Food. I love food. And I've eaten plenty of great food in Australia so let me list a few of the highlights:
1. Coffee. I've traveled a bit in the last few years and always wonder, before I arrive in a country, how the coffee will be. For the last few years in Canada, I've been drinking a lot of Starbucks, so that was my benchmark.
Finland met my expectations: good coffee was available everywhere (prepared in bulk through a drip filter, but much better than your average cup of Canadian coffee, and more mellow than Starbucks), but a little expensive at 1 euro 80 for a cup the size of a Tim Horton's small.
On the contrary, I was most disappointed with Norwegian coffee when I travelled there 3 years ago.
Going to Pakistan I knew what to expect. They don't drink coffee so it's not available at shops or hotels (even the posh places serve instant prepared in a teapot). But my host, a man of means, stocked his place with Starbucks beans and each morning I ground 20 or 30 beans and brewed my fix in a French press - bonus.
In Afghanistan, as you know if you've read my blog regularly, I was introduced to an espresso bar run by an American, also stocked with Starbucks where I could completely escape from the dust on the street and be transported to my comfortable life from far away - nice.
But this post is supposed to be about Australia. Thanks to the many Italian immigrants, I understand, the Australian's have developed a taste for Italian, espresso-based coffee. Espresso machines abound. Every cafe (and there are plenty of these serving great sandwiches on Italian bread (like Focaccia)) has one. Even gas stations, McDonalds and climbing gyms have espresso machines. You couldn't get drip coffee if you wanted it. There are Starbucks here in Sydney, but after the first couple of days I realized that you can get much better coffee on every street corner. So I am impressed. Now I know why cappuccinos were so important to an Australian family that worked in Pakistan with my parents-they brought out an ingenious stove-top espresso machine, complete with a milk steamer. The only drawback here is that espresso-based coffee is more expensive per cup, around $3.00 (Australian Dollars, about 90 cents Canadian) at most places - but entirely worth it.
2. Chinese Food. My exposure to Chinese food has been very limited. And I know few people who are connoisseurs of the cuisine. My host's father, however, cooks Chinese quite proficiently. So, for the first time in my life, I have been treated to a home-cooked Chinese meal, simple noodle stir-fries, baked pork, dumplings that taste genuine with subtle broth and soy/fish sauce accents. On Wednesday night last week (13th), I went with my friend and a group from his church to a Chinese restaurant in Ashfield where we had fabulous pork and cilantro dumplings dipped in soy sauce mixed with a rich chili sauce - excellent.
3. The Belgian Beer Cafe, Adelaide. This must be my third mention of this place, so you can guess it was great. Belgian beer (I had a dark, chocolaty Leffe) is always fine. The feature at this restaurant is mussels, boiled in various broths with onions, mushrooms and white wine served in hug pots with chips (french fries, thick cut) and whipped mayonnaise. I've never had mussels before. These were great. Such simple food that is so satisfying.
4. Chocolate. A bigger chain of chocolate cafes is Max Brener. On Monday I had a mocha - melted dark chocolate mixed into an espresso with steamed milk. Then yesterday I went to the Lindt cafe (that's right, of the Lindt chocolate makers from Switzerland) where I had a cappuccino graced with shreds of dark chocolate and a chocolate hazelnut cake. The person I was with had a hot chocolate consisting of melted dark chocolate and steamed milk served separately so you can mix your own drink.
5. The Australian Hotel, the Rocks, Sydney. Here I went for another Australian experience - beer and pizza with exotic Australian toppings. Like saltwater crocodile. The crocodile, white, slightly rubbery strips of meat was married with coconut milk, sweet basil and red capsicum - not bad. We also had pizza topped with roast duck - amazing. Our beer of choice was Little Creatures pale ale (not available in Winnipeg, unfortunately), a great ale with a perky fruit taste up front and a crisp bitter finish.
And I'll wrap this post up on that note.