I was recently furniture shopping in Denver at the quaint Cherry Creek North neighborhood; described as a charming sixteen block outdoor shopping and dining destination containing an impressive collection of art galleries, boutiques, international fashion brands stores, and luxury hotels. You can shop the tree-lined streets and find unique fashion, jewelry, home furnishings and art, and then treat yourself to a delicious dining experience at one of the neighborhood’s many restaurants. It came time for a late lunch so we ducked into a restaurant that declares itself as a love letter to Italy; a place that approaches perfection in the art of handmade pasta and pizza.
A glance through the lunch menu revealed a selection of pasta and pizza that included;
Squid ink mafaldine
white shrimp, calamari, acqua pazza, mint, fennel pollen, calabrian chili
heirloom cherry tomato, basil, pecorino, rustic tomato sugo
mission fig, goat cheese, arugula
roasted mushroom, cipollini onion, smoked mozzarell
Now I’m willing to try strange, weird and unusual, trending ingredient fads anytime; but no one would describe me as a foodie begging for a thrill, so I stopped and mentally juggled acqua pazza, calabrian chili, cipollini onion, and pecorino. And I had a flash back to some of the unplanned culinary adventures in the past that my pallet had withstood. And then I saw it; it was just under Pasta Made Fresh In House Daily.
Bolognese (house specialty)
traditional meat sauce, tagliatelle noodle & grana padano cheese
I felt an inner smile carry love energy down into my stomach; from adolescence through emerging adulthood I had more plates of spaghetti bolognese than you could poke a stick at. Mum used to make her own version of spag bol and every hotel in Melbourne has spag bol on it’s counter lunch menu. Some even claim that spaghetti bolognese is Australia’s national food. And that caused me to wonder about national foods; it seems that a lot of countries have an iconic fare.
Iceland. Hakarl: Fermented shark
Poland. Bigos: Sauerkraut and meat stew
Ecuador. Ceviche: Lime juice-marinated raw fresh fish spiced with chilie
Philippines. Adobo: Vinegar-stewed meat
Ethiopia. Wat with injera: Meat/vegetable stew with spongy bread
Thailand. Pad Thai: Stir-fried noodles with shrimp and/or meat
Germany. Currywurst: Sausage with curry sauce/spices
Canada. Poutine: Fries with gravy and cheese curds
USA. Hamburger: Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun
I started to muse on what is a national food and who chooses it. Today, Australia has a rich variety of foods and drinks that have been adopted and adapted since colonization; each arrival of migrants to Australia’s shores bought new ingredients and new flavors and what was once new and foreign has been transformed into distinctly Australian food. Playing and supporting sports is part of the Australian identity. It’s just what Australians do. Australia is a sporting nation. Now I’m not sure how a cuisine is anointed as a national food but I think a national food should be chosen based on the following; it is eaten at the footie and is inspired by another country. And that would put as serious contenders for Australia’s national food the dim sim, chiko roll, chicken parmigiana, and spaghetti bolognese.
The dim sim is a Chinese-inspired meat dumpling style snack of; meat, cabbage, and flavourings wrapped in a thick, wonton skin-like pastry: but not to be confused with the dainty dumplings nestled in bamboo baskets at a Sunday yum cha session. It is claimed that the best dim sims were made and sold by Ken (Kuen) Cheng at the South Melbourne Market; always sold steamed. You can get dimmies as an add on at most fish and chips shops, either deep-fried or steamed, and they are usually served sweating in a soy-drenched plastic paper bag. I thought the best dimmies were from a fish and chip shop in Melbourne Road, Newport. This fish and chip shop followed most of the fish and chip shop rules; it was run by a hard working immigrant Greek family and the dimmies came out of a frozen bag.
Because you could never be quite sure of what you were getting dimmies are known as Mystery Bags. Because the fried dim sim didn’t go soggy it was a great snack at the footie or cricket; you can pop one of the little fried magical parcels into your mouth between sips of a cold one without thinking. In 2014 the Lord Mayor of Melbourne rejected the suggestion of a giant monument to the dim sim be installed in the city.
The Chinese spring roll inspired Frank McEncroe to create the chiko roll; first sold in Australia in 1951. It is a deep fried motley collection of cabbage, carrot, celery, rice, beef, and spices wrapped in a thick somewhat chewy dough jacket; and sometimes it was better not to ask what was in them because you didn’t want to know what was going into your body.
