A side of lies: streetfood serves up a swindle



Along with woke, work/life balance and self-care, streetfood is one word (or is it two) that I never want to hear again. Streetfood conjures up a myriad of overused travel article clichés: vibrant market, nose-to-tail, warm and friendly locals (preferably poor), authentic recipes handed down from Papaw and the backstory of hard-working immigrants having a go and bringing their invariably fabulous, but undiscovered, cuisine to the masses.

Trouble is it’s none of that. Not any more anyway. It’s Instagrammable food from a re-modelled vintage van run by some privileged hipsters who wouldn’t know a good hamburger if it smacked them in the face and are handily bankrolled by mum and dad. It’s designed to be eaten cold with pseudo-eco cutlery after it’s been insta-imaged to death. It doesn’t matter what it tastes like, as long as it “pops” on Instragram (pops is another word I never want to hear again).

But even if you just actually eat the streetfood and don’t even Instagram it, streetfood is not good. It’s not restorative to queue then stand up in a carpark trying to eat Gumbo with a fork or wrench open the packaging on your gluten-free panko-breaded oxtail taco and then chunder it down in a carpark with grease and dressing running down your arm and a brand new stain on your shirt.

Call me old-fashioned, but take me to a restaurant any day with table service, a plate, serviette and a knife and fork. I’d much rather make a reservation than stand in line under the sun, wind or any other weather event we are likely to get these days.

But even in restaurants, there is no escaping streetfood. Show me an eatery that doesn’t have the word streetfood lurking somewhere there on the menu. It’s like the restauranteur thinks this menu needs sexing up so what to do? Add the word streetfood to our spicy poke bowl number or New Orleons style kale po’-boys, jack up the price and start counting the moolah.

Of course real streetfood does exist. Sadly usually in poverty-stricken countries or the Royal Easter Show. It hits the spot and serves a purpose, it is quick, economical, tasty and hopefully doesn’t need too many rounds of Immodium afterwards. But if you’re not either drunk at 2am or at a sporting event, this hipsterised overly packaged, fake-authentic streetfood slopfest is just un-woke. You don’t need a cutesy truck run by smug millennials to eat good food.


The insatiable craze of tasting plates

The current fad for tasting plates makes me want to break some dishes. Preferably Greek style. I want to break them one tiny tasting plate at a time until all the world’s tasting plates have been eliminated and we can get back to one square meal on a non-square plate.

According to this self-styled foodie, tasting plates are a cunning, not to mention, successful way to drive profits. These tasty sharing plates come with a rather hefty price tag, usually retailing at $16 and upwards.

According to restaurant marketing people, the ethos behind the whole tasting plate craze is that you share them and make the meal a convivial experience and in so doing make the world a better place. Possibly even create world peace between Greeks and Germans. At least until you get the bill.

It seems that tasting plates are really just a pimped up entree. How else can you explain that menus now offer the option of tasting plates followed by the main meal? How else can you explain the augmented price tag? How else do you explain words like pulled pork belly on a bed of cauliflower puree and passionfruit sauce? Not to mention duck and Bunya nut cream or any words involving spanner crab and lettuce.

I reckon tasting plates are a good way to spend good on garnish and a weird meat and the sooner the tasting plate craze gets unceremoniously sent back to the kitchen to wash dishes, the better.

Taking the plate is a jarring note

Due to great plate shortage and the knife and fork famine circa 2012 and ongoing to this day, cafes are serving things up in jars and the plate has gone the same way as the tonka bean.


It’s like a pair of smelly old sandshoes is in charge of table service and thought it would be classy. Either that or Manu, in a French-flavoured fit of pique, cried, “They don’t like ze escargots infused with duck fat?! Let them eat splinters from chopping board wrapped in a salmonella jus. I’ll even throw in this old set of steak knives.”

You know, those in the know will say it’s an attempt to juxtapose the complexity of modern life with a pared down existence, walls, lighting, table settings, all pared back to the underpants.

Those not in the know, will just think that’s a lot of jam to get through to empty out all those jars.

As for death of a plate, food is now presented on chopping blocks, bricks, anything but a plate which has done the job for approximately 30 centuries but that hasn’t stopped inner city hipsters from having a go at it.

Knives and forks are still floating around, but brought to the table in another jam jar. They are trying to make everything look homestyle by having it mismatched. But weirdly, nowadays, thanks to pressure from Better Homes and Gardens everything at home now matches.

It’s not all restaurants or cafes that have no cutlery. Just the expensive funky ones, usually with one word names like Roast, Grill, Sal and Whip (sorry, ignore that last word, I got carried away).

There is no point complaining. This is an actual conversation in Sydney today.

Restaurant goer: Waiter, I’m eating soup off a bathroom tile with an eggbeater and a fish knife.

Waiter: well, sir/madam/gender of choice this is a hatted restaurant. What did you expect? A plate? (insert Sydney waiter sneer).

It’s hard to know where this will end. Will it end? Will your next meal be served on a an old vinyl record, car wheel, playing cards, the kitchen floor.

On that note, excuse me,  have to go and open a jar of jam. I have run out of cups.

Ground down and queued up at Alexandria

I read recently that the insanely popular The Grounds at Alexandria is expanding and will soon have a cider bar, burger bar, child minding, a children’s cinema and woodchopping. This is on top of the potting shed, chickens, artisan bakery, coffee “research” facility, barnyard kitchen, waffle stand and free yoga.

