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 café 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.