Monday, July 28, 2008

You know it makes sense

And now, the lady you've all been waiting for, it's the Howard Stern of Franzy's Writing, Mele. Today she returns with her own brand of smack-down placed squarely upon the culinary quagmire that is Bribie Island and, we suspect, greater Queensland in general. So, without further ado ...

Culture Shocked II

Okay, I’m still whinging about the Bribie Island food…but two out of three butchers don’t stock veal chops on a regular basis (if indeed, at all.)

‘Why don’t you have them?’ I exclaimed to butcher number two, after having driven across the entire island in my quest for them.

‘Er, there’s just not enough demand for them, love.’

I can understand foie de grais being off the menu, but veal chops? What is everybody doing here? Are they dry-frying lamb chops and serving them up like rubber, like my grandma does? I guess the older demographic are still boiling their vegies to beautiful shades of grey and cringing at the very idea of seasonings other than salt and pepper (What else is there, other than that? Oh, parsley—served on the side of your plate in the grand tradition of 1982.)

I was amazed to find the veal chops in the Big Supermarket Chain of all places. Not the greatest quality admittedly, but they tasted pretty good after cooking for two hours in a French-inspired sauce of streaky bacon, red wine, mushrooms and thyme.

My biggest whinge, however, is reserved for seafood. We live on an island and see fishing boats cruising up the passage all day long. We see huge container ships floating against the horizon. We see all kinds of activities aquatic, yet the only seafood that is fresh, cheap and readily available are the sand whiting we manage to catch ourselves. The only regular supplier of fish is—you guessed it—the Big Supermarket Chain, and I have bought seafood from there three times. Twice the fish was so off and inedible that Franzy and I were forced to throw it straight out. The third time I bought salmon I had to buy the wrong cut of fish because the type that I wanted was a red gelatinous quivering mass reduced to $29.00 a kilo When salmon is no longer orange it isn’t worth 29 cents, let alone $29.00.

In all seriousness, I have made a huge effort to explore other options. I drove to a fish market that was actually a restaurant that sold overpriced prawns and crabs on the side. There’s a seafood takeout around the corner that does the same thing, but its salmon was as flamingly red as the one at the Big Supermarket Chain. The only other fish shop on the strip has been designated a no go area, with good reason:

‘Excuse me, can I have my calamari grilled instead of fried?’ I asked upon my one and only visit. I was ready and eager to taste my first serving of Bribie Island seafood, and I’d figured what better place than the takeout shop less than 50 metres by the sea?

‘Oh, you want it grilled?’ replied the incredibly young girl out the counter. ‘I’ll just go see if the cook can do it.’

I stood there flabbergasted.

What seafood cook refuses to grill calamari, and insists of deep frying it every time? Why is everything the shop other than fish fillets deep fried?

A moment later the cook emerged from the back. ‘You want it grilled?’ she asks, looking confused.

A horrible realisation sets in. She’s not refusing to do it—she doesn’t know how.

I don’t tell her what I really want, which is calamari lightly dusted in flour, Greek style, which is still unhealthy and fried but less gluggy and oil soaked than the thickly coated Queensland alternative.

‘I’ve seen that on TV… I’ve never actually done it, but I’ll give it a go.’

She gives it a go. The calamari I get back is rubbery and tastes vaguely chemical. It has the power make any Greek person convulse and die on the spot.

One of the problems with Bribie Island is definitely the fact that all takeout food is homogenised and whitened. Perhaps I am conscious of the fact that I am part of an Ethnic minority, as well as being part of the Australian stereotype (European family/English and Scot family) and I’m oversensitive to this issue. But what I can’t help but notice that none of the takeout places here acknowledge their cultural identity. In fact, they downplay it for their customer base.

In South Australia, there are Greek seafood shops that sell Greek style seafood, and they have Greek names. The Chinese restaurants have names like Ying Chow and Ky Chow—they’re not called anything in English. Italian cafes selling Mediterranean type fare have Italian names too (although Italian cafes are generally awful, and don’t sell much traditional fare, only mainstream crap that actual Italians don’t eat and barely recognise...even in SA there’s only one Italian cafĂ© worth its salt, and it exists in a completely Italian neighbourhood that’s segregated from the city itself).