They could have just stuck to being a pie factory.

This restaurant, which is a smidge bigger than Rooty Hill RSL, bills itself as serving consciously evolved fruit and veg (sorry, holistic produce), and hand-raised Mayan chia sourdough. The Grounds wants us to be so flaming rural that, by heck, we’ll find a haystack in our underpants. It wants us to hold a flaky apple crumble in our hand and see a house on the prairie wrapped in a rainbow. It wants us to do a happy dance after spending $72.38 on a slice of Himalayan yak jerky.

There is no seating, which will lead to enlightened conversation with fellow customers, huddling with plates on knees by the piggery.

“I’m having the dandelion milk fed organic, hand-raised cow called Hendrick. He liked listening to Gregorian chants.”

“Oh, really, I’m eating Hendrick too.”

In real country life we’d be getting up at 4am to shoot some sheep and skin them with our bare hands then clean out the blood from all the pigs we castrated in the pig pen. We’ve all seen the movie Babe.

But still that hasn’t stopped Sydneysiders. They are prepared to queue all morning and twice on weekends just to takeaway a slice of country life. And a waffle. And a hotdog and some “researched” coffee.

Confession: I’ve never been to The Grounds. On the grounds that I don’t want to spend three hours queueing for a bit of bread, however hand-embroidered it is. I’m not in any particular hurry to go, it seems like a kind of theme park for people who haven’t set foot outside the inner west.

Besides, I have my own garden, sorry, house-grown organic holistic produce. Excuse me, I just have to go and accidentally eat a caterpillar.


Want proof that people are stupid? Queue for food at the Blue Gum

Has capitalism failed? Or is it just that people are stupid?

Kinda both. But it’s the best system we’ve got, and until the aliens land, people are the highest form of life we have.

But really, you sometimes have to wonder.

Take an ordinary Friday or Saturday night at The Blue Gum in Waitara in Sydney’s north. The food is overpriced and devoid of vegetables (note to Blue Gum – garnish is not a vegetable), there’s no table service, the menu is uninspired and the queue, is snaking around the room.

That’s bad enough. Throw in a sporting event and the queue goes way past the toilets and nearly out the door. Why? Well, people are stupid.

The Blue Gum is not the only pub in Hornsby. But it does have parking, it’s by a train station and, and, and, well can’t think of anything else.

The beer is not cheap and the food is a rip-off – sorry but a $26 tiny steak and mash, then another $8 for vegetables for a non-table service meal and that’s a rip-off in my book and not a very healthy way to eat, given almost no-one forks out an extra $8 for vegies.

Also it’s cold. There’s one open fire in winter that is nice if you are sitting on the one and only table close to the fire, otherwise it’s freezing. If it is a Friday or Saturday night the hundreds of bodies provide free heating. If you are there any other night you are clearly a die-hard so don’t count, in the Blue Gum School of Rip Offs.

I’m trying to boycott the Blue Gum. But it’s hard given some of my friends have joined the Bluey cult. Until then I’ll keep ranting until maybe someday someone will listen, people will vote with their feet in the best tradition of capitalism, the population will be intelligent and well-informed and order to the universe restored.

Sydney restauranteurs take the cake

The other day I came across a rare beast: a restaurant in a popular location with mains under $35 AND including vegetables. I’m so excited I’m going to make a booking, just to reward them for not being greedy.

I’m sick of restaurants trying to make us feel that $42 for a (small) hunk of meat on a plate and $16 for a salad is something to feel grateful for. Dining in Sydney (along with shopping for handbags and catching a train) is expensive but I think it is time we demanded a proper meal.

I’ve checked out online the prices of Manhatten restaurants (I have no idea what I did with my life Before Google) and I can confirm we are ripped off. An upmarket restaurant in the funky Meatpackers District of Manhatten, is around $32. OK, it does not include much in the way of vege and granted, does not include a service fee, but it’s in Manhatten! Cue New York New York music!

Much as we try it on, Manhatten is a thought, food and cultural leader and Sydney will always be the bridesmaid.

Being the bridesmaid can have its advantages. Too, too many to mention in this rant. But the point is, we are not a world style leader (unless you like trakkies) and we shouldn’t have stratospheric restaurant prices.

I’m voting with my mouth and my feet and boycotting so-called fine dining restaurants that charge a motza and a half because I think its time Sydney restaurants stop feeding us that line that they are worth it.

Polished floorboards hard on hearing

What is the deal with polished floorboards? I mean I get the deal, really I do. They’re easy to clean, look good, go with anything and can turn a dag-o-rama old pub into something edgy, pared back and other words that would sound good on Better Homes and Gardens.

Trouble is … you can’t hear a word. Now this is ok, good actually if say, Tony Abbott is talking about well, anything really.

Bad if you want to hear what someone is saying or attempt an actual conversation. How many marriage proposals have fallen through the cracks because no-one could hear? How many crucial conversations, business deals and other opportunities have been cut down by these conversation-inhibiting planks of wood.

Let’s start a new tax – 20 per cent off the bill if an eatery/function centre or anywhere other than a Forestry Department Museum has polished floorboards. Now – that wood be good.