The chiko roll exists to be eaten at the footie; the thick outer jacket is far more durable than the flimsy meat pie pastry shell so it can be easily eaten with one hand leaving the other free for a cold stubby. You can get a chiko roll at pretty much any fish and chip shop in the country; drowned in soy sauce and eaten on the go from the original inspired small, narrow, bag it is a journey into paradise.
No one calls it Chicken Parmigiana; it is simply known as chicken parma or just parma. It is suggested that Aussie chicken parma is adapted from melanzane alla Parmigiana, an Italian dish made with shallow deep-fried sliced egg plant, layered with cheese and tomato sauce, then baked. Parma uses a breaded chicken breast instead of fried eggplant and the chicken is topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella, parmesan, or provolone cheese. Sometimes it will also be topped with ham. Chicken parma is an Aussie pub classic.
You will find parma on 90 per cent of Victorian pub counter meal menu’s; most likely served with chips and salad. For someone in search of their Utopia Pot and Parma night at the local pub, especially if a footie match is being televised, is the road to Utopia; the chicken parma comes with a 10 oz glass of beer. The parma proudly takes it place on the menu alongside the counter lunch classics; crumbed and fried lamb cutlets, steak sandwiched, schnitzel, and the mixed grill.
Australia was assaulted with a new range of smells, tastes and types of food at the end of the Second World War due to the large number of Italians, Greeks, Turks and Lebanese who migrated to Australia. Fresh eggplants, zucchinis, tomatoes, olives, capsicums and garlic became common in fruit and vegetable shops; and pasta and pizza, transformed Australia’s culinary traditions. No one knows how Ragu alla Bolognese became Spaghetti Bolognaise or, spag bol, but it’s a favorite Aussie comfort food. Every Australian kitchen table and every pub table and counter has had a bowl or plate of spaghetti bolognese put on it.
Spag bol became one of the most frequently eaten dishes in Australian. But it bears no resemblance to a traditional Italian bolognese or ragu; a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna. Mum’s spag bol was minced beef, tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion, and salt and pepper; she probably thickened it with flour. And after a while she started to add nutmeg. When mum got her electric Sunbeam fry pan it seemed to live on one end of the kitchen table. The electric cord plugged into the end of the handle and shared the plug on the wall with the 3AW kitchen wireless. The fry pan was either cooking rissoles, sausages, or spag bol meat. The spaghetti was always cooked until it turned into a soggy, mushy mound of pasta; any left over meat sauce was eaten on a couple of slices of toasted Tip Top bread the next day. Spag bol is still one of the most cooked meals in the Australian home; but you will never have the same bolognese recipe twice. With so many recipes for spag bol it risks consistency.
So, if it can be eaten at sporting events and is inspired by another country is the criteria for Australia’s national food I have some concerns supporting spag bol as a winner. It has to be between the dim sim, chiko roll, and parma. The deciding factor has to be; what can you drop on the ground in the outer at the footie and continue eating, something you just give a quick wash off or brush off and it’s as good as new. Hard to do with a bowl of spag bol. I suppose you could be watching the footie on TV in the public bar of the local while you finish the spag bol from your counter lunch order; but there’s not much risk of dropping it on the ground in the outer there. If you wrapped the parma between a couple of slices of Tip Top it would make a great footie parma sandwich; dropping it would be disastrous. That leaves the dimmy or chiko roll as Australia’s national food: And it should replace the meat pie, roast lamb dinner, spag bol, pavlova, or any other food stuff claiming to be Australia’s national food. There are however a couple of new, serious, contenders out there; and one is for Australia’s national beer.
The Four’N Twenty Stuffed Crust Pizza was offered by Pizza Hut Australia in 2015; eight party pies were nestled, one each on the outside edge, into each piece of pizza. Unfortunately it was only available for eight weeks.
Vegemite Cheesybite is a delicious combination of vegemite and cream cheese; perfectly suited to go on anything at any time. It can be spread straight on to crackers, wholemeal or grainy bread, pita, fresh vegetables; virtually anything you like.
Belly Button beer was presented at the 2016 Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular. It was created by Doug Bremner and his beer-brewing mates from coriander seeds, orange zest and yeast collected from their belly buttons.
When it gets into the 40’s and we are guaranteed misty rain I think I will order a few packs of dimmies from the Australian Bakery Cafe. They claim they handcraft their dim sims in the aussie fish & chip shop style; ready for you to deep fry or steam and drown in Worcestershire sauce. We’ll break out the Sherrin, have a few end to end kicks in the back yard, and then settle in with a few ice colds and some steamed dimmies.