Friday, January 29, 2010

Shelf Gleaning

Phil at The Last Appetite, fresh from a wholly unsatisfying dining experience at “old Footscray” stalwart Poon’s, has published a fantastic post bemoaning the blinkered view many Australians have of Asian food. He refers to an article by Necia Wilden in the Australian, in which she sniffs and snorts her way through a shopping trip through the “minefield” of an Asian supermarket. The ensuing discussion over at Progressive Dinner Party is brilliant, and I urge you to savour Zoe’s initial post and the comments that follow.

Wilden embarks on her Asian shopping excursion without a sense of wonder or adventure, but rather with her guard up and her hackles raised. She assumes she is going to be duped by the inscrutable shopkeepers, rather than having an open mind and giving the benefit of the doubt. She is like a rich tourist on a package holiday, perhaps a food & wine tour of Tuscany – she wants all the variables taken out of the equation by an “expert”. This, I am sure, would result in a nice holiday, with lots of nice food, but it would be just that – nice. Perhaps you, like me, would prefer the massive highs and lows of a self-propelled trip, eating at street stalls, risking a bad tummy, for the elation when you discover, hidden down some alley, the stonking good food at some friendly, dirt-cheap, mom & pop shop.

Crunchy pork rolls and glistening curries are only half the magic of the food of Footscray. The suburb’s different multicultural grocers, its butchers and markets are full of food finds to create wonderful meals at home. I would like to introduce a new section, in which I’ll share with you what I have gleaned from all the shelves of Footscray, crammed with dusty packets, and what I have made with them. This way too, if you don’t live in Footscray, you don’t need to see this blog as just a reference for the few times a year you may find yourself here. I’m sure you can find most of these interesting ingredients at your local Asian or Indian grocer.

Please note: I am very conscious that this section will belie my ethnicity (Anglo-Australian). These things are only new for me because of my cultural background. I am trying to avoid using terms like “discover”, as they are loaded with cultural baggage – think Columbus or Cook “discovering” Australia or North America. I also find the term “ethnic shops” (i.e. those that are Asian, Indian etc) really difficult, as it rests on the assumption that white-ness or, more specifically, Anglo-Saxon-ness is not an ethnicity but rather the norm. I am sensitive to this but still I hear myself talking about “a butcher” (where I mean an Anglo, schnitzel & sausages butcher) VS “a Vietnamese butcher”. Also, bear with this round-eyes if I get wide-eyed over the Asian equivalent of, say, tomato sauce or Weet-Bix.

Stay tuned for the first post in “Shelf Gleaning”.

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