Chang Gaow is very proud of being named one of Metro’s Top 10 Cheap Eats for 2012, with large banners displaying this achievement in the windows and at its counter. Prior to this Chang Gaow must have been one of Onehunga’s best kept secrets. Good and tasty Thai for, excuse the cliché, dirt-cheap? Previously unheard of. But with no mains over $13.50 (which is the premium for prawns) Chang Gaow (which means crystal elephant) allows one to eat heartily and widely in an Asian cuisine previously touted as being more expensive.
That being said, with prices being that low, something has to give: the décor is one of them. Located at the lower end of Onehunga Mall, Chang Gaow is well-equipped to handle takeaways, with plenty of free parking in the evenings and a comfy pew lining one wall to wait at as the kitchen attempts to break land-speed records in cookery. However, we counted only five tables at which one could dine from on the night we visited; the description of being sparsely furnished would not go amiss. As it seems to do a roaring trade with takeaway-goers, we didn’t have to fight with anyone for a table.
The entrees menu at Chang Gaow is a contracted version of most other restaurant’s, featuring the usual suspects such as spring rolls (the only vegetarian dish at Chang Gaow) and curry puffs, but alas no money-bags or my personal favourite, Thai fish cakes. No matter, we chose to focus more on the mains, ordering the larb gai, panang and massaman curries and a pad kra praw. Most Thai restaurant favourites feature on the menu, with the inclusion of some noodle soups and a few stir-fried noodle dishes I had not encountered before. Despite the well-affordably priced dishes, it seems that one cannot escape being charged the standard two-dollars extra for rice, but we found this to be forgivable as we started to tuck in to dinner.
The massaman curry was absolutely delicious and my personal favourite for the night. Being Muslim in origin, the curry was thick with warm, spicy notes and perfectly tender, crinkle-cut potatoes, finished with a liberal sprinkling of chopped peanuts. The larb gai (a salad made from finely chopped chicken dressed with lemon juice and ground roasted rice) came a close second for its clean and fresh taste, the perfect foil to the rich and slightly sweet, coconut-y curries. No dish was a disappointment, each delivering potent flavours with just the right amount of heat; chilli-freaks could ask for more if desired. The panang curry was a milder offering perfumed with kaffir lime leaves, whilst the pad kra praw, a stir-fry of tender pork with vegetables, chilli and fragrant basil leaves was an exemplary dish displaying the cornerstones of Thai cookery, the careful balance of sweet, salty and sour.
Everyone was well pleased with dinner at Chang Gaow, and despite thinking I had over-ordered, there were no doggy-bags to take home with us (although I suspect we all ate a little more than we should have!) Chang Gaow would be great for takeaways or a low-key dinner if one doesn’t expect too much in the way of finery. The focus here is on great food and of that you won’t be disappointed.