Bushwhacked: The delicacies of yesteryear

HESTON Blumenthal, that wonderfully weird British chef who makes an art out of making food look like anything except what it is, is setting up shop in Melbourne for a while.

And I was intrigued by one of his comments recently that Australia was experiencing a “food explosion” like nothing he had experienced before. He says the world is intrigued by Australian foods and ingredients and the range and quality of food here is astounding.

BUT... he then goes on proudly to proclaim he’s had a Tim Tam Slam (sucking hot coffee through a Tim Tam biscuit), eaten a meat pie at the footy and had a chicken parma. He was saving himself for the culinary sensation – dim sims.

You just know he’s going to have a lot of fun here making perhaps the world’s very first palatable dim sim, or perhaps a meat pie made out of ocelots’ ear-lobes and pasty made of spinifex seeds.

I think Blumenthal is right, there is a food explosion going on in Australia. We have an insatiable appetite for reading about food, watching TV food shows, collecting cook books, supporting good restaurants.

In my lifetime I’ve gone from lard-saturated mashed potato and piles of boiled peas to some exquisite light chicken and lemon risotto and beef quesadillas with mashed avocado.

Think back to the stuff you ate regularly as a kid and wonder that you’re still alive.

Remember “steak-ettes”? A rectangle of reconstituted rubbery meat, fried as though it had been left outside on Black Saturday. And Rice-a-Riso? Canned spaghetti and baked beans? Deep-fried chips with every-thing? Fried Spam slices (or Tom Piper Camp Pie)? Do you remember when bread knew only one colour – white – and when it was always sliced? When milk always had a thick yellowish top layer?

I was 13 before I visited my first restaurant. Mum was in hospital having my youngest sister and Dad was supposed to be looking after us. We finished up in a Chinese restaurant with great steaming bowls of “special fried rice” and bits of stick. Only later did I learn the sticks were eating tools.

I didn’t have a pizza until I was 17 and it was the only alternative to the spag bol with vomit-flavoured cheese topping. Now, I salivate at the thought of good Italian cooking.

Dad loathed “mucked up” food and would eat chops, mystery bags, mashed spuds and peas forever, always with great crusts of salt and pepper and tomato sauce.

Mum thought vegies had to be boiled until they had the consistency of jelly, while – curiously– jelly had to have the consistency of leather and always be buried beneath a bucket of sloppy ice-cream.

How would we all be if we still lived in those 50s, 60s and early 70s? 

Even more curious to ponder is how my Dad would cope in a world shared by Heston Blumenthal or Matt Preston.

Dad would be legging it down to the fish and chip shop (“More salt please!) and Mum would be wondering why the cauliflower was green and called broccoli.

As for dessert, well, what is this “Terror Miss Who?” coffee-flavoured muck and where the hell are the Golden Syrup dumplings with thick custard sludge?

Here’s an odd thing, though. If you put a plate of steak-ettes and peas and a bowl of dumplings and tar-like custard in front of me right now, I’d give it a red-hot go.

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