Category Archives: Eating in Australia

Migration at the table

Today is International Migrants Day, and while it’s mainly a day set aside to create awareness about the difficult and complicated issues migrants deal with, according to a paragraph on a U.N. website it’s also a day of celebration:

“Migrants contribute greatly to the sense of cultural diversity in modern societies, and to our appreciation of the oneness of the human spirit. They give us the experience of living in a global neighbourhood.”

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the food we eat.  Immigration is partially responsible for introducing us to so many wonderful new cuisines.  My current obsession is with pho, which is the heart and soul of Vietnam in a soup bowl.  Pho (pronounced “fuh” with a bit of an upward lilt to the end of the word– like you’re saying it as a question) is  beef and noodles in a rich, complex beef broth seasoned with star anise, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and fish sauce.  Pho is typically garnished with bean sprouts, cilantro (coriander leaves), thai basil and chiles. 

Pho at the Vietnamese restaurant in Virgina, SA

Pho at the Vietnamese restaurant in Virgina, SA

There is no shortage of places to find pho in Adelaide, but my favorite discovery this year was in a little community near where I live about 45 minutes outside of the city.  Virginia, South Australia is pretty rural and home to many immigrant families who are market gardeners.  In the past, market gardening was the domain of Italian and Greek immigrants, and still is to some degree, but the new generation of market gardeners are typically Vietnamese.  So, tiny Virginia has a pho shop (right next to the bahn mi shop) where you can find workers taking a late morning break and enjoying steaming hot bowls of pho.

When I’m in there, I think about immigrants and the food traditions they bring with them.  Certainly when immigrants open restaurants it’s often a means of helping others like them feel connected to their homeland and the culture they left behind.  Some people might see an ethnic restaurant as a refusal to assimilate.  But I see it as a way of sharing their culture with their adopted country and as a means to gain acceptance.  When we eat that food, we are experiencing a culture in a very intimate way. Food is the only part of a culture that we physically ingest and make  part of our being.  So by eating the food of another culture, either conciously or unconciously, we are sending a message that we think they’re okay; that they are one of us and we are one of them.

Of course, it’s a big leap from acceptance of immigrant food traditions to acceptance of people, but coming to the migrant’s table is a good place to start.

Of Camels and Quandongs

Some Australian scientists are freaking out about camels and say we’ve got to start eating them.  Apparently, there are about a million feral camels living in the middle of this sunburnt country and they’re wreaking environmental and all other kinds of havock.

I’ve done my part to help the cause this year, if purely for selfish reasons since I get perverse pleasure in trying new and somewhat shocking foods.  At the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna, South Australia (a full review is coming one of these days) I sampled camel mettwurst on a pizza, and a camel sausage from the so-called Feral Mixed Grill Platter.

Let’s just say that both the camel mettwurst and camel sausage had an interesting texture– not quite as toothsome as I’d like.  I asked the woman serving us about the camel and she told me it’s a very lean meat (i.e. tends to be tough and somewhat lacking in flavor), which is probably why it ends up ground into mince and stuffed into a sausage casing with some added fat and seasoning.   From what I’ve had so far, I wouldn’t line up for more. 

But here’s the rub.  These feral camels could cause quandongs to become extinct!  They’re out there in the desert eating this beautiful, tart red fruit and I’ll be damned if they’re going to deprive me of the pleasure of a this quandong pie from the Stone Hut Bakery when I want one:

Oh. That. Pie. 

The quandong filling is really tart on its own, but with a bite of that shortcrust pastry and the cream– it’s a taste trifecta. 

So feral camels take notice.*  Quandong-loving Aussies have put a bounty on your head.  We’re going to find a way to cook you so you’re palatable, and then we’ll chase that camel steak or roast or sausage or whatever we turn you into with a quandong pie.  Now that would be a just dessert.

 

* Note: I realize that this issue is not the camels’ fault. The shortsighted people who brought them to Australia back in the 1800s without realizing the environmental impact they could have are the ones to blame.  I blame the camels merely as a literary device, so please, no one accuse me of not understanding the issue or hating animals.  I’m fully aware of the nuances of this problem.  Thanks.

Dissecting the Burger with the Lot

In a previous post, I mentioned how President-Elect Obama might come to like beets if he came to Australia and tried the Burger with the Lot.  This burger is a pastiche in which beetroot is a culturally defining ingredient.  The beetroot is such an integral part of Australian burger gastronomy, at Hungry Jacks (the mysteriously re-named Burger King replica) you can even “have it your way” with beetroot. 

Burger Kings... errrrr.. Hungry Jacks Aussie Burger.

Burger King's... errrrr.. Hungry Jack's Aussie Burger.

In an effort to accurately portray the Burger with the Lot, I made a trip to my local Supa-Deli and ordered one.

Without further ado, a photo essay of the Aussie Burger, as promised:

The burger waiting for its dissection

The burger waiting for its dissection

The top bun has a smear of ketchup. The burger is crowned with a fried egg.

The top bun has a smear of ketchup. The burger is crowned with a fried egg.

The next layer is a mess of grilled onions.

The next layer is a mess of grilled onions.

 

Bacon.  Mmmmm. Bacon. Note its Aussie bacon.

Bacon. Mmmmm. Bacon. Note it's Aussie bacon.

Theres the beef!

There's the beef!

A slice of tasty cheese.

A slice of "tasty" cheese.

The all-important beetroot.  Notice the pepto bismol pink stain it leaves on the cheese slice.

The all-important beetroot. Notice the pepto bismol pink stain it leaves on the cheese slice.

Last, but not least, tomato and lettuce, also known as salad.

Last, but not least, tomato and lettuce, also known as "salad".

Needless to say, this burger makes for messy eating.

Needless to say, this burger makes for messy eating.

The aftermath.

The aftermath.

Egg gathering, Aussie style

 

Having lived in Australia for three years now, I’ve already come to take for granted the pleasure of farm gate sales of all sorts of foods.  But after seeing a recent post at Howling Duck Ranch about food sovereignty in British Columbia, I realized the sale of produce at small farms isn’t something any of us should take for granted if we are still privileged enough to enjoy it.  Sadly, ever-increasing government regulation of agriculture in North America is tilted in favor of giant industrial producers and makes experiences like the one I enjoyed today few and far between.

Normally, I get my eggs from my mother-in-law who keeps a few hens.  But the hens have grown a bit long in the tooth and have quit laying (think of it as poultry menopause).  So until her new hens ramp up production, I’m supplementing those eggs with some I can buy down the street from my house.

 

Follow the signs to find the eggs

Follow the signs to find the eggs

Down the path... its like an egg hunt!

Down the path... it's like an egg hunt!

The first time I went, I figured there would be somebody manning the egg sales.  Wrong.

It’s on the honor system.  How great is that?  

You put your $3.20 in the ice cream container…

…take your eggs out of the esky (a.k.a. styrofoam cooler)…

…and you’re on your way.  The only thing they ask is that you return the carton the next time you come back.

Just looking over some of the individual state regulations in the U.S., it appears  something like this would almost never fly because of refrigeration requirements, labeling and packaging regulations among other bureaucratic red tape.  It’s a shame, really. I understand that all those regulations are done in the name of safety, but I’ve never worried about whether the eggs I buy from someone’s house on the honor system are safe.  I figure if they trust me enough to leave my money, I can trust that they are selling a safe, wholesome product.  Personally, I’d worry a whole lot more about the quality and safety of eggs bought from a ginormous anonymous hatchery with all its strict government regulations than I would about eggs bought from my neighbor who has a little flock of chickens scratching around in his backyard.

Obama scorns the much maligned beet

Because Americans are obsessed with the everyday minutiae of our Commanders-in-Chief, today we get this report detailing Barack Obama’s– and the Obama family’s– eating habits.  A quick summation of the article: they dig Rick Bayless’ Mexican food, pizza, handmade pastas, and kicking back with some wine or maybe a margarita.  Much to my annoyance, the article also mentioned Obama eats “boutique salad greens” — a fact that was used in an attempt to brand him an elitist, which is so ridiculous I posted about that a few months ago.  You can’t even go to an Applebee’s these days and not find arugula on the menu.  But I digress.

But the one thing the Pres-elect reportedly won’t touch:  beets.  I know, I know.  Everyone has foods they don’t like.  But beets really aren’t that bad.  

 I think a visit to Australia might be just the thing to get Mr. Obama over his repulsion.  You see, beets (or beetroot as it is known here) are put on the delicacy known as the Aussie Burger w/the Lot.  “The Lot” is shorthand for all the other food they put on the burger which includes the aforementioned beetroot, pineapple, a fried egg, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion.  They are a big, sloppy, burgery mess and they are GREAT! Plus, they’re the gateway food to more general beet eating.

So can Australia change Obama’s mind about beets?  YES WE CAN!!

P.S. I’m endeavouring to get a photo of a burger w/the lot.  Please stand by.

How to make tortillas (a.k.a. You’re not in Arizona anymore)

Spoiled.  That’s what I was.  Living in Arizona, I was surrounded by great Mexican food (I’m not talking about authenticity here, if you want to argue about that, go find another blog).  Fresh tortillas were a dollar a dozen.

And then I moved to Adelaide– about as far away from Mexico as one can get, which essentially makes it a gaping black hole of tortilla making.  For a while, I made do with Old El Paso corn tortillas that smelled sort of like Play-doh and had the consistency of fake plastic puke.

Luckily, I found a shop here called Chile Mojo which is run by an American who was probably about as homesick for Mexican food as I was.  Lo and behold, Chile Mojo carries masa harina.  My next problem was a tortilla press.  Chile mojo had metal ones, but since they’re imports they’re expensive.  I shopped for tortilla presses in Arizona, but was underwhelmed by the selection and the price as well.  So my very handy hubby made me a tortilla press that works like a dream.

Until you get the hang of it, making tortillas is a tad time consuming, but when my options are fake plastic puke tortillas or the real deal, I’m happy to give up half an hour of my time.  And there is nothing like the smell and taste of fresh tortillas.  The aroma is amazing– they really smell like fresh ground corn, which is something you’ll never find in store-bought bag.

Making the dough is simple.  In fact, you don’t really even need exact measurements. 

Pour the masa harina in a mixing bowl– just eyeball it– a cup and a half to two cups will make plenty of tortillas.  Add a pinch of salt and just a dab (a teaspoon or so) of cooking oil.  Fill a measuring cup with hot tap water.  Pour in about half a cup, maybe more, and stir it into the masa harina with your hands. Keep adding water bit by bit until the mixture is just moist.  You want it just past the crumbly stage but not sticky.  Form the dough into a ball, cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap, and then go do something else for about an hour.

When the dough is ready (it’s not going to rise or anything, it just needs to rest for an hour), heat a non-stick skillet over high heat (don’t use oil, you don’t want to fry them).  I use my Calphalon griddle, which I adore.  While the griddle is heating, roll the tortilla dough into just-smaller-than golf ball-sized pieces.

Line the tortilla press with plastic wrap on each side, place one of the dough balls on the base…

put the lid down and press. 

Lift the lid, then carefully peel the tortilla from the plastic wrap and place it on the hot skillet. 

 Be prepared to tear your first few tortillas, but don’t cry, pobrecita, just roll it back into a ball and do it again.  Let it cook on one side for about 30 seconds and flip it.  The first side should have brown speckles.

  Let  it cook on the other side for about the same amount of time, maybe less, then flip it one more time and finish it off on that side for about 10 seconds.  The tortillas are supposed to puff up when they cook. Sometimes mine puff a lot, sometimes they don’t  but they still turn out fine.  Take the tortilla off the skillet and place between the folds of a clean dish towel.  Eventually, you’ll find a rhythm and be able to press a tortilla while one is cooking to speed the process along.

The last time I made corn tortillas, I used them to make cheese enchiladas.

Ready for the sauce and cheese…

Time to go in the oven…

Hot and bubbly, topped with green onion.

Plated with some refried black beans, which, I must admit, look pretty unattractive, and a green salad with a creamy chipotle dressing.  Delish.

Now, even if I do ever wind up living in tortilla central (Phoenix) again, I’ll probably make my own from time to time, just because nothing tastes better than homemade.

I’m a happy little Vegemite

Although we’re both former British colonies, the U.S. and Australia have a LOT of cultural differences.  We both allegedly speak English, but I still frequently don’t understand what people are saying to me and I sometimes have to ask my husband to spell out what he says.  Americans wear religion on their sleeves, but you’ll never hear an Australian candidate for political office be forced to say how much he loves Jesus.  In Australia, I can be watching regular TV at 8pm and hear the f-bomb and see full frontal nudity.  Americans are prude by comparison.  Americans only love a winner. Australia idolizes its losers (Ned Kelly, Burke & Wills).

But perhaps the biggest cultural divide between Americans and Australians is a culinary one:  Australians love it.  Americans don’t.  Today, I officially crossed that great divide for the second time in a month by eating  Vegemite without making a face and falling into spasmodic convulsions.  I think this makes me a Vegemite eater, and probably a little bit more Australian.

Granted, my toast is spread with butter first, then just the thinnest veil of Vegemite and topped with a slice of cheese, but still…  I’m eating Vegemite.

I’m curious to know what culinary hurdles other expats have cleared in their new countries of residence.  Is there a food that once gave you the heebie jeebies that you now like?