A side of lies: streetfood serves up a swindle

 

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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.

Has Sydney lost the plot?

Yes. It. Has.

Sydney’s a bit of alright for a weekend fling or as a place to show off to overseas visitors, but basically Sydney is not a place in which to live an actual life.

Here’s why Sydney ain’t working so well anymore:

It’s too tribal – east, west, north, south are all separate kingdoms and never mix.

It’s too expensive – a meal out is the same as a small Pacific Island’s GDP without the smiles. Also finding a park for said overpriced meal will involve yet another mortgage.

People aren’t that nice here – but in fairness no-one who spends at least two hours a day commuting to their boring job is going to act all that nice.   

Speaking of which …. the city is now an apartment ghetto, with none of the requisite schools, transport, roads, infrastructure. No planning. Zilch. How very Sydney.

It has no arts soul. Unlike Melbourne, it is a follower not a leader in the hipster movement, it slavishly follows overseas trends. It hasn’t had an original idea in its life.

It’s good looking but that’s not enough anymore. No conversation, no soul, no originality, no purpose. As a place to visit, there’s no better. I really believe that but living in Sydney has lost its gloss.

Sydney International Airport: a rant

Sydney International Airport is a joke. This is one of the richest countries on earth, so why is the toilet door off its hinge? And why are there always queues outside the women’s toilets. Also why does all the food taste like photocopy paper and why does the immigration area feel like you are trapped in an iron blouse? It’s airless, there’s a smell of yesterday’s donut mixed with armpit and the constant threat of an anal probe.

Sorry to get political, but this is what happens when you outsource to the private sector. Turns out it’s fairly efficient not to clean the toilets properly and not to build enough in the first place (let ’em queue, let ’em queue). It it costs nothing to lease to food outlets at extortionate prices so they cannot provide food that doesn’t taste like a service station. It’s fairly easy to cut off natural light and even easier to provide bad chairs. Comfort, be gone! They want you as uncomfortable as possible so you will get out of your annoying chair and go shopping.

Sydney Airport can get away with being third rate because we have the world’s finest harbour, so anything else, like say infrastructure doesn’t matter. Also Sydney Airport is not on the way to anywhere in particular. We are not Singapore or Dubai, vying to become a gateway airport and not much publicity is ever given to Sydney Airport. As soon as visitors arrive and are shunted into the blinking sunshine their airport hell is forgotten, just a piece of airport roadkill in their great overseas adventure. Ditto as soon as we locals leave, Sydney Airport just becomes part of the pre-travel lead up nightmare. No-one talks about it, no-one mentions the airport in blog dispatches, it’s ephemera in the travel experience.

I realise there are more pressing issues in the world, like say fiscal economics and the scourge of deconstructed pop-up food trucks but Sydney is meant to be a world class city and that should mean it has an airport that doesn’t smell like a hellish bus ride. We’ve already had a hellish bus ride in the skies to get here or we are about to have one, so is it too much to ask for someone in charge to give a flying kangaroo about making the airport a nicer place?

Are the Sydney NYE fireworks a waste of money?

Public funds went up in smoke at the start of the year when Sydney saw in the New Year in its usual over-the-top way. It may seem un-Australian to say this out loud, but do you think Sydney’s NYE celebrations are over-the-top and in these variable economic times should be scaled down?

No politician will touch this debate, which probably means they are scared that people will hate them even more, but will they? I have conducted a thorough survey (asked three friends) and all of them thought that the fireworks were overly extravagant and a waste of public funds and that they were beginning to get, well, kind of boring. They have a point. Once you’ve seen the Harbour Bridge look like a massive electrical explosion half a dozen times you’ve seen enough fireworks. In fact, is it just me, or did this year’s lightbulb visual look like a penis? OK, just me.

My in-depth survey also revealed that the fireworks are aimed at pleasing international tourists and the uber-rich (it’s a night when opera tickets cost $400 and that doesn’t even include a $70 bottle of champagne) and anyone lucky enough to be invited to the Lord Mayor’s Party.

The official figure on the cost of the fireworks is $7.2m but what is the betting it is even higher than that. The taxpayer (apart from those taxpayers who are happy to wait around for 12 hours in a harbourside spot with no alcohol) are probably not getting $7.2m worth of value, especially when there are cutbacks to basic and not-so-basic services.

Pollies think we love our fireworks, that it defines Sydney and that it brings lots of tourists and makes us look special to the rest of the world.

All of this may be true, but I’d like to think we are grown up enough that if a politician was brave enough to explain to us the real cost of the fireworks and what that meant we had to forego (decent public transport, hospital beds, bins on Bondi Beach just for starters) then people might be inclined to accept a scaled-down version of this extravaganza. Surely we are grown up enough now that we don’t actually have to overcompensate to make the rest of the world love us.

Here’s some alternative ideas – fireworks that run for a shorter duration, a sound and light show, more emphasis on spreading out celebrations to Sydney’s major centres like Parramatta, Chatswood etc.

It’s time we put a lid on how much, as a society, we are prepared to pay for 15 minutes of fleeting fame, when public infrastructure and services are strained. I reckon it’s a cracker of an idea. What about you?

 

Sydney drivers are bamboozled by rain

What is it about a splash of rain that makes Sydney drivers wet their pants?

A spot of rain and Sydney drivers act like a new life form has arrived on our shores, specifically our roads. Rain takes on biblical proportions, it’s like a plague of soggy locusts teeming down on all the land, which must be defeated by Team Australia, car by car, windscreen wiper by windscreen wiper.

When it rains, Sydney motorists, with their sad wet weather faces (a cross between dentist appointment face and airport queue face) take driving to new passive aggressive heights. They slow down, then weirdly speed up. Like they think the weather will be better on the M2 if only they could get there by driving fast through puddles.

