Food culture shock

In the years following World War 2, Australia became home to thousands of Italian immigrants. This of course means that there’s a big Italian influence in Australia’s culture. And I’ve found in the last year and a half living here that Italian food just doesn’t appeal to me.

I think we all know that Italians are known for pasta. And I used to love the stuff too, but having given it up over a year ago, believe it or not, I actually find the idea of eating pasta kinda repulsive. So the supermarkets are full of it; you’ve got about half of one side of the aisle devoted to dry pasta, and another section in the refrigerated area for fresh pasta. And the sauces? They pretty much line up the other side of the pasta aisle.

So I go into this aisle looking for some tomato sauce. And I see sauces with weird names like bolognaise, napolitana, carbonara…um, okay, where’s the TOMATO sauce? You know, the stuff you can spread out on a pizza base? The stuff that doesn’t have huge chunks of tomato and onions and peppers/capsicum all through it, and weird herbs I’ve never heard of? No such thing. If you want that, you have to get tomato PASTE and add water & spices yourself. Or you can buy these tiny little 140 gram (er, about 5 ounces I think) containers of pizza sauce for a dollar each. And amazingly enough, you really CAN buy “Spaghetti sauce” with meat, but it’s way up on the top shelf.

Then there’s dining out. You enter this restaurant, and it’s…a cafe. And not the kind of cafe most Americans from small towns would be used to, either. This is the European style cafe, with tables and chairs and stone/linoleum floors and high ceilings that spells NOISE. These places are crowded and noisy and it’s really hard to have a conversation when you can’t hear the other people at your table over the noise of the people at everyone else’s tables.

So you’re in the cafe. And this style of dining means you go to the counter and order your meal, then pick a spot to sit, and they’ll bring it out to you. Not a problem so far. But then they hand you the menu. Half the stuff on cafe menus I don’t even recognise. The other half I might know what it is, but since it’s based around bread or pasta, it’s not really a good idea for me when I suspect I’m wheat sensitive. So what CAN I eat? Well, they’ve got a couple salads, but the dressings are all vinegarettes. Sorry, but I just can’t see how I’d like a dressing based around vinegar, having tasted a couple. Plain salad? Boring. Glass of water, thanks.

I miss going into Perkins or Country Kitchen or some other family restaurant, being seated in a BOOTH with padded seats and carpet under my feet, looking at the menu and finding TOO MANY choices rather than too few, and starting off my meal with a nice green salad with Ranch dressing. I miss looking on the back menu page to find the drinks and NOT being met by a silly wine list. I miss knowing what all the items on the menu are, and being able to pronounce them, even if I didn’t like them.

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