok, in Oamaru’s old railway station, is a Chinese restaurant that gave people the chance to try something new, owner John Huang said.
Mr Huang opened Station Wok four years ago, after running a successful restaurant in Wanaka.
“If you put good food out, people will come,” he said.
But when New Zealand’s borders closed and tourists stopped coming into the country, Mr Huang’s business began to struggle.
Before Covid-19, the majority of his customers were being dropped at the front door of his restaurant in Chinese tour buses. The restaurant that used to be filled with up to 200 diners every day, was often empty now, and the business was bringing in just 10% of what it once did. He had been forced to reduce staff numbers from four to one.
“Local people don’t come here,” he said.
He believed this was because the restaurant’s dishes were more expensive than other Oamaru Chinese restaurants – but said his dishes were bigger and took a lot of effort.
“Some things take many hours to prepare.”
Large servings shared among many people were common in Chinese cuisine, and each dish represented a different region.
Much like Western cuisine from Italy, France, and Spain, they had a similar roots but varied with each region, he said.
He also believed locals could be intimidated by the menu, which featured many dishes and many Chinese characters – and little English.
But he did have regulars in Oamaru who enjoyed trying out the variety of dishes, he said.
“They say it, I still want to try it’.”
The Chinese dining experience was about social connection, and people would often show their love and gratitude through food rather than gift giving, he said.
In an attempt to cater more to a local palate, he planned to introduce a new menu in May.
Mr Huang hoped more locals would come to the restaurant and try his dishes.