Windsreen wipers sound like some kind of manic water feature. At traffic lights you can see a little windscreen wiper malfunction action going on, as drivers try to find which wiper does the back windscreen.

As for buses, a little rain and they get even more bumfuzzled than usual. They drive aggressively past entire bus stops filled with umbrellas but then they approach roundabouts slower than a wet week.

Of course, you can try to pretend that everything is fine, and turn on the radio. Only it doesn’t help. In a stroke of breathtaking originality, Sydney radio stations play any song mentioning rain on high rotation, just in case you hadn’t noticed IT’S RAINING!

There’s only so many times I can listen to Belinda Carlisle’s Summer Rain. There’s only so much a girl can take of It’s Raining Men. Especially when I have on my wet weather face combined with my rain hair, which I have to go and fix up now. But that’s a whole other blog.

 

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.

 

How to get ’em queueing

It’s easy to make money in Sydney. All you need to do is not do anything people actually need and instead buy a struggling old business, do a Mexican streetfood refit and then advertise your new eatery.

There are virtually no post offices, old-school garages and butcheries left in this town, they’ve already been transformed into The Garage, The Butcher’s Block or La Stazione or Il Postino. Bookstores have already turned themselves into cafes, and next will surely be newsagents and banks.

Meanwhile the owners of the themed cafes are laughing all the way to the bank. People are queuing up faster than you can say doppia macchiato to get a slice of contrived action.

As for menu, well, basically sorted. Pepe butter, Sonoma bread, Hanks Jams. There must be macaroons, vine-ripened tomatoes and hay-fed pork sausages from Bangalow. And it must be overpriced.

Then – cue stroke of genius – the business doesn’t take bookings, giving the impression that they are really popular, cool, hip and in demand. And sit back let em queue, let ’em queue and sit back and walk to the bank. Hold on, it’s already a new cafe, La Banque. Heard it’s good.

Katoomba roadworks now part of the landscape

For twenty years, give or take, there have been roadworks on the way from Sydney to Katoomba. It doesn’t matter what year, what season or what economic crisis of the day is going on, the road to Katoomba is well, not exactly paved with good intentions. All I can say is thank goodness there is hot chocolate at the end, otherwise I would never get there.

It starts at the base of the mountains when Emu Plains morphs into Emu Heights and then becomes the lower mountains. The road narrows, turns from three to two then one lanes, then tantalizingly back to two lanes again until the next traffic lights whereupon lo, roadworks signs appear again and the traffic crawls.

It’s hard to believe that after 20 years they still haven’t got the Blue Mountains right. Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson managed to do it in a week, so why can’t we figure it out.

Sometimes I think it must be a plot by the Katoomba Council Workers Union to have an excuse to lay around smoking on the side of the road all day. Sometimes I think it is a Blue Mountains passive aggressive community plan to keep the mountains for the mountaineers. Either way, fix the road Barry O’Farrell! And start mixing that hot chocolate.

Walk it off: Sydney transport woes keep me fit

I don’t know why people in Sydney would bother joining a gym. Why would you need to when you can just fill in the public transport gaps by walking?

The other night I went to Vivid in Sydney. In a rush of blood to the head, NSW Transport had put out a glossy colour brochure about Vivid, advertising a free ferry every 15 minutes from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay. If it sounds too good to be true, well it was.

When we arrived some people had been waiting for half an hour already. When the ferry arrived, only a small proportion of the crowd managed to get a berth on the ferry, and the plank operator said it would be another half an hour for the next one.

So …. many people there would have ended up waiting an hour for a ferry. Or they could have just gone to the nearby velvet lounge and got drunk.

Which is the only response to Sydney Transport.

I don’t mind so much that there’s an off-chance of a ferry you can get onto every half hour to an hour. But, note to organisers of Vivid and anything to do with ferries – don’t advertise it.

If we had realised that Sydney Transport was up to its usual tricks, we would have just walked down to Circular Quay in the first place.

I’m not complaining (ranting, yes, complaining, no!) as I got in an extra walk I wouldn’t have got otherwise. As I say, Sydney Transport keeps me walking.

Baby, it’s cold outside

Sometimes there is truth in journalism. Last week the Sydney Morning Herald’s Heckler column mouthed off about Sydney-siders not embracing winter, sartorially-speaking. I’m not talking about Frank Sartor, Eddie Obeid or the failed state of New South Wales, but about fashion.

The column, written by a Canadian, who should know a thing or two about freezing his nuts off, argued that Sydney-siders are in denial about winter and they dress just like it’s a cool summer’s day. For instance, a hoodie and thongs and cargoes. Or thin summer dresses and bare legs. Or trakkies and a moth-eaten coat. Tick, tick, tick. Take a hike around any shopping centre or go out on the town, and that’s what you’ll see.

The Canadian columnist lamented the fact that Sydney peeps just don’t get into winter, when in fact winter has some of the best fashion opportunities: red coats, kick-ass boots, scarves, tights. And that’s just for men. Ok, he didn’t mention dagorama skivvies, but the point is it is possible to look hot when it is cold.

And it is cold in Sydney in winter. OK, not in a New York subway freezing kind of way, or a Siberian wind kind of way, but when the sun goes down or doesn’t bother coming out at all, it’s cold, damn cold. And, especially as our homes are not set up for it, it’s colder still.

I believe the situation is worse in Brisbane, a city in complete denial that it never is not complete sunshine 24 by 7. When the temperature gets down to 18, they still gad about in shorts and the world’s biggest goosebumps, but I think Sydney should collectively up the ante on its winter wardrobe.

Because it’s OK to feel the cold when it’s 17 degrees, it’s OK to wear something other than a hoodie in winter and it’s OK to look just as good as Melbourne-ites. Or better. (But that’s a whole other rant).