Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Obligatory Food Post

Some of the best culinary treats Sydney has to offer originate from outside Australia. Immigrants from Thailand, Vietnam, India, Maylasia, Italy and elsewhere brought their curries and laksas along when they moved to Australia seeking greater opportunities and fortune. And judging by the sight and smell of the Central Business District (CBD) at lunchtime, it seems that most of these dishes are heartily welcomed by Aussie taste buds. However, if you wander the streets later, much later, after the business men and women have gone home, just about when the bars and pubs are declaring last call, you'll stumble upon the wee hours when Aussie comfort food reigns supreme.

In Europe, it's a kebab; in New York, it's a hot dog; in LA, it's a taco; and in Sydney, it's a pie that you'll want after hittin' the club. Now, the word 'pie' carries a lot of weight with me because, in my opinion, a good banana cream pie is the closest you can get to heaven on earth. However, I knew before ordering my first that 'pie' here indicates a savory treat, not a fruity one.

Indeed, when an American orders 'pie,' she wants apple, pumpkin or, depending on where she lives, maybe even pizza. Most of us yanks are probably familiar with the 'chicken pot' variety (especially Marie Callender's) and the anglophiles among us have surely stumbled upon a traditional sheppard's pie, but our experience with savory pies pretty much ends there. Across the ponds, though, meat pies are a hearty and satisfying component of the Brit and Aussie diet. I imagine that the Fab Four regularly devoured pies after playing gigs in Liverpool in the early sixties before they knew about Indian food.

I ordered my first steak and mushroom pie at a busy shopping mall cafe during lunch hour here in Sydney. The crust was perhaps not as flaky as desired and the contents of the pie were not clearly distinguishable as either steak, mushroom or filling. And sadly, I don't know if this consistency is a feature of a good pie or a not so good one. I'm leaning toward this not being the best pie, but maybe the good ones make the meat so tender that you can't distinguish it from the mushrooms? Nah, I don't think so either.

I may have struck out with my first pie, but my first encounter with banana bread was a raving success. Now you're thinking, 'what's the deal with banana bread in Australia? Isn't it the same as banana bread in the states?' These were my thoughts exactly until I noticed banana bread's ubiquity in Australian cafes. It turns out everything I ever thought I knew about this delicious loaf pan dessert was wrong...

The banana bread that I'm used to should be called 'banana cake.' It's made from batter as opposed to dough and is usually eaten in a dessert context instead of as the end pieces of a sandwich. Here in Australia, banana bread is prepared the exact same cakey way, BUT it becomes a bread when you order it 'toasted and with butter.' It turns out that there is no other way to order and eat banana bread. I suggest that you try my own 'Australian' banana bread recipe:

1. Follow directions on package of regular banana bread mix.
2. When banana bread is cool, slice and toast a piece.
3. Slather this piece with butter and enjoy!


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