February 24, 2005

Taste Matters

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Some fun facts about Australia. Koalas may be cute, but they are actually vicious little monkeys that sleep all day, while hard working Asian tourists are forced to take lame pictures of them sleeping. Kangaroos reproduce too much and really piss off the Australians. And by the way, kangaroo is the cheapest and most abundant meat in an Australian supermarket. Russell Crowe is a goddamn Kiwi and everyone knows it. The toilets are supposed to swirl the other way, but actually just explode. Their nomenclature for things (city: Woolloomooloo; bird: Kookaburra; musical instrument: Didgeridoo; female pop star: Kylie Minogue) consists of the most annoying people in Australia thrown in a room and told to binge on paint thinner while engaging in a tickle fight.

Going abroad last year to Sydney was one of the most exciting and important things I have ever done in my young life. My former highest honor was when I absolutely demoralized the Eagles with the ’86 Giants in Madden. I think Lawrence Taylor freebased like three grams of crack and then sacked Donovan McNabb about 20 times … in the first half. While most people didn’t give a crap about learning Australia’s cuisine, I made it one of my top priorities. In Australia, they would refer to me as a “poof,” and my aforementioned actions as “poofy.” Aussies would come up to me and say something like, “Oi! Helloi. How ya going, ya poof? How ah yee?” (Translation: “Hello. How are you doing, you fruitcake? How are you?”). Oh well.

So, let’s talk about Australian food. In a word, I’d call it not-Australian. Now, I must make the distinction between Australia’s indigenous cuisine and most of the stuff people actually eat there. It’s actually quite complicated to even call something indigenous cuisine; most of the foods that nations call their own actually originated elsewhere and have adjusted to different tastes. On that note, Australia has very few, if any original recipes. This is mainly due to the fact that their climate really blows for the kinds of foods that are necessary to sustain a modern population. Before the Brits began to colonize Australia in 1788, its Aboriginal inhabitants were hunter-gatherers who were able to catch and eat pretty much anything that moved. That was fine for them, but the British were lazy, portly and could not live without their fat, salt, flour, beer and smelly-ass livestock. So began Australia’s ascent into the Western world of obesity and alcoholism. British “pub food” became and remains the basic foundation of Australian cuisine.

As disgusting as British food looks/smells, it’s really not that bad. In Australia, nearly every pub serves this kind of food. They have bangers and mash, which is sausage and potatoes; kidney pie, which really is as appetizing as it sounds; Guinness pie, which is beef and vegetables in a Guinness sauce, all baked into a pie crust; fish and chips — fried fish and French fries … well, that’s honestly pretty much it. But the British also brought cattle, sheep, pigs and agriculture with them, which forever changed Australia’s land and continues to influence Australia’s developing cuisine.

When we hear the words “livestock” and “agriculture,” we normally think of a pretty sick Mardi Gras type party. But to the Southeast Asians, those sweet words meant “party” in a different way. Since Australia is situated so close to Southeast Asia, its land and sparse population became the ideal destination for immigrants, who brought their own, native cuisine. The new technologies that allowed the once arid and infertile land to host an abundance of resources became attractive to the immigrants and their culinary skills. Soon, other nations became widely represented, like Greece, Italy, Lebanon and Turkey, all of which saturated the Australian food market with different tastes from around the world. Ethnic restaurants are dominant particularly in the cities (where nearly 95 percent of the people live). But since most of the cuisine is untainted and relatively authentic, it’s really good. Now, this foreign infusion of flavor could have simply left Australia with different and exclusive factions, who would have subsequently formed “food gangs,” that terrorized the neighborhoods and pushed ground spices and wire whisks to school kids. The initiation processes would have been egg beatings and meat tenderizing, followed by eating a lot of burnt things. Instead, Asian and other cuisines worked with their new surroundings and customers to produce variations on original recipes, which became original themselves. What do I mean? Well, Australians sometimes replace meats in traditional recipes with, yes, kangaroo. If you have the stomach for it, kangaroo meat is not that bad, although it is gamey, tough and irresistibly adorable. Also, Aussies put beet and chili sauce on nearly every sandwich they get their hands on. McDonald’s makes the McOz, which is a burger with chili sauce and beet. Isn’t that cool? Honestly, it’s always an honor when McDonald’s or Hungry Jack’s (that’s what they call Burger King — don’t ask) dignifies your country with indigenous influences. But alas, nothing really feels too Australian.

To remedy this problem, most nations would typically conduct campaigns to encourage more people to experiment with food. Australia might have considered this, but instead reasoned that “Footie’s on the tellie! Oi! Come on, ya blokes! Let’s get pissed (drunk)! To the pub!” Going out in Australia is sickness times a million. It’s always hot and the chicks are all, actually they’re a little bitchy, but still attractive. Let me fill you in on the food and beverages of late night Oz. In most countries, alcohol is both abundant and reasonably priced. In Australia, they have a dick prime minister and consequently, a heavy import tax, which especially affects liquor. Booze is both sparse and expensive, which makes mixed drinks in bars, and alcohol in the shops (it’s all on one, small shelf), the complete opposite of cost-efficient. So, either you stick to beer in the bar, which is cheap, or you suck it up and shell out the dough. Regardless, Australians love to “suck piss,” which is their euphemistic term for consuming alcohol, and not some fraternity ritual.

After sucking large amounts of said piss, people have the tendency to become hungry. Late night Aussie food is very satisfying for this purpose. Australia does have as many fast food places as we do, and all in all, they are about the same. There are pizza and fried food stands, but the kebab is king. Introduced by Lebanese immigrants in the 1970s, kebabs have become the most popular street food on the continent since the highly successful but impractical live, angry crocodiles. Typically, kebabsman, shaves off either chicken, lamb or beef, throws it onto the grill, heats up a Lebanese wrap and rolls it all up with cheese and veggies. They are huge and must be consumed with the utmost discretion after a big night of drinking. Now you can kind of see the way Australia has become a melting pot for ethnic foods that become more distinctly Australian as time goes by. So, after eating and drinking yourself stupid with all that Australia has to offer, get yourself a Sheila, to which an Aussie would suggestively raise his eyebrows, nudge you and say, “good on ya, mate!”

Archived article by Jon Rich
Sun Staff Writer