xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: A smack in the eye and don't be nasty.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

A smack in the eye and don't be nasty.

These days one of my life’s simple pleasures is to meet up with old friends for lunch or coffee. Chris and Bob are two such friends whom I meet up with about every three months. We meet at Peter’s by the Sea, an old and famous cafe on the beach front at Scarborough. In fact, when I used to go to Scarborough Beach as a teenager in the 1950s, I actually knew the original Peter, who owned what we then called a Milk Bar. It sold other foods and drinks as well, but it was good place to go for a strawberry milk shake  with a dollop of ice cream, served with great good humour by Peter, whom I though was a Greek or a Yugoslav, just like a lot of other New Australians arriving in Australia after World War 2. Of course a lot of the "New Australians", like Peter, were born in Australia.

In those days, the famous, or maybe infamous, Snake Pit was just down the road, where bodgies and widgies jived away in that golden dawn of Rock ‘n Roll.

These days my friends and I go to Peters by the Sea because it sells seriously good coffee. We generally consume two cups as we cogitate and pontificate on matters grave and small. Fortunately, we all barrack for the same football team and our politics are, to varying degrees, just a bit left of centre, so we never, ever have any differences of opinion on what needs to be done to lift our team’s performance or to make our country and the world function more peacefully and fairly.

We are all retired school principals so we are also quick to offer opinions on what is wrong with education today and how we could set it straight. Sometimes, we even talk about ourselves with regards to our involvement with football, cricket or schools. Our conversations all bear out the well-known truth that states,  “The older you are, the better you get”. And let me tell you straight off the bat, we were all very good.

Our meetings usually start at about 10-30am and finish just after twelve noon. Last Wednesday we went a bit longer than usual and didn’t leave the premises till close to 1-00pm. As I was walking to my car, I noted the time and thought I would buy my lunch at the beach and save my wife, Lesley, the trouble of making it for me when I arrived home at about 1-30pm.

Now I am a pie muncher from way, way back. Normally, under these circumstances I would have gone in search of a meat pie. However, as you age, your appetite changes and in recent years I have become more of a pastie man. In March, when travelling around the east coast with Lesley, at lunch time she would always eat something healthy like a tuna salad and I would generally eat a pie or a pastie. 

As the holiday progressed I began to favour pasties over pies for some strange reason. It was then I discovered that pasties are fast becoming extinct in this country. It was sometimes quite difficult to find any shops that sold pasties. Pies, yes. Pasties, no.

Moving around the countryside, I would fondly recall driving around the UK in the early 1960s. I remembered feasting on beautiful Cornish pasties on a trip to Land’s End in Devon. To this day I still savour the memory of the Scottish Bridie, which is a type of pastie but full of small, tasty pieces of potato. 

At the end of my Scottish holiday I was sailing to Canada, so I was saving my money as best I could. My travelling companion and I were sleeping rough and existing basically on bread, butter and homemade strawberry jam, which had been given to us by a kindly old lady in Pitlochry. Bridies, which were always available at the little Scottish villages we passed through, were an inexpensive and delicious mid-day meal.

One day, when Lesley and I were in Sydney, we boarded a tour bus which took us all around the city. We got off the tour bus at the Sydney Convention Centre near Darling Harbour. We entered a food hall/ shopping complex called Harbourside.  Here we decided to have lunch. It was about two o' clock. 

The Harbourside  Foodhall is huge. It must be one of the largest food halls in Australia. It seemed replete with every form of food from every nation on earth. However, after an extensive search, I can state that nowhere, nowhere, in Harbourside can you buy an Aussie meat pie or a pastie. There are plenty of Greek, Italian, Chinese, Turkish, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Indian, American andMexican foods and so on, but no pies or pasties. 

What has happened to this country I thought? I blame My Kitchen Rules. This programme has shunned wholesome Australian cuisine in favour of over garnished, under cooked, architecturally designed and industrially constructed foreign foods, covered in leaves and signed off by the chef with thin curly slashes of red and yellow sauces. I mean, if you walked into a restaurant these days and asked for "Steak and Eggs" or a "Mixed Grill"  the waiter would look at you with contempt and call for the bouncer.

Back at Harbourside, I eventually settled for a ham and cheese croissant, which the girl behind the counter insisted that I have toasted. "It tastes better", she suggested. She lied. The result was, I ate something fairly close to a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Nothing like a croissant at all.

Each day after that I made it my mission to seek out shops that sold pies and pasties. It was a daunting task. It was much easier to buy a dim sim, a souvlaki, a samosa or a spring roll than a humble pie or pastie. Some shops did sell pies, but not pasties. Of course, when something is denied, your craving for it becomes stronger. As a result I developed a great craving for lunch time pasties.

On our last day in Sydney, prior to boarding a Watson’s Bay bus at Circular Quay, I noticed a very small shop which advertised that it was selling the famous pies of Harry's Cafe de Wheels, which is outside the Navy Yards at Garden Island. Anyhow, I had a good look and this shop in Circular Quay and was pleased to note that it not only sold Harry's famous pies, it also sold pasties.

Naturally enough, when we returned from Watson's Bay, I bought a pastie, while Lesley ate some form of vegetarian frittata. We sat and enjoyed our lunch as the busy throng moved passed and ferries and buses came and went. After lunch I decided that I would buy another pastie and have it for my tea back at our hotel. This was probably the best idea I had had for some time. Lesley bought some skinless chicken.

Throughout our travels, I continued my hunt for the lunch time pastie. In country towns pasties were usually available from the town bakery, but this is not the case in the big cities. In Sydney and Melbourne they have a chain of shops called Mr Pieman, which sell pies of all sorts, but not pasties. (In December, 2014 Pie Face went into receivership. Apparently their pies were overpriced and not very tasty.)
In Melbourne’s Federation Square, I searched the many food outlets for pies and pasties, but none could be found. At last we went into a restaurant and Lesley had a healthy salmon salad and I had six Beijing dumplings. They were actually small meat balls surrounded by an ornate, translucent white pastry that made them look like very fat, ghostly white butterflies. They were quite tasty. I have it on good authority from nobody in particular that they are very healthy. But they are no substitute for a good old Aussie pie or pastie with sauce.

During my travels I wrote to my three daughters about my ceaseless and often unsuccessful search for a pastie. When Lesley and I arrived back in Perth about 12 noon one Monday, we were picked up by our second daughter, Sarah. We arrived home and Sarah proudly produced a pastie from the fridge which I soon heated up and consumed with great satisfaction. Fortunately, our Heathridge bakery still makes pasties. I try to buy one or two each week just to keep them interested.

Meanwhile, after my meeting with Chris and Bob ended, I walked the beachfront at Scarborough and none of the cafes or other food outlets sold pies or pasties. In one place the helpful young fellow behind the counter suggested that I try the bakery in the Luna Shopping Centre on the south side of Scarborough Beach Road. I hurried to the bakery, savouring already the tasty pastie I would soon be eating for my lunch, as I sat gazing out over the Indian Ocean towards Rottnest Island.

Inside the shopping centre I soon located the bakery. There were appetising displays of various cakes and pastries. These included several racks of meat pies, curry pies, potato pies, mushroom and kidney pies, steak and kidney pies, vegetarian pies, cheese pies, chicken pies, pepper steak pies and no pasties.

I asked the smiling Vietnamese lady behind the counter, “Do you have any pasties?”

“We don’t sell pasties,” she explained.

“Surely you must sell some pasties. Some people must want to eat a pastie,” I said.

“No, we don’t make pasties. You are the first person this week to ask for a pastie.”

“Well, that is probably because people around here know that you don’t sell them. If you made them, I am sure people would buy them.” She smiled but for her the conversation was ended.

I bought a meat pie and some sauce. A few minutes later I was sitting on a park seat looking out towards Rottnest. My pie was very nice. I sat and thought of the delicious pasties that that bakery could be making, if only they made pasties. And that is the worry. If bakeries in our cities are going to stop making pasties, pretty soon Australia will be a pastie free nation. In my own lifetime the pastie will have become extinct. Am I the only person in Australia who is aware of this imminent threat to our nationhood? Is Vegemite the next cab off the rank for extinction? Will they join the late lamented Spider and hamburgers made with toasted bread in the faraway land of Departed Aussie Food Icons This is serious. The government needs to act before pasties disappear forever.

When I was a boy my father used to refer to a pie and a pasty as “a smack in the eye and don’t be nasty.”  Tomato sauce was "dead horse." My Dad was a great one for rhyming slang, so that is how everyone in my family spoke when expressing a desire for a pie and a pasty with or without Dead Horse. It seems that the day is fast approaching when there will be no more pasties and that will be a real smack in the eye and very, very nasty, as far as I am concerned.

Join my campaign. Next time you are in a food shop, ask for a pastie. It is your patriotic duty. I will certainly be talking with Bob and Chris, when we meet in mid October, about this national calamity.

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