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.

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.

Small bars; big price

If you are looking for a butcher, post office, garage or corner shop, chances are it has been converted into a too-cool-for-my-pinot wine bar.

Of course, Melbourne has had small bars for a while, but Sydney has embraced it like it was all its idea the whole time. Small bars are liberally sprinkled in the city and inner west and now they are sweeping the north shore, like an out-of-control bushfire. Or herpes.

Small bars always have a bit of a theme (even Granny’s boudoir would do), a bizarre wine list, miniature food portions and hipster waitstaff from the inner west on temporary protection visas.

Then there’s the price. A quiet drink at a small bar is likely to cost the same as a big night out. These small bars don’t get out of bed for less than $10 a glass of wine, with some bars charging as much as $18 a glass.

Food is around $12 a plate for a few morsels, so let’s do the maths. For two drinks and two tasting plates and we are up to $40. At least. And if you want dessert, you may need to sell a kidney or two.

I’ve got nothing against small bars, they are cute, safe and don’t televise sport (hooray). But it’s an expensive way to eat and drink – and that’s no small matter.

Slow cooked eggs

A few weeks ago I couch potato surfed my way onto Masterchef, only to see some slow cooked eggs being praised by the judges, who quite frankly must have lost their taste buds in a blender accident.

I mean slow cooked eggs? Why would anyone eat this? I’ve heard of the Slow Food movement, but c’mon, these are eggs. They cook in three minutes and you eat them in one.  The three-minute egg was invented for a reason – it does the job.

Now, thanks to Masterchef, or should that be Whack Job Chef, slow cooked eggs could be set to become the new tonka bean, waygu beef or duck confit. If I see slow cooked eggs done nine ways, I’m gonna produce a fast baked scream.

They are up there with absculptors and terror alert fridge magnets in terms of bad ideas. After 20,000 plus years on the planet I think we’ve pretty much done what we can with the egg.

Masterchef, if you’ve run out of ideas, then here’s one – how about just blend stuff. It doesn’t matter what: George’s eyebrows, Garry’s smirk, tonka beans, Delicious magazine – chuck it all in. It’s entertainment for the whole family, makes satisfying noises, with any luck may burn down the studio and would taste better than a slow cooked egg any day.

Feast for the wallet – restauranteurs have more than their fill

I’m cranky, I’m incredulous but most of all I’m hungry. A quick flick through the Good Food Guide while looking for a Big Day Out restaurant for a birthday lunch revealed to me that it is now par for the course for Sydney restaurants to charge $40 plus for a main. In fact $40 is the baseline and entrees are now the same price as mains were around six years ago. I’m no maths genius but that means a two mains, a bread roll and glass of wine are going to cost approximately the same as buying a Subway franchise or a private island in Fiji.

How did this happen? Sure, the $40 main has been on our plate for some years. But only at top notch (overpriced) restaurants like Aria or Bilsons. Other fine dining restaurants not in the same rarefied league (but probably with bigger portions) were once around the $35 mark. OK, I can cope with that, especially for a big day out.

But nowadays any restaurant in the Good Food Guide is charging $40. And $40 just gets you a little hunk of meat and possibly a confit of fig on the side and foam drizzle – if you’re very lucky. These days you won’t even get a booze ballast potato mash to go with it. That’ll be another $17 due to the extra virgin twice pressed Himalayan rock salt they sprinkled over it with love (so they say). Yeah right. And those truffled pigs can fly. Before we know it we’ll be sniffing a degustation of air done eight ways.

I’m over it. These restaurants are a wank, the food is not exactly life-changing. $80 a main for two could stretch to several nights out in other (cheaper) restaurants where the food fills the plate, tastes yum and you don’t go home hungry. Cabramatta here I come.

Making cakes from scratch doesn’t make you nice

Thanks to Masterchef and a smorgasbord of cooking shows where the ability to produce a tonka bean done nine ways on a bed of confit foam is seen as a heroic deed, cake baking is the latest food fashion victim.

Making cakes from scratch – as opposed to the time-honoured method of packet mixes – is seen as a sign of love, kindness and general all round niceness. It seems to me that making cakes from scratch is enough to give a person a Mary Mackillop style halo, whereas if you’ve made a cake from a packet mix you are seen as the devil’s spawn or possibly related to Frank Sartor. 

But wait a minute …. it’s just a cake, people. It’s not a measure of spiritual worth, intrinsic human value or self-esteem. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it doesn’t even mean you can’t cook. It’s simply a nice enough tasting cake with a bit of icing, whipped out at short notice to serve as dessert at a party, take to a morning tea or sell at a cake stall. It’s not a moral issue, any more than, say jogging, is an ethical dilemma. As a packet mix ingesting non-jogger, I rest my case.

But try telling that to the packet mix Nazis, who sneer and look snooty during cake making confession time.  The only answer is to pretend you made it from scratch (they never know the difference), then wait for their impressed oohs and ahs, before they ask you for the recipe.

Men – the advertiser’s lost continent

The other day in the supermarket I came across men’s bread. Men’s bread? Yes, you heard right. This men’s bread has selenium and zinc infused through its fluffy white core to meet men’s special dietary needs. What, so now men have needs? I mean, really.

Advertisers have only recently discovered Planet Bloke. While they were busy making women feel inadequate, messed-up and deeply dysfunctional by inventing new products to meet women’s special needs – we’re talking breads, sunscreens, milk, breakfast cereals and chocolate – men have been happily ploughing on, oblivious that they are in desperate need of their own special products. Now that advertisers have screwed up women – hello boys! It must be the advertising equivalent of discovering the new world – half the world’s population, ripe for exploitation.

Enter men’s cosmetics, bread, breakfast cereal and milk. After that who knows? Will it be toilet paper, special male-order vegemite, bloke blocks of cheese and male mixed fruits and nuts?

Why should I care? If advertisers are now messing with men’s heads, making them insecure, self-doubting and confused, that’s got to balance  the books a little, don’t you think? Men who think before they buy and take an interest in their own health, what’s not to like? 

So why does it leave a yukky taste?