Photo by amandabhslater/Flickr CC
Australia today is a pretty happening place, but that's really a pretty recent phenomenon; in the 1950s the now massively hip-hopping city of Sydney had only 800 total hotel rooms (by comparison, Ann Arbor--hardly a world capital--has 4,000!). Culturally, Australia's got this really weird mix of totally middle class solidity with kind of wild, whacked-out, slightly California-esque aggressiveness. Australians certainly do their fair share of partying; and yet people are so modest that not all that many years ago someone climbed up to paint a bathing suit onto the partially-exposed rear end of the little girl on the Coppertone billboard. And, to this day, no one seems to find it odd that cocktail sausages are sold in nearly every shop under the name "little boys."
Australian food is really up and coming in the last few years, and it's just going to get better. So much of it is tied up in the peculiar cultural conditions of the island (which, really, is the case with any region's food ways). Right now, what's really exciting is the variety of foods in Australia. It reflects the diversity of its land and the country's innovative chefs that have cultivated fresh and flavorful regional cuisines. Of course, the story of Australian food would not be complete without mention of the tremendous contribution made by other cultures such as the German, Italian, Greek, Asian, and South African immigrant communities, bringing both recipes and plant stock to their new home.
To my take, Australian food is very much where California food was 20 years ago. We've been getting more and more interesting and really flavorful Australian food into the Deli over the last couple of years, and last year the Bakehouse started making really delicious versions of the traditional Anzac biscuits. So, with the staff at the Deli showing such a passion for these foods, here's what they have to say about their favorite foods from Down Under:
Charmaine Solomon's Curries
Somewhere within me, not very far below the surface from the intellectual realization that many cultures and nations have incredibly excellent preserved foods, lies an instinctive distrust for foods that come in jars and cans. It was created and nurtured in me as a child of the tropics (I grew up in India) whose mother cooked dinner from scratch every night. When it comes to foods that one can actually make from scratch, the distrust veers dangerously close to disdain.
As a food professional, I try to overcome this prejudice by studying the cultures and traditions of preservation. And tasting. Piquillo peppers. Sour cherries in syrup. Tomatoes. Sun-dried tomato paste. Preserved beets. Green Beans. Pickles. And slowly but surely, it has started to make sense and I have developed an appreciation for these foods.
But the prejudices all came roaring back when Ari brought jars of curry pastes on his return from a trip to Australia. He asked me whether I would taste them as the resident "curry" expert. Hah, I thought. Never. Piquillo peppers, I understand. Pasta sauces. Tomatoes. Yes. Curries. Never.
And yet, I did. Out of respect for Charmaine and Rueben Solomon, who make the curry pastes in question. The stories Ari told of them from his visit to Australia were intriguing and charming and so I agreed to take the curreis home and cook with them. (For more on Charmaine and Rueben's story, click here .)
Boy, did I have a prejudice turned on its head. They were fantastic. My entire kitchen was infused with smells from my home in India, my mind teeming with nostalgia. This was the real thing. And it came out of a jar. I almost did not want to believe it. I was so reluctant to let go of this prejudice, that I actually wrote to Charmaine with my skepticism. Here is her response:
Dear Gauri, I am delighted to have your comments on our curry pastes and marinades. Thank you so much for your enthusiastic approval. I, too, used to think that no good thing could come out of a jar, and to me it was so easy to make a delicious curry from scratch that I could not imagine why anyone would want to use a bottled curry paste.
One day, about 12 years ago, when I was teaching a class of about 60 people, they were raving about the flavors and asked why their curries did not taste like that. At that time we were not producing the spice blends. I did try my best to enthuse people to cook with natural ingredients and achieve beautiful flavors. It turned out that in spite of my having written so many books, people were not using the whole recipes. They would skip the first, all important part of making their own spice blends because they felt it was too much like hard work, and instead go and buy a bottled paste. When I asked which brand they used, they couldn't even tell me. So I decided to try various leading brands, and when I found which ones were good, I would recommend them. To my surprise I could not find a single one which tasted like it should.
There was nothing for me to do but to make my own range. I worked with a food scientist to find out how to give my products a shelf life. I told them I didn't want to add preservatives, MSG and other questionable ingredients. I especially didn't like the taste of acetic acid, which is what most commercial curry pastes use. We use citric acid, which is a much more natural flavor. I think that covers the answer to your question about why my pastes are so much better than other brands.
We carry several different flavors of Charmaine's sauces at the Deli, in an effort to thoughtfully represent Charmaine's range and her skillful representation of the foods of the Indian subcontinent and the Far East. They're all distinct in their spicing and they all have different levels of heat.
If you'd like to find the traditional recipes for all of these, check out Charmaine's
. There are also recipe suggestions on the jars and they work really well. But most importantly, just pick one you like. We'd be happy to give you a taste. And then use it as you like. Cook it with some boiled potatoes. Or use it as a marinade. Or put a tablespoon in a soup or stew to add a nice level of complexity and heat. They're really good. And that's what counts.
-Gauri Thergaonkar, Retail Manager