It’s been a very long time since I last posted and while the creative flame may have flickered it never goes out.
What made me decide to begin adding to this site again was the fact that we’ve been living in Australia now for nearly 5 months and I’ve yet to really comment on the food we’ve eaten. Given that in the time here we’ve seen a great deal of the country and eaten hundreds of meals I figured it was certainly a good opportunity to write a little about them. Combine this with the fact that Nancy is working and my company back in Canada decided to wait until I was 14,000 KM from home to inform me I’d not be working for them while here. Basically, I have time on my hands.
The vast majority of our travel tends to involve cultures and food which are very different from the ones we have in Canada. I viewed living here in Aussie as more akin to my time in California- different, but not THAT different. While this statement is fairly close to the truth I didn’t consider the fact that we’d actually be “living” here for more than a year and not merely staying a month or travelling through. I didn’t think this distinction was large enough to warrant mention but it truly does.
There are the surface things that for all intents and purposes are what we’re used to. I can go to McDonald’s or KFC (if I really wanted to), or pick up Subway sub, but going shopping regularly and having to actually plan normal daily meals has made me realize the differences are quite noticeable. Some of this is due to living in regional Victoria but not as much as all that.
I can say without exaggeration that every meal I’ve planned and attempted has been a struggle to some degree. From the Worcestershire sauce that was so strong and odd tasting that it destroyed an entire batch of chili that I’d cooked all day to having to special order and wait a week for clams because they don’t even have canned ones and when they did arrive they were precooked and frozen, things are just different enough to be a problem.
All of this and what follows has been compounded by the fact that the kitchen in our house here has barely the tools to make anything. We’ve bought knives since there were none, borrowed pans from neighbors and had to think about if we in fact have what’s needed to make any meal we plan. Yes, we adapt. We’re smart and flexible, but until you’ve tried it you really don’t know what it’s like going back to the days when you had 1 sauce pan, no mixing bowls, only cookie sheets for baking etc. Frankly, I had more when I moved out of my folks place.
I’ll stop my whinge about the kitchen now and get back to the topic at hand.
Being in a culture where much of the foods are seemingly very similar to those we’re used to in North America or Europe one could be forgiven if they believe that they can easily make familiar dishes, but again it’s the living here that makes the differences so much larger. I’ve had to be careful when buying beef for example as the common names for the cuts are completely different and on more than one occasion we’ve had to chew through leathery meat because I bought what appeared to be what I wanted. Spices and vegetables are named differently as are many of the things you might want to pick up on a Saturday morning shop.
One example of something that is not named differently but is still completely foreign is Hollandaise sauce. Now, I’ve had this yummy item on meals in probably a dozen countries and other than slight differences in flavor it’s been quite consistent. We’ve discovered however that here it’s not the same at all. As a matter of fact it’s very often poured on from a shelf-stable foil or tetra pak. Having made Hollandaise for many years I know that it is fragile and consists of a good deal of dairy. Both of these would preclude a shelf-stable liquid. None the less, here it is and after sampling it in several places around Australia we requested my parents bring over a supply of the not too bad powdered version we sometimes use at home in Canada. Nuff Sed.
I’ll deviate from my description of things not good and different for a moment and place praise where it too is deserved. The Aussies really know how to make meat in tube form. This is so much a good thing that at a given moment there are 3-4 kinds of sausage in my freezer, right now there are 4. While the basic BBQ variety that looks alarmingly like a hot dog is the exception, all other versions I’ve tried have been great.
Another sausage by the way is far more likely to be “thrown on the barbie” for you by your host than a “shrimp”. Sorry to burst your bubble on this subject but “I’ll throw another shrimp on the Barbie” was an ’80’s marketing campaign aimed at North Americans and nothing more. An Aussie doesn’t even use the word “shrimp”, they call them “Prawns”. I’ll add another nail to that coffin by stating that “Prawns” are priced via a market that is akin to gold in this country and if they are being served to you then you must be very special indeed to your host.
I’m now going to light on a subject that is a bit touchy to Australians… Meat Pies or just “Pies” as they call them. Like meat in tube form I have a very strong attraction to these things and as such have sampled, well… let’s just say several across the country. I wouldn’t be caught dead putting tomato sauce (no, it’s not ketchup) on one like the locals do but hey, don’t judge me. What’s odd is that unlike sausage, pies have so far been disappointing. This is odd since again like meat in tube form the pie is everywhere and eaten by everyone. Because of this you might expect that they too are perfected, oh, you’d be so very wrong. This having been said, every single one of the pies I’ve eaten that’s made at a bakery or by someone in there home has been wonderful. Conversely, every single one I’ve bought in a supermarket in either fresh or frozen bake-at-home form has been… not so good. Part of the issue has been (and there’s no nice way to say this, so I’ll just put it out) the pastry used in every single frozen pie and many of those from a market deli is a form of biodegradable wheat-sourced cardboard. You could tile a floor with the stuff. Any pastry that has to be cut with a steak knife if you want to extricate what’s inside is not going to be good. Painfully, all 9 brands I’ve tried seem to use this same recipe.
Making things with the humble pie even more unfortunate is the fact that one would be hard pressed with some of them to actually find any meat inside or if you do to identify just what animal it might have come from. I won’t go into the gory details but when every shop. butchery, grocery, bakery, gas station and restaurant in the country serves them in large numbers there are bound to be shortcuts taken.
I’ll stop here as I’ll be picking Nancy up from work soon and seeing if the “Bacon-Mushroom-Swiss Burgers” I’ve planned with Aussie “Bacon” (I’ll elaborate next time) work out.