What is authentic cuisine? Is it the ingredients? The place you’re eating. The way the dishes are prepared? Is it the connection of those who cook the food with the cultures they came from?
These days authenticity is a tough thing to home in on. Food, like culture, is ever-changing, ever-evolving. A dish created in one place can migrate easily to another, and, along the way, pick up a new spice, a new grain, a new sauce, a new zest that adds to an overall collage born in one location and matured in a thousand others. To me, authenticity is more than just the ingredients or the place they come from, or even the person in the apron. Authenticity is about the heart, the soul, and the memory of what those dishes represent.
Gai wong is born from family, from togetherness. memories and laughs over steaming dishes of Hainanese chicken, spices and curries.
Gai Wong is simply put, a place of nostalgia and family. Sure, the dishes are pretty darn authentic. Delicious Malaysian comfort food that fills every inch of you, Hainanese Chicken that’ll make your toes curl, curries that will put hair on your chest. But there is much more to this place than the dishes alone. Much more to food, really. I can enjoy a good pizza or a great five-star wagyu beef but give me a scent or a simple taste that evokes images of my mother urging me to eat, eat, eat! And you have done something no other dish, no matter the price, can do; you have transported me back to my childhood, wondering what that secret ingredient was that mom put in that pot so long ago.
“We love food. More specifically, we love Malaysian comfort food! Whether it’s after a long hard day, or catching up with friends and family over a weekend, food brings everyone together. We have many fond memories over food, and this is what inspired us to open up our first restaurant—to use food to bring families and friends together to create joy! We hope that our food evokes great memories of being back home (be it Malaysia, Singapore or Brunei) in the same way it does for us”.From Gai Wong Family
Now, sure, Gai Wong doesn’t serve my own traditional childhood memories on a plate, but that’s not what we’re talking about, really. It is the story and the feel of this place, the heart behind the dishes, that truly makes it authentic. It is the authenticity of its purpose, its goal to gather together and share, and that purpose is universal. It does not belong to one people, one place, or one culture.
Gai Wong is, indeed, a family-run restaurant. Head Chef Philip is in charge of sourcing some of the freshest ingredients and prides himself on buying free range, grass enjoying chickens, (chickens are a big thing at Gai Wong). His wife Shirley oversees the front, greeting patrons and loyal customers and friends with warm smiles and filling the atmosphere with a sense of belonging, and cousin Kel has an eye for design and social media (their following has already grown a ton since opening).
The restaurant is neatly placed along Flemington Road, right across from the Royal Children’s Hospital, in North Melbourne. The front is nothing but glass with open planning inside and lights illuminating the tables. It is a place that says, “Hey, you there. Yeah, you. Come on in. All are welcome, sit down, take it easy, have a laugh and let’s serve up some damn good food, shall we?
It is heart-warming to read the stories of Philip, Shirley, and Kel on their profiles. Their love of food seems to come more from the memories it contains than the food itself. This is the power of cuisine. This is that special secret ingredient that mom always said she put inside that stew, that you just couldn’t get enough of and kept bringing you back decades later.
Gai Wong opened its doors during the pandemic. But heart and soul go a long way. In just a short period of time, through some of the toughest times, Gai Wong has gotten a cult following. It’s been showing up on top Melbourne eatery lists, and its social media has exploded. I guess it just goes to show, you can be fancy, or eclectic, try this and that and the other and all at the same time, but eventually, what people always come back to….is authentic, soul of the earth, food, served with love. And whether it’s Hainanese Chicken Rice, Kon Lo Mee with Char Siew, or Gai See Hor Fun, one thing’s for sure, there’s a little of that secret ingredient in each dish.
gai wong is more than just a restaurant. it is a place to feel welcomed in. a place to smile and enjoy food the way it was always meant to be.
Shop 1/5-17 Flemington Rd, North Melbourne VIC 3051, Australia
+61 415 358 801
Monday: 11:30AM – 8PM
Tuesday: 11:30AM – 8PM
Wednesday: 11:30AM – 8PM
Thursday: 11:30AM – 9PM
Friday: 11:30AM – 9PM
Saturday: 11:30AM – 9PM