Saturday, April 01, 2017

A Feast of Colour and Flavour



Buzz in Franklin Square - Sir John Franklin of North West Passage fame and former Governor of Tasmania, presides over fountain, square and food stalls in the CBD on Friday nights (Summer only).

On at least two occasions this week I had to marvel at what the influx of people from other countries has done for our palates and this city. In the first instance, it was the collection of food wagons in Franklin Square in the heart of the city last Friday night. I wouldn’t have known about this were it not for the fact that oldest son – the one who usually takes me on gastronomic tours of Canberra, had been in town briefly and wanted to take us out for dinner. The whole idea of allowing street stalls would probably have sent our city fathers into a conniption a few years ago – just think of all that red tape, but here they were, adding  life and colour to the city after dark. Hobartians turned out in droves to enjoy the great variety of food and drink - all reasonably priced – cider, handcrafted beer, wine, pizza, grills – pork ribs, Greek, Persian, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Nepali I think,  as well as a wide selection of icecream and other sweets. 

Girls' night out
 The worst part was deciding what we should eat. On the lawns below, there were picnic rugs laid out courtesy of the organisers and people sat around eating, socialising and listening to the free live music. The weather was perfect too – the last of the warm summer evenings and everyone was in friendly high spirits. After a preliminary round of chicken satay sticks, we opted for Indonesian Matabak since I hadn’t heard of that. This turned out to be thin fried dough filled with egg and vegetables. Then, after a convivial glass or two, we finished up with two kinds of sourdough doughnuts. Our only regret was that this was the second last night of the season and soon the colourful array of food wagons would vanish like the birds and butterflies until summer began anew next December. Of course you will still be able to get great food at Salamanca on Saturday mornings or at the Farmers' Market in Bathurst Street on Sundays, but this has livened up the city centre on Friday nights. With daylight saving coming to an end this Sunday, the nights will seem long and cold and the city office blocks will return to their quiet afterhours slumber.

A big crowd gathers for the World Food Festival in Moonah
Having now awakened my tastebuds, my son also took me to the Moonah Taste of the World Festival  on the Sunday. Moonah is one of our older Aussie suburbs and I always thought of it as the sort of place where you could expect a pie and sauce, or maybe the proverbial shrimp on the Barbie, but today its Benjafield Park seemed like the international gastronomic centre of the universe. There was food from Sri Lanka, food from several African nations including – Sierra Leone and Liberia,   food from Bhutan, the Philippