Destination Dining: The Calamari Pancake at Han
So many of my food memories from childhood stem from taking what pocket money I had (never more than a couple of dollars in 10 cent, 5 cent and 1 cent coins) and after school shooting along to the Chinese Takeaways up the road from where we lived. Wasn't interested in the cultural delights of Fried Rice or Chow Mein back then. Nah, was all about Fish and Chips, and more specifically the bits and bobs you can order along with your Fish and Chips. The Kiwi Icon - the potato fritter. A spring roll. A pineapple fritter. A battered sausage. The list goes on. How did they ever make any money from me? The work required to cook 1 potato fritter, all for the measly sum of 10 cents, was probably a massive pain in the ass for the owners but to me, it represented amazing value for money. Yes, I was a potato fritter fiend, always keen to see how many extras they might give me, but I also had an addiction back then to the ubiquitous crumbed squid ring. I loved them. So so so so much. And I still do. Best squid ever? Tough decision but there's no way I can go past the char-grilled calamari you get in Greece. It's simplicity personified but they know how to treat it. Apart from the Greeks though, the Asians have cornered the squid lovers market. There are some pretty awesome dishes in Auckland to go and hit up. - The XO Squid at Bunga Raya in New Lynn. Oh man....
- The Honey & Soy Tossed Squid at Madam Woo in Takapuna. Shot Josh. - The Special Black Chilli Squid at Canton Cafe in Kingsland. Generous. - The Salt & Pepper Squid at Soul Bar on the Viaduct. Legendary.
- And now one more to add to the list....the Calamari Pancake at Han. Anytime I hit up for some dine-in Korean, it's pretty much mandatory to order some form of Korean pancake, usually at most eateries alternating between the seafood korean pancake (Haemul Pajeon) or the kimchi korean pancake (Kimchijeon). I love both. Dip it in the sweet, tangy, spicy dipping sauce and you've got a winner. Slosh it down with a cold Hite or Cass beer and it's party time. On closer inspection though, it's hard to know how fresh a lot of that seafood in the pancake is? Most of the time, I'm sure some take short cuts and use those marinara mixes where everything is the size of a fingernail. Further more, there's no doubt, there's a fine line with overcooking the seafood, regardless of what you're using. Which makes this dish from Han, all the more genius.
Han's crispy calamari pancake differs from its traditional namesake. Typically the batter mixture is poured over the pancake's contents that have been lightly frying in the pan. Here though, honey buttered calamari is cooked separately and placed on top, along with dollops of calamari mayo and pickled red onion. What this method results in is a harmony of textures pairing the light but crispy base perfectly with the most exquisitely tender calamari. If there's a more tender calamari on a dish in Auckland, let me know. The addition of the flavour elements in the mayo and pickle is subtle. Enough to give the dish some balance but not to overpower the natural taste of the calamari. It all works together on the plate. A beautiful dish to pair with a glass of chardy or gewürz if you're that way inclined. But ultimately this dish is all about that calamari which is clearly the star of the show. Having had it multiple times now, it still continues to evoke those childhood memories of our local chippie. No crumb on this puppy but it is 100% some next level squid ring. Keen on checking this dish out? Go to: Han Restaurant, 100 Parnell Rd, Auckland | www.hanrestaurant.co.nz