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Monday, November 23, 2009

altUniverse Me, Living in Strathfield, Shopping and Eating in Glebe

Why are all the good Australian food blogs written by Asians? To be more precise, why is it that most of the food bloggers in Australia are Malays, or people from the Malay world? By the Malay world I'm referring to Malaysians, Singaporeans, Indonesians, Filipinos, etc, many of whom live, study or work in Australia these days. I don't know whether or not Malaysians or Singaporeans or Filipinos invented food blogging but it is definitely a popular pastime for these nationalities, and something they excel at. Just as everyone under the age of 50 in Reykjavik Iceland wants to be in a rock band, every young man or woman in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur wants to be a food blogger... that is my observation at least! When I lived in Tokyo I was once bluntly informed by one of my housemates, an overweight Japanese gent named Matsumoto-san: "I liked traveling in Australia, but Anglo-Saxons don't understand food." I took that as a slur at the time but I can see where he was coming now -- Anglo-Saxons do indeed suck gastronomically. I think it boils down to our tepid tastes, and to our straitjacketed imagination. What constitutes Anglo-Saxon cuisine, anyway: meat and three veg, the veg boiled beyond blandness? Baked beans if you are English, Vegemite on toast if you are Australian? Hot dogs and hamburgers in North America, sausages on a braai in South Africa? Times may be changing, countries like Australia are supposed to be so cosmopolitan these days, you can even scoff sashimi in a shotglass, or eat wagyu beef on a burger! But I wonder: is this coming of age in a culinary sense, or is it just showing off how wealthy you've become? It's insulting for the sashimi to be served up in a glass, not only to the Japanese whose culture you have ransacked to spice up your workaday reality, but to the fish who donated its flesh and its life to help sustain yours! Show some respect, for God's sake. When I survey the dining scene in a city such as Sydney it seems to be more than a little nouveau riche to me, suggesting that people here have confused money with culture. Good cooking comes from the heart, not from the wallet, and I doubt that Aussies (along with Americans and Kiwis and South Africans and all the rest) will ever be as fanatical about their food as the Asians are about theirs. Young Australians would rather be football players than foodies, or food bloggers. Fair enough -- I will keep to the Asian blogosphere as I research places to go for my impending visit Downunder next month, and there are plenty of sites out there to be read. For example, on the topic of my home for a couple of months at the start of the year 2000, the Asian-Australian eat like a cow posse say: "It's hard to decide what to eat in Glebe - the area along Glebe Point road is full of delicious eateries. In fact, it's somehow like Paddington - but for hippies. This road strip is a melting pot of many cultures and races. One can see a seemingly endless myriad of people types - dreadlocked hippie girls, leather fetishists, even Asians in Louboutins. It's really an oasis in suburbia, lined with charmingly un-renovated old townhouses and fabulously dinghy second-hand shops..."


Picture copyright Robert Sullivan 2012
In an alternative universe I might be living in Strathfield, the gateway to western Sydney and home to a large Korean community (Australia, 2012)
I haven't been to Australia for a long time now (2.75 years, as of the end of the month), but when I am in Sydney, my way invariably leads to Glebe. Recently I have started thinking: had I not left Australia to live in Japan in 2000, what would have become of me? I probably would have tended to the west (not Western Australia, but western Sydney -- that's where I was working, and that's where the cheaper real estate is to be found.) In my Aussie altUniverse, Glebe Point Rd would probably be as far east as I would stray, as I never really liked the wankers in Bondi. I'd be living in a share house somewhere in the inner west, fighting over the bills, and for kicks I'd drink coffee at Cafe Otto or Clipper Cafe or Badde Manors, or dunk donuts at Dunkins (is that still open?), or trawl for vintage clothes and New Age trinkets at the Saturday markets. My center of gravity would probably be Strathfield Railway Station, gateway to western Sydney as well as to the Chinese/Korean communities of the north-west. In realUniverse my uncle Bill died in the year 2000 somewhere near Oxford Street, and the subsequent chain of events carried me off to Tokyo, where I still reside. I think I like the real universe better than the alternative one, folks know how to cook here and Michelin stars abound. I am pretty settled here, I have my own apartment, no need to share any longer... but sometimes in my dreams the timelines converge, and I find myself back in the altUniverse. Heading off to work at some job I don't like, or waiting for a train which never comes. I wake up, almost with a fright... and realize it was just a dream. But you never know... someday the timelines really will skip, and I could wake up to find myself living in Australia, and Tokyo will be just a dream? Could that ever happen.. well, yes, it could. Stranger things have happened at sea.

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