But here on the island, a lot of places have weeded out the ethnic words and stigma. Franzy’s workplace is the worst offender of the lot. It is based on a European style of eating, is largely alfresco and has a lot of watered-down Italian foods on offer that don’t have Italian names. It has gotten rid of all the things that make Italian cafes good—chinotto, home made gelati, antipasto with meats like cappocolo, cannoli, stand-up-a-spoon-in-its-own-thickness-coffee, etc. Fair enough, there’s not the base or demand for such stuff, but why pretend what they offer it isn’t actually Italian food?

I shall return to my other, less explicable Bribie Island food dilemma: the seafood. Why isn’t seafood cheaper here than in SA? Gordon ‘F@#* Me’ Ramsay is always belting on about restaurants using cheap and fresh local produce, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Everything is expensive—at least as expensive as SA, if not more, and only prawns are slightly cheaper. Why sand whiting is expensive even though the passage is full of it I don’t know. Franzy has this theory that big supermarket chain gets all its stuff from a big supplier and none of it is local anyway. I think there’s a grain of truth there myself.

Food issues aside, I am glad to be living on Bribie at the moment. There have been a few cold days and nippy nights, but there’s been plenty of sunshiny warm days that my skin has rejoiced in. I love Queensland winter—if we had the money, I’d live here in winter and in SA in summer. I love the sunsets and the mountains and the lagoon. I love the trees and forests that grow right down to the sandy beach. I love picking up wild passionfruit and feeling smug because the Big Supermarket Chain sells them for a dollar each, even though they grow wild all over the place.

I’ve decided that Bribie, for all its food transgressions and dare I say it—heresies—has got a lot of little old ladies who I’m sure make absolutely fabulous cakes and scones and other Country Women’s Association type delights, so I’ve been inspired. The other day I went out and bought the Women’s Weekly Cake cookbook, a rolling pin, a set of scales and about 19 different types of flour/baking agents in the effort to make my first sticky date pudding ever. It took me ages but it turned out perfect thanks to the Weekly’s triple-tested-for-your-success formula. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, I guess. I’m also going to try and convince Franzy that we really should go to the Fishing Association’s Guide to Fishing on Bribie seminar. It looks like we’re going to need it.


GTH - Points go to Adam Y for his excellent theory on how Telstra makes its money (seeing as it can't be for customer service). Honourable mentions to Kath and River, but no points, ladies. I was looking for someone connecting helpful Franzy with the Samaritan who left change on the parking meter for me on a recent trip to Brisbane.


  1. Ah mele, your brothers will be thinking of you when we are enjoying all that great Japanese food and fine french cuisine, in their countries of origin no less.

  2. Nice post Mele, and it makes me so grateful to be living here in Adelaide, sipping a nice fresh FUIC as I read your diatribe.

    Franzy's right about the fish from the big supermarket - it could be from Perth for all you know and is about as likely to be from Bribie as the batter on your deep fried calamari rings.

    I'll order an extra bunch of boychoi in your honour when we go to the Kowloon Cafe for Yum Cha on Sunday....

  3. bucket, bait and an incoming tide. The sand whiting don't stand a chance!

  4. It's a real shame that our great island (Australia, not just Bribie) is surrounded by excellent fish which is caught and sent to places like Japan, while we get the stuff that's bred in the grubby waters of the mekong delta.
    I'd say definitely go to that fishing seminar and learn how to set up your own lines, crab and lobster pots.

  5. I once asked for my fish to be grilled in a local fish and chipper only to be presented with a piece of grilled fish....

    .....pre-battered. Just like the freezer made it.

    When I was a teenager, I worked in a coastal restaurant and was made to lie about the local content of our menu. Twas demoralising in the extreme.

    I second your horror about the de-ethnicisation of restaurants. Do yours have "Australian" menus and "(insert ethnicity here)" menus? To me, that's the real insult: sitting down to a hearty meal of angolicsed Chinese food only to have some one at the next table eating steak, egg and chips.



An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32