All this grim political stuff has really been getting me down this week, so I’m going to sign off this sunny and surprisingly warm Friday on a much lighter note. I think we could all do with some cheering up, and very few things cheer me up quite as much as talking about and eating FOOD.
For those of you who didn’t see it, Tuesday’s Good Living section of The Sydney Morning Herald dedicated the issue to looking at 25 years of Sydney dining. Of course, in many ways that quarter of a century dictated not only what Sydney was eating but also what was happening in the food revolution elsewhere in the country. I never stop being amazed and amused to find I can buy a latte these days even in a town with just a top pub, a bottom pub, a butcher and a BP to its name. Is that progress? Well, I don’t drink instant coffee, so yes, damn it, it is.
Anyway, I got so much joy out of Good Living‘s fad retrospective that i just have to share some of my favourites with you. Sydney is a fad town, no doubt about it, and GL compiled a really classic list of the big fad food items of the last 25 years. Man, when they got it right they were so on the money I found myself laughing out loud at the (many fond) memories. Get a load of this stuff. It’s almost as potent a memory trigger as 80s music (Life in a Northern Town, anyone?)….
Okay, where to start? They put raspberry vinegar down as the fad of 1982. That’s too early for me. It didn’t enter my consciousness for another 9 years, but then it dominated my homemade salad dressings throughout my undergraduate years. It was the not-so-secret ingredient par excellence, and I felt terribly gourmet having it in the cupboard. 1983 they have fruit as the garnish on main courses. Yeah, that rings a bell. Grandma and Granddad used to take us grandkids for dinner at the (original, pre-glitz) Bondi Icebergs and the Bondi Diggers club for dinner, and I distinctly recall orange segments lurking around the rim of my prawn cocktail. Classy.
1984 – sticky date pudding. Again, I’d have to say this fad enjoyed a revival in the early 90s when I started eating out in earnest. I wasn’t eating sticky date pudding when I was 12, but I was eating hazelnut yoghurt and lemon gelato, both of which I think qualify me for some kind of way-before-their-time award.
1985 – they say King Island double cream, I say see above. Some of this stuff either arrived and stayed or went away for 10 years and returned with a vengeance. What I do know is that in the early 90s, I was eating a lot of sticky date puddings with King Island double cream.
1986 – sundried tomatoes. There was a time when I was never, and I mean never without a jar of sundried tomatoes in the house. They were as essential as bog roll. But it didn’t happen until 1992 for me. In 1986 I had a perm and ate beef stroganoff.
1987 – Tiramisu. I was one of those lucky, lucky kids who was dragged around Sydney in the late 70s and early 80s by a parent at least as obsessed with real pizza then as I am today. She went on to become the world’s worst mother, but the pizza and tiramisu outings back before anyone knew the latter wasn’t a cocktail make up some of my best childhood memories. How do you think I was eating all that lemon gelato and cassata?
1988 – Pesto. You see the thread, don’t you? This is where the Sydney palate abandoned MSG-style Chinese en masse and embraced everything Italian. Happy days.
1989 – Goat’s cheese. Okay, I leave Sydney for two years in 1989 and move to an international college on Vancouver Island, Canada. Whilst Sydney was apparently being introduced to the many delights of goat’s cheese, I was being served institution food from a menu originally devised for a Californian nursing home. Celery featured frequently. But my Norwegian friend Elisabeth did, in 1989, introduce me to the Scandi version of goat’s cheese, which is hard and light brown and has an almost caramel edge. I still love it on dark rye toast. Yum.
1990 – Caesar salad. Oh my GOD – Sydney and the city of Victoria, BC, were on this Caesar jag at the SAME TIME!!! I ordered a Caesar practically every single time I ate out of the college, which, as you might have gathered from the above, was as often as I could afford. Oh the MEMORIES! And when I moved back to Australia in the middle of 1991, the Caesar salad was still a-go-go, so much so that 10 years later, returning from 2 years in London in 2001, I devised my ‘Caesar Salad Index’ to mark changes in Sydney’s rocketing food and beverage prices, post-Olympics and post-GST. This Caesar continued to rule.
