I promised I would start today with Menus. That, of course, is a rather large subject, so I’m really only going to address a few of the pitfalls I’ve encountered.
The Entreé: Having spent the first half of my life in America, I couldn’t help but be aware that the term entreé is used there to describe the main course of a meal. Now I don’t wish to embarrass anyone, especially the entire USA (AKA: The Most Powerful Nation in the World) by pointing out that the word entreé sort of appears to suggest ‘entry’ or starting point, so I won’t. Appearances can be deceiving, after all. But I do wish to explain that in Australia, (and England, France, etc.) the entreé is the first course (not counting appetisers). Then the Main Course is called, funnily enough, Main Course. I know this is rather a lot to take in, but it might save you some embarrassment if you are feeling really peckish and three prawns on a bit of shredded lettuce isn’t your idea of a main meal.
Pudding: It may not show up on menus all that often, but the word pudding deserves a word of explanation. If you see it listed at the top of a whole section of the menu, or if someone asks you if you are having pudding, they are not referring to some soft butterscotch concoction that came out of a box, with two cups of milk added and shaken to blazes or cooked for two minutes. No. Pudding is a term that is to dessert as Kleenex is to tissue. Pudding = dessert. It occasionally even gets used to describe a sweet, after-dinner wine, as in “pudding wine.” Notice I didn’t say “after tea wine” — if you are being offered a dessert wine, you are definitely having dinner! Anyway, back to the puddings. You would know that Australian roots are buried deep in British soil, so at certain times of the year you may be offered Christmas pudding, (usually around Christmastime), or, more generally, steamed pudding of one sort or another. I just mention it so you’ll be prepared. The one pudding you actually must try is Sticky Date Pudding. I refer you to Mary’d With Children for further confirmation.
Fast Food: With regard to fast food, you will feel totally at home here. ALL fast food in Australia is American in origin, as is all junk food, if you make a distinction. You won’t have any trouble recognizing the garish arches of the Scottish Cafe, or the smug smile of the Colonel. In some places you will recognize evidence of the Whopper, but it will be named Hungry Jack’s. Don’t be fooled; it’s still Burger King. Anyway, you get the point. They are all here, and indistinguishable from everywhere else in the world where they have swooped in set up smile schools. Don’t get me wrong; Australia has plenty of quick, gastronomically revolting food of its own. It is just not considered fast food or junk food. As long as I have been here, at least once a year there is a Big News Story of a food survey examining the amount of fast food/junk food being consumed and the effect it is having on the health/weight/arteries /etc. of the population –especially the youth. I swear to you, I have never seen any of the sacred Australian take-away foods included in the surveys. Always, only Maccas, KFC, Pizza Hut, BK get surveyed.
So what are these sacred Australian cholesterol-laden temptations? Of course the most traditional sacred cow is the ubiquitous Meat Pie. It is just what it sounds like; some form of meat — the most common (we hope) being ground beef (called mince) in a sort of gravy, encased in puff pastry. You eat it with your hands, like a very runny sandwich, and typically people have it with “sauce” (a slightly runny version of ketchup). BTW, sauce is never available except as applied by the person serving you, or in little individual packets, which often cost extra and tend to squirt everywhere except onto your pie. There are many varieties of the pies, including some that are vegetarian. (e.g.cauliflower and cheese), but the all-time favorite is the traditional meat pie, as described. Try one (I recommend wearing a groundsheet). I should pause and explain where you might get these gastronomical treats. They’re everywhere: in delis, in fish ‘n chip shops, in any little Take-Away spot. You’ll have more difficulty avoiding them than finding them.But back to what else is on offer: all of the places mentioned above will have a hot food counter (all of which are identical) with chips (French fries); fried, crumbed or battered fish; Chico Rolls (don’t even ask); sometimes spring rolls and corn dogs; and possibly a few other (fried) options. Just behind the counter there will be a pie oven with numerous shelves to hold and keep hot the assortment of savoury pies and pasties. Cornish pasties are drier than a meat pie – hence, easier to eat without humiliating yourself – and are often vegetarian. Again, try one. Drinks are to be found in a glass-fronted fridge, usually where you can help yourself.
Before I stop for the day, there are a couple other food things you need to know about: namely, the cut lunch, and hamburgers. The cut-lunch is so-named because . . . well, I don’t really know why it’s called that, except that it is. It’s probably because they are always cut into four little triangles and lined up in a little row on their hypotenuses. They’re just ordinary little sandwiches — the operative word is ordinary — always on sliced bread, usually white, but sometimes on wholemeal (wholewheat) bread for the particularly health-conscious. Or there is the roll, for the sturdier appetite. It’s just a large bread roll with the same sort of filling options. What is inside them usually isn’t worth mentioning, but you might need to know the terminology. A salad sandwich (or salad roll) is just that: a roll, or two slices of bread, with margerine, lettuce, cucumber, very thinly-sliced tomato, shredded carrot, sliced beets (called beetroot here). Sometimes it will have cheese on it, in which case it is a cheese ‘n salad rollor sandwich. Then there is the ham salad sandwich, which is a roll, or two slices of bread, with margerine, lettuce, cucumber, thinly-sliced tomato, shredded carrot, sliced beetroot, and a very thin slice of ham. Are you seeing the pattern here? The final sandwich that needs some explanation is the Vegemite sandwich. It is to be avoided at all costs, unless you are having car trouble and need some axel grease.
One more item, then I’ll stop. It is only fair to warn you that if you are ordering a hamburger at any place other than one of the American fast food joints, you need to be aware that if asked if you want your hamburger “with the lot,” it means with fried onions, thinly-sliced tomato, a fried egg and sliced beetroot, and maybe bacon and/or a slice of pineapple. It’s traditional.
Oh, and another thing: there is no such thing as a refill, as in free second cup of coffee. You pay for the second cup exactly what you paid for the first one.
I’ll tell you what you need to know about Aussie Pubs next time. Enjoy your lunch. MM