” We’re Out Of Canned Snake “

Well, damn. And I had my heart set on a big plate of dugite in gravy. I’ll have to make do with bread and butter.

I admire the cuisines beloved of many different ethnic groups. Likewise I recognise the artistry inherent in their dances, clothing, and literature…albeit I have no idea what they are saying or doing and the clothing they wear looks as if it was stitched together with brass wire. I figure it is their hides, slides, and insides and not for me to criticise.

Admiration, however, does not mean emulation. In the case of exotic cuisine I am more than happy for it to remain so. If they have shops that cater for their own palates, well and good. I have mine. They include Elmar’s, IGA, and Aldi, and if I cannot suit myself there I can always haunt Coles or Woolies. I wouldn’t think of depriving them of canned insects or vermin in oil. Indeed, come high summer, between myself and the cat, we could probably provide them with all the skittering protein they could handle.

I did try to adapt myself to the influx of Asian grocery shops here in our suburb. Close as we are to an Asian dormitory suburb and a south Asian subdivision, it’s not surprising that there has been a burgeoning in the specialty grocery market. I went to my local one and did my best to understand the items on offer – eventually settling on Yeo’s curry sauce from Singapore as the easiest thing to incorporate in the family menu. It’s never failed, and I always grab a can when I see it.

But when I tried to decipher all the other curry offerings I was stumped – so many canneries, so many flavours, so many different bits of advice on the can. I took a selection of them to the chap at the counter but he said he doesn’t eat that stuff…Hmmm…

I must screw up my courage and go to the Indian grocery next. Surely, if anyone, they will be able to advise me.

PS: Don’t try to con me and make me eat some awful offal to amuse your mates. I won’t do it, no matter what the social circumstance. I won’t be rude – ” Thank you. No. ” is perfectly civil.

Mongolian Yak Crisps – Baked Just For You

I am so often nonplussed these days that I have forgotten what a good plussing feels like. And one of the places that seems to take it out of me most is the grocery store.

Don’t get me wrong – I like stores and I like food and I like to eat. I’ve no allergies and few aversions when it comes to cooking. But the long aisles of shelving can be daunting. There are so many things to think about:

a. Am I being too mundane with my purchases? Is getting a tin of green peas at the local IGA rather than a hand-woven basket full of fresh-picked pods dewy with the dawn from a roadside stand in Shepparton just a sad reflection on my life? Would I get the same benefit if the peas are in a dewy-fresh frozen packet from Shepparton? And I just googled up a view of the main street?

b. Is this stuff made locally? Is it made in Australia at all? Okay, I do not expect chocolate-coated rice weevils in Hyow Twang sauce to be made in the Swan Valley…I’ll accept that Asia might be the best supply base for these, but the business of the peas comes back to mind. They grow peas in Australia. Let’s have a crack at them.

c. If I am in the Asian specialty store, what is the difference between one brand of curry sauce and the next? There are 15 different varieties there and I need some help sorting out the poisonous from the merely fearful. And it’s no help when the grocer says he doesn’t eat that stuff himself…

d. Fish. I like them on a plate and I like them in aquariums, but everything in between unnerves me. Is the thing with the eyes fresh? What do you do to it? Will it have poison spines that stab me when I try to clean it? Will there be enough flesh on to justify the price? Will it smell better at home than it does here?

e. Vegetables 1. Is that orange capsicum the product of a farm or Fabergé? Judging by the price I should guess the latter. How far up the street did you have to look to see me coming?

f. Vegetables 2. Thank you, Mr. Grocer, for giving me the choice between open produce and similar fruits and vegetables sealed in plastic bags. I am not such a fool as to imagine that they are the same things, and judging by the prices, neither are you.

g. Cheese 1. Sliced cheese is a wonderful invention if you are incapable of using a knife. As you invariably do have one in hand to spread the butter or the Vegemite for the cheese sandwich, this shows the effects of not thinking as fast as the accountant at the dairy company.

h. Cheese 2. A gourmet cheese shop is a wonderful place – next to Fort Knox, it is the only place on the planet where you can see that much currency tied up in such small blocks of matter. The exotic gourmet cheeses that the shop sells – presumably to exotic gourmets – do not last, and neither do the shops. When the mining money caves in we all go back to Kraft Coon Cheese.

i. Cheese 3. All cheese comes from something that makes milk, and by the time you get it, that milk is not fresh. Steel yourself.