1991 – Tall food. Yeah. Boring as bat shit, moving right along…
1992 – Cajun blackened everything. Yep, rings a bell; they started putting Cajun chicken in Caesar salad…Oh and I moved to Canberra during these next few years to attend the ANU, but it turned out to be a foodie mecca so let’s see how it kept up with Sydney…
1993 – Pizza with BBQ lamb and rocket. Shit yes. My absolute favourite cafe when I was at uni was called Caffe Della Piazza, and they were all over the BBQ lamb and rocket thing.
1994 – Coffin Bay Scallops. Really? Lucky bastards. I was at uni, so scallops remained well out of my budget until around 1996.
1995 – Chargrilled octopus. Caffe Della Piazza. My life, my trattoria, my meal, my time. My friends and I were so well-acquainted with this joint that it lovingly became known simply as Della. The rush of nosh nostalgia is almost enough to knock me right off my feet.
1996 – Aioli with everything. Yes, but now it’s back. Big time. Nobody in this town eats their fries with tomato sauce anymore. Now we have them with aioli. Oh, and at the end of 1996, I moved home to the big smoke.
1997 – Bruschetta. I think there’s a time lag here – bruschetta was on the menu at Caffe Della Piazza years before this. Maybe it was a slow year and they were grasping.
1998 – Harissa, chermoula, Middle Eastern everything. Cous Cous is what I remember. Cous cous everywhere, taking over the world. Which reminds me: how could they neglect to mention the FOCCACCIA insanity of the mid 90s? My God, I thought I’d scream if I was forced to eat another toasted foccaccia with something, something else, and sundried tomatoes…I still can’t eat it.
1999 – Mushroom risotto. That’s hilarious. I ate heaps of mushroom risotto in 1999, even though I wasn’t now living in Sydney. I even had it in Italy. And then on my North American trip on the way back to Australia from London in 2001, I was making it for everyone, everywhere I stayed. I lived on it.
2000 – Caramelised everything. London I don’t really recall having this fad at the same time, but I do remember caramelised onions dominating the scene upon my return.
2001 – Truffled olive oil. Right on the money. Just as I remember my first year home. Truffle oil spilling out all over the foodie highway to hell.
2002 – Seafood carpaccio. Yes, and wasn’t it great? Still one of the best things on any menu when the fish is fresh. If you dig raw fish, Zushi in Darlinghurst does THE most sublime tuna tataki. How do I love thee, Zushi? Let me count the ways.
2003 – Confit duck, then confit everything. Oh yeah, baby. I remember Bistro Balzac leading the way here. And that cute little restaurant tucked up the back of Bronte…what’s it called?? I think it’s named after something edible, like Aubergine, but I don’t think that’s right. [I looked it up. Not so edible after all: the restaurant is called Wet Paint and it’s on Macpherson St, Bronte. Lovely little neighbourhood joint. Funnily enough, its signature dish is Cajun-spiced chicken…another dish redux].
2004 – Affogato. That must have been a dud foodie year because affogato’s been around for aaaaaages.
2005 – Pork belly and scallops. When they’re right, they’re right.
2006 – Foam everything. That would explain those desperate McDonald’s and Harry’s Cafe de Wheels stops on the cab ride home from all those restaurants last year… Foam, my friends, does not feed.
2007 – Organic everything. Yeah, but does it taste better? My jury’s out.
Such a fond trip down calorie lane. Ah, food, glorious food. Hey, a massive omission has just struck me: where’s the reference to the Thai takeover of this country’s cuisine??? Okay, it wasn’t a fad, but gee, Good Living guys, Thai food changed everything about eating in Sydney and elsewhere in Australia. I also think it’s weird the humble sushi roll didn’t make the list. This entire city eats Sushi rolls for lunch now the same way we all used to eat Vegemite sandwiches in primary school, like it’s a given. Twenty years ago, that would have been unthinkable.