I am food obsessed

I blame a lot of people for this exhaustive search for some holy grail of food. And why are we so impelled to search? Our parents (or for some, their grandparents) ate the same sort of food over and over for most of the year, just stopping to eat different foods on special occasions like Xmas, birthdays and other celebrations. Foreign food of any description just did not enter the kitchen, and if it did as I found to my horror when the Blessed Iris launched into pasta with a Tomato Sauce, then it was way way way better that it never did.

The blessed Iris was a good cook, also a cook who varied little in the dishes she prepared, but did strive I think to get better results, stay one step ahead of the neighbours. We ate chicken just once a year. I knew what everyone in the town would be eating, there was no mystery. But today, with the challenges that confront us in our daily lives, its hard to even begin to wonder what people cook (or often don’t cook) every day. My mother was challenged by her lady friends pastry on the steak and kidney pudding, or the density of the cake or the cutting quality of the puddings (the least crumbing for bread, cake and pudding was very desirable). Mum took pride in producing a well grilled lamb chop, a creamy mash and not to be unkind, managed to cook every bit of flavour from the vegetables she boiled and boiled and boiled and then, sure she was doing the right thing, drained the now exceptionally tasty water, into the sink. Except when she was making gravy and the tasty water was used to enhance her already rich meat juice filled gravy.

We are in so many ways overwhelmed with choices, empowered by the somewhat excessive availability of ingredient and voracious in our search for the latest taste treat as espoused by this or that celebrity chef and foodie. We swim along in the top five centimetres of a deep ocean of food and cooking and know little or nothing of even the foods that filled our ancestral tummies.

I would love to say I am different, less obsessed, more focussed, leading a simple Spartan existence, but of course that’s just not true, indeed I have taken my obsessive nature to levels that should not be countenanced by right thinking folk and have never yet apologised for doing so, nor is it likely that I ever will. My ego is however, well under control.

To see what different mono cultures do with food, take a look at the Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern food stores and watch as the shoppers carefully select within a tight group of tastes and foods that have been part of the lives of every day eating for generations and have not changed, even regions dictate a certain taste and style which is known and recognised by every cook and that rarely changes. These cooks become very good at the food they feed their families as I suspect did our mothers and grandmothers, we on the other hand are not good, but fall under the sway of influences such as the Ottolenghis who seem to be mid stream in teaching us how to become covert vegetarians. I am not complaining about that.

We do need to find a balance, somehow to keep that which is important and part of the heritage of our short time on this continent. One notes with some dismay that the original people of Australia used a wide selection of various foods and condiments, very few of which have found their way into the kitchens of the wider public, except of course should a celebrity chef happen to be instructed to use one by some spin doctor or other (does that make me sound cynical, I hope not…) I would challenge a great many of you to name a dish that is truly representative of Australian food now and in the past. We cannot even claim Pavlova since the Kiwi’s seem to have been given bragging rights on that food. For me its a roast lamb dinner if that is some guide.

This topic is very interesting and indeed diverse, if one explores what other countries, The USA and Canada for example in order to try and establish some sort of ‘difference’.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_English

It can also be seen that in the USA the foods that are consumed have moved away from the British and European routes to form a food that is now known as American. It has even developed some distinct regional foods such as the BBQ of Texas and the beef (Pastrami) of New York delicatessens. There is a cuisine style that is known as Californian. The Mid West of the USA can claim to be the home and hearth of many foods and is certainly the epicentre of preserving.

Canada has developed in a slightly different way, it has been influenced by native foods as well as by French cooking and as such a unique cuisine has grown up that is much loved by Canadians and contains some foods that I would have great difficulty eating…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poutine

But seems to be adored by those who have been raised on it. It is also interesting that bread in Canada has developed a distinctly Canadian style with a much more dense and compact loaf. The Canadians (I suspect native people) have given the world Maple Syrup and Cranberries, so we have much to thank them for. The point is that they have, like their cousins in the USA, developed a distinct style.

New Zealand is also an interesting cuisine to follow. It seems to have also grown a cuisine style that is based on the Maori and the white settlers in some sort of occasionally harmonious blend. To my taste, the people of New Zealand are spoiled for quality of ingredient and seem attached to the older ways of cooking with stunning results. Yes I am often jealous of their foods.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_cuisine

All of this is leading me to persuade you that the cooking and foods of Australia are lacking in some direction that would lead us to a cuisine that could be called ‘Australian’. Is it the bush BBQ, is it the roast lamb, its for sure not the shrimp on the barbie that we tried to persuade the world of recently. We have lost the art of home baking, people who actually make cakes at home now are given celebrity status… we seldom do home preserves, and a grilled lamb chop is now a thing of great difficulty since they are often so tough that getting one’s teeth through the meat is difficult. We are confused by the variety, take potato for example, even the supermarket will offer you a choice of many different types and, unless you know what you are doing, you will leave with a dazed expression and probably the wrong spud.

I am inclined to blame the food mafia for this situation. We seem to have allowed food celebrities to persuade us with an ever wider and more daunting array of dishes that not even the most talented home cook can hope to know and understand, let alone cook. We have allowed the food media to also pull us in this or that direction and, the food media is now so under the influence of economic rationalisation that it is difficult to believe what they print or televise. It is also of some concern that those who run the major food festivals, shows and exhibitions are also seriously biased, seriously money focussed and strongly under the influence of the bottom line of profit. In other words, in order to get to some core of truth, you need to strip away the outer layers to uncover the realities.

Dear heaven I can go on, but we need to maintain a vigilance and to ensure that food is placed front and centre of our world, that what we cook, eat and enjoy is of the very best we can obtain and we must continue to pursue excellence and to remember that what is past had merit and we need to take the best of the past and combine with the best of now to create a food and cuisine that is truly both Australian and excellent.

Having said all that, let me share with you a new taste that I only cooked this week and it is well worth the effort, it is both simple and delicious and can be done in a very short time. Called in South India, Tomato Rice, it is literally a combination of tomato, spices and rice. It uses cooked or even left over rice and so is also economic. I served it with a side serve of Zucchini fried with a little garlic, ginger and curry paste and accompanied with a good dollup of Sweet Mango Chutney.

South Indian Tomato Rice

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked Basmati rice (you can also use leftover rice)

4 large ripe tomatoes cut into cubes (I did not remove the skins)

2 tbsps vegetable/ canola/ sunflower cooking oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 large onion chopped fine

2 green chilies slit lengthwise

2 cm piece of ginger grated

2 tsps coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tbsp garam masala

Curry Leaves if you have them, just a twig or two or say 15 leaves

Salt to taste

Preparation:

Heat the oil in a deep pan and add the mustard seeds and green chilies and curry leaves. When they stop spluttering add the onion and fry till soft. Add the tomato and ginger and mix well. Cook till the tomatoes turn pulpy. Add the coriander, cumin and garam masala powders, salt to taste and mix well. Cook on a low flame for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. Turn off the heat and add the rice. Mix well.

Simple and delicious and maybe a part of the New Australian food experience?

 

~ by peterwatsonfood on November 24, 2011.

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