j. Bread 1. ” No artificial preservatives “…” No preservatives “…” Free of gluten, lactose, sucrose, fructose, and 300 listed ingredients “. Either eat it at the bus stop on the way home before it turns green in your hands or take it into the shed and nail it to a bookcase as a new shelf.

k. Bread 2. ” New Honey Soy Linseed Flower Petal, Raw Cellulose Bread ” Get it this week before the people who bought it last week get back to the store and throw it at the cashier. You’ve got a couple of days – most of them are still on drips in Outpatients.

l. Meat 1. Never mind the packaging or the cut or the price or the look of the thing. Demand to see the butcher’s passport. If he or she was born in the Balkans, Poland, Germany, or Italy just give them your meat money and take whatever they cut for you. Ask how it should be cooked and follow orders.

M. Meat 2. Offal meats. They generally are.

N. Biscuits and Cookies. The fancy imported ones at the front of the store are there to take your money without making you happy. The ones down the back in the plain generic wrappers are also going to disappoint. Pick a national bakery, pick a biscuit you like and stick to it. Don’t eat chocolate ones in high summer.




Going To Another Place

And doing another thing…*

In my case it is not really hard to do. I lead a small life that does not go to many new places nor does it do many new things – any small variant is a bit of an advance. I can get a great deal of excitement buying a new pair of shoes because the intervals between visits to the shoe shop are so prolonged as to make me forget what happens there. I am always at a loss to know what size I want and have to look inside the current pair to find out. You don’t want to get your nose too near when you do that…

It is the same with visits to food stores. I do shop more frequently for bread and cheese than for boots, but a new supermarket or small shop is akin to an unexplored continent. Some of them are so confusing and pretentious as to cure any hunger without actually selling me any food. I have literally been put off by the intensity of the styling and promotion when I walk in. It can be the same with fast food restaurants and some pubs if the human touch is missing or the human scale has been exceeded.

Yet a bookstore holds no terrors. This is not a claim for superior intellectual tastes – I can cheerfully browse in a comic store like Minotaur. It is just that I know what books I like and no-one has to sell them to me by high pressure tactics. Just rack ’em and let me walk past the titles.

I think we all cope in different ways with commercial or cultural pressures. The ones that are so far over the top that we do not even recognise them are not a problem – neither are the simple and familiar. Those we cope with easily. It is the middle ground of being in a milieu that we recognise has rules and expectations…and spectators…but that we are not familiar with that causes most anxiety.

But as long as there is a gentle welcome and patience on the part of the staff, we can cope and add one more skill to our internal resume.

* For those unfamiliar with the Victorian vernacular, this was a phrase that was employed to bid a genteel defiance to one’s enemies..

The Grocery Store

tomWhen did the grocery store become the supermarket become the discount store become the retail experience become the self-serve?

That’s a rhetorical question, kids, because I’m sure I could trace the roots of the whole retail changes through Google and I’m sure I don’t want to do it. I would be happy just to wind back the clock a bit to the 1950’s and 60’s and to go to a grocer store that sold groceries.

This post is the result of going into the Woolworth’s supermarket in the local shopping centre and trying to find groceries. I was partly successful – I did get a pepperoni sausage and some cheese and that means that at least the corn flakes can be done properly tomorrow morning. But the battle was long and hard to find where the small, regular, necessary, cheap groceries were kept.

Most of them were kept down the back of the store and hidden from direct view. Your eye needed to glance off the pre-packaged duck bladders and the chocolate lettuce hearts in tourmaline sauce to actually reach round to the bread and milk*. Mind you, if you were looking for triple-filtered non-lactose allergen-free dairy-like white substance in designer tetrapaks, they were there in the front cooled shelves. I have never seen as much designer and targeted food in my life.

To their credit, they did have a pretty good selection of fresh fruit and vegetables available. Some of the prices were fresh too, but I put this down to the desire of the retail chain to drain my last drop of blood and discard the husk. I do not blame them for this as it is the basic principle of commerce. Having discovered just how little food I need to consume to be healthy and happy I have somewhat relaxed my sense of outrage at the prices.

In any case, there is always the smaller greengrocers if they survive – and the odd but appealing option of the oriental food stores. I have no idea how to cook what they sell but the staff are kindly and willing to share recipes. I’m not taking home the canned sea urchin, though…

* Not the worst. the local IGA actually hides the milk behind a mirrored glass panel – invisible from the main aisle. Prevents people from buying only milk…