Every time I wear an oversize pair of lobster claws I start thinking about crayfish stacked in neat rows in a fish shop window. Growing up I didn’t know about lobsters; only crayfish and yabbies. I remember going yabbing a couple of times; it must have been in my late teens and with a few mates. We had driven somewhere into the near bush just outside of Melbourne to find a fresh water stream. How to catch yabbies is just something you grow up instinctively knowing how to do; the same as you know what brussel sprouts taste like, that rain will make you wet, and kangaroos can’t walk backwards.
I found the most successful method for yabbing to be:
Most times you’d buy a fresh cray to cook at home in a pot of boiling water, or to save yourself some work a red coloured cooked one, from the fish and chip shop. I didn’t eat a lot of cray; If I had to I’d crack open the claws for bits of fresh white meat. I never sucked the head to savour what some people claimed was the most moist and flavourful of the cray. I don’t think crayfish have a brain so I don’t really know what you’d be sucking out of the head when you did the head suck; probably chunks of crayfish fatty gel stuff that’s been spiced up with the seasoning’s from the boiling water used to cook the cray.
Even though Australia was introduced to a new range of smells, tastes and ingredients at the end of the Second World War by Italian, Greek, Turkish and Lebanese immigrants it took time for these new ethnic cuisines to transform Australian restaurants, and culinary traditions. Instead, it seemed as if every fruit shop, milk bar, and fish and chip shop was owned by a Greek, Turkish or Lebanese family. And the Italian immigrants opened pizza shops. Australian takeaway was transformed; it became more than a pie and sauce. Takeaway fish and chips became a Friday night treat when we were growing up. Dad would drive to the fish and chip shop in Melbourne Road and come back with a newspaper wrapped parcel; the newspapers were moist with the frier fat from the fish and chips, and potato cakes, that had soaked through the papers.
Newport’s Melbourne Road also had a pizza shop. Back then pizzas were exotic and mysterious; and the names only added to their mystic. I remember the Capricciosa and Neapolitan; we only ordered what we knew. The Capricciosa came with tomato paste, cheese, chopped ham, mushroom, and diced olives, but sometimes you would ask for no olives. And the Neapolitan was tomato paste, cheese, mushrooms, chopped olives, and anchovies, but you never ate the anchovies. The backup pizza was the Capri; tomato paste, cheese, chopped ham, and mushroom. And then the Italian pizza shop owners started to make the Hawaiian; tomato paste, cheese, chopped ham, and pineapple. I don’t think mum liked pizza. At first we didn’t have it as a Friday night treat; but as teenagers it was not uncommon to see a Capricciosa on the kitchen table.
I grew up with fish and chips and pizza as takeaways, and the pie and sauce from the corner milk bar or cake shop. I don’t count the Chinese shop in Williamstown’s Nelson Place as a take away. It was a sit down restaurant, but you could take your own saucepan into the shop and have it filled with your own takeaway. People would queue up on Friday nights for a saucepan full of their favourite takeaway Chinese food; sweet and sour pork, chop suey, or fried rice. The Chinese was also a great stop after a Saturday of consuming ice colds with the mates for a takeaway bag of steamed dimmies.
There’s a lot I don’t remember from the sixties and seventies but I do remember the first McDonalds that opened in Melbourne’s Swanston Street. Macca’s had been building a presence in Melbourne’s suburbs since the early seventies, but the opening of an overseas takeaway shop in the centre of the city caused the next transformation of the takeway. A few years ago when I was back holidaying in Melbourne it seemed as if I came across an American fast food shop with every step I took, every corner that I turned, and every outing down a suburban street; Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Hungry Jacks (aka Burger King) and Subway were everywhere. I could have been in any main street USA. Last year when I was back in Melbourne the Americanisation of the Australian takeaway was all but complete. Not only was Krispy Kreme, TGI Fridays, Dunkin Donuts, Mrs. Fields, Gloria Jeans, Starbuck’s, and the Outback Steakhouse now on every second corner but most of the fast food shops had added a drive through and a playground for the little ones, and had introduced extended open hours. Seven Eleven was also on every third corner; each with an over supply of cellophane wrapped, tasty, corporate takeaway meat pies, pasties, and sausage rolls.
The Outback Steakhouse restaurants in Australia have dropped some of the exaggerated, pseudo Australianisms that you come across in the American franchises; you’re not going to find a kookaburra wings party platter, Aussie cheese fries, or Alice Springs Chicken and Gold Coast Coconut Shrimp on the Down Under menu. The American Outback Steakhouses promote the Alice Springs Chicken and Gold Coast Coconut Shrimp as an 8 oz wood fired grilled chicken, topped with sauteed mushrooms, crisp bacon, melted Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses, and Honey Mustard Sauce, paired with shrimp that are hand dipped in batter, rolled in coconut and fried until golden. And it’s served with Aussie Fries.
Alice Springs is a remote outback Northern Territory town, rich with Australian pioneering history and culture, halfway between Darwin and Adelaide; it’s surrounded by red dirt and mountain ranges. You’re not going to find a lot of plump chickens or mushrooms around Alice; instead you’ll find bush tucker. Outback Steakhouse could easily introduce genuine Australian menu selections, table service, and takeaway traditions into it’s 1,000 plus worldwide restaurants. I would ditch the Alice Springs Chicken and replace it with a selection of either kangaroo fillet, crocodile patties, camel rissoles, or an Aussie burger with the lot; meat, lettuce, egg, bacon, pineapple, cheese, beetroot and sauce. And any menu selection should be cooked on the table with a make shift barbie.
The Outback menu needs to be Australian; no Aussie is going to call a prawn a shrimp. Gold Coast Coconut Shrimp should be Gold Coast Coconut Prawn, lobster tails would become cray tails, Alice Springs Chicken becomes The Alice Chook, and Outback Center Cut Sirloin would be Back of Bourke Scotch Fillet. Ordering at the Outback would become something like:
Outback Steakhouse Server: G’day mate, how you goin!
If Outback Steakhouse adopted these modest suggestions it would become more than the home of juicy steaks, spirited drinks and Aussie hospitality.
Long John Silvers tried to make a go of it in Australia a little over 10 years ago. They thought they would be successful by just serving Fish, Chicken and Shrimp Platters with Hushpuppies, Baked Cod with 2 sides and Hushpuppies, and Family Meals made up of mix and match fish and chicken; and not follow the eleven rules of a dinkum Aussie fish and chip shop.
1. Owned and run by a hard working immigrant Greek family
I’m sure that Long John Silver’s will try it one more time Down Under, and because Red Lobster, Captain D’s, or a start up US fast food seafood restaurant will want to expand into the The Lucky Country, my suggestion would be to Australianise the US franchise shops with the fish shop rules as soon as possible. Australianising would put them on a good wicket for a move into the Lucky Country.
But there still are lots of family owned traditional fish and chip, pizza, Middle Eastern and Asian shops nestled in suburban shopping centres; and they uphold the tradition and heritage of the time honoured Australian takeaway. I really should think about doing a takeaway make over to my dinners. I could do a burger with the lot by adding a few lettuce leaves, beetroot, pineapple, and a few strips of bacon to a Jimmy Dean sausage, egg and cheese, English muffin sandwich. Even though a pizza with prawn cutlets and roast beetroot would take a bit of work I think it would be a winner:
Roast Beetroot: Drizzle a couple of beetroot with water, wrap them in foil and roast for 45-55 minutes. Let cool, then peel and slice thinly