Archive | SBS

Writing for SBS’s comment pages, including Life, Food and Movies.

Visiting the world’s oldest café

I love cafés. I love proper espresso coffee, idle chatting while I sip it, and those little cakes that are just small enough to let me pretend that they’re not unhealthy.

I like my water served sparkling, my toast with ‘smashed avo’, and I like using my local café as a ‘coffice’ even though that’s the worst portmanteau word besides ‘webinar’.

Yes, I’m an inner-city, lattè-sipping, walking stereotype, so when I recently visited Paris I made sure I visited as many of them as humanly possible. Continue Reading →

Brexit or not, one place in the UK still welcomes foreigners

In 1985, we had a dream of a better world, a world that came together like Captain Planet’s Planeteers to solve problems. We, the human race, joined hands across the oceans and saved not just the lives of people in need, but “our own lives” at the same time. Because, as dozens of rock stars told us, “We are the world”.

In this more ironic age, the USA for Africa song seems more insipid than inspiring – but it was a time where people really did believe in common-sense international solutions. Sure, many of those people were rock stars, who tend to solve any problem by inserting themselves into it. And looking back, it was sometimes difficult to discern the line between selfless acts of charity and a career-enhancing stadium gig.

But Live Aid made a difference, both in terms of awareness and fundraising. And We Are The World’s writer Michael Jackson and his band of idealistic musos seem far removed from a Presidential nominee who’s more interested in building walls than solving hunger. Continue Reading →

Dare I say it… I don’t like beer

When you’re an Australian male, beer is the only socially acceptable drink. We talk about going for a beer, not a wine, and certainly not a soft drink. And we only admit any desire for an evening of fancy cocktails to close, trusted friends who won’t mock a beverage that arrives adorned by a maraschino cherry and a pink umbrella.

Aussie blokes are supposed to operate under the working assumption that any time we drink a beverage that isn’t beer, we wish it was, even if we’re sipping a coffee at work or downing an energy drink after pumping iron. (Come to think of it, anyone who can invent an electrolyte-restoring beer is going to make a fortune.) If Jesus had been Australian, we know very well what he would have turned that water into.

When blokes are out with mates, and go up to the bar to get a round, it’s beer unless specified otherwise. And if otherwise is specified, there’s often a need to justify it. So I’ll say something like “beer doesn’t always agree with me”, or “I’m a bit hung over so I’d better stick to the mineral water”, implying that beer was the culprit the night before. Continue Reading →

Rocking out in Thainatown

Once upon a time, the pubs of inner-city Australia were full of music. Or so we’re told by those lucky enough to have lived through those halcyon days. Global names like Midnight Oil, INXS and Cold Chisel blazed a trail for local heroes like Regurgitator, the Whitlams and, for all I know, Frenté (hey, they were big when I was in high school). And they packed out many a local from the Seventies through to the Nineties.

Then the pokies came. Publicans decided that live music and the beer its audiences consumed weren’t lucrative enough, and cordoned off part of their establishments to become windowless dens full of banknote-devouring ‘gaming’ machines.

In a pokie room, the only original compositions you’ll hear are the dinky electronic bleeps played on the rare occasions when players defy the heavily-stacked odds and win something. But nobody ever took home an ARIA Award for a pokie jingle. Continue Reading →

You need to eat idli

I once thought I knew a bit about Indian food. Back at uni, I regularly dined at those North Indian bain marie joints, and not just on butter chicken – although I have to admit that I always got butter chicken as one of the three selections.

Sometimes I even got lentils. Which I knew were called ‘daal’, because I was a man of the world. Or so I thought.

On other occasions, I even went out for proper, fancy Indian at restaurants where they serve the curries in little metal bowls and there are unlimited pappadams and various pickles on the side.

Years later, I went to India for the first time, and feasted on Goan fish curry, as well as the thali meals, a selection of lots of little curries and other delights on a metal plate, each in its own slot. I even had a favourite vegetarian dish, aloo gobi, which is cauliflower with potatoes. I know now that it’s about the most unsophisticated thing you can order, tantamount to asking for mac and cheese – but back then, I proudly proclaimed it as my thing. Continue Reading →

What I learned getting naked in public

I was 20 the first time I was invited to get naked in the company of other men. I was in Fukuoka, Japan, accompanying my parents to a conference, and we had been invited to a fancy dinner by the professor who was hosting us.

Before the formal kaiseki meal, our host and his colleagues – nearly all of whom were men – planned to bathe together before changing into bathrobes for the meal. Apparently it’s customary to chillax in the hot tub before an umpteen-course meal, and donning a yukata (a thin robe) afterwards means it’s easier to loosen than your pants as your stomach distends.

But when we were asked to arrive early for a dip, my father and I exchanged a quick glance of terror. We hadn’t shared a bath since I was a toddler, and it definitely didn’t seem the ideal time to start, let alone strip off in front of a dozen or so strangers. Continue Reading →

How I’ve avoided cooking for the past decade

Any guest invited to dine with me is in for a treat. Maybe I’ll serve perfect xiao long bao (soup dumplings) as delicate and succulent as you can get in Shanghai. Perhaps a perfect pizza with a crust doughy enough to make a Neapolitan weep. Or maybe a perfect dal with a side of naan that’s still warm from the oven?

There’s only one catch. When you inevitably pass your compliments to the chef, I’ll have to add my own. Because if I’m responsible for the catering, anyone dining chez moi is likely to be eating takeaway.

Only the very best takeaway, mind you. Gourmet food cooked by recognised experts in a range of world cuisines. But certainly stuff I haven’t cooked myself. Continue Reading →