I think we’re selling ourselves short. Way short. Australia has some of the best food I have eaten. Sure, this comment can come across a little small-minded, even jingoistic, but I think there are many ways to justify this, which I hope to remember to go into on a post soon. However, regardless of the quality of our food, I don’t think we’re integrating it into our lives in a memorable and distinct manner. We have kept the act of eating at arms length from our lives.
A list of my most memorable meals, would have a splattering of family gatherings, weekend bbqs, a wedding or ten, and perhaps a few of life’s key moments, (queue the tears of joy, saddened longing stares and elated embraces). But once you normalise the equation of life, and focus on the food and atmosphere, then one thing stands out for me… the streets.
I recently got asked about my favourite meals ever, and of the top of my head the first few seemed to be consumed outdoors, standing up, walking or leaning against some railing dividing me from the adventure beyond it. I’m not, as it might be appearing, suggesting that I’m the outdoors type, but become one at feeding times.
I’m not entirely sure of the reasons behind this. Perhaps it’s the high results-to-expectation ratio, the russian roulette game being played with salmonela, or that any meat appears to be smoke-cured thanks to the passing traffic, but street (or market) food excite me like no other. I, like many, consume most of my meals at home, an eatery (includes restaurant/cafe/bar/etc), or glued to my work-desk. But whilst travelling, much like my modern cohort, I try to include a generous sprinkling of the outdoor variety.
|Banana Crepes – Ho Chi Minh City
Unfortunately not only for tourists, but more so for locals, street food is a no-show across Australia!
Our travel guides are full of stories of where to get the best 20 baht pad thai, (Victory Monument – BKK has my vote), how to best match a pilsner to a bratwurst in Vienna, or how many tacos one can get for $2 in Guadalajara, but try picking up a bite on the run in Oz and you’ll probably end up scooping a pie at the 7eleven, or one of the trillion McChickenHuts conveniently located by your right foot.
All this despite a growing demand for these cuisines, with every second restaurant opening in Melbourne offering hawker style food, much like ‘tapas’ recently infested every restaurant and bar in the country like flu-carrying conquistadors. Street Thai, and now Street Vietnamese, are some of the biggest selling recipe books on the market, (and they’re not even a MasterCheff spin off!)
Unfortunately, when trying to bring the streets to Melbourne, they skip the pavement, jump a lane way, climb a staircase, and bring out the linen… a-la-carte anyone?
Chin Chin, one of the latest wonders of Melbourne’s culinary elite, has been described by Broadsheet (http://www.broadsheet.com.au/melbourne/food-and-drink/article/thai-diner-chin-chin-opens
) as “street-inspired Asian food”. This much is surely true, but by the time you waited for a free table (20-50 minutes), viewed the menu (1-15), heard the omnipresent spill explaining how the menu is “designed to be shared” (waiter-dependant), ordered and received the plated food, the street cart which inspired this whole situation has crossed 12 red lights, smoked half a packet and sacrificed 7 chickens at the altar of palm oil!
Similarly overcooked is the menu. Unhappy for us to suffer through mediocrity, it’s quality produce throughout. The soups include blue swimmer crab wontons, Hopkins River beef, and Yamba King Prawns. And as wonderful as I assume they all are, (I’ve only tried 1), they were missing the key ingredient: asphalt.
If Chris Lucas were to stand on the corner of Collins and Russell Sts, serving his delightfully sticky caramelised pork with chilli vinegar, sans fanfare and half the price (seeing as the overheads would be nothing but blue skies), then I’d be heading to my nearest Flight Centre and getting myself a piece of that pie! Conversely, Australian cuisine will continue to be a technically proficient orchestra… there’s just no one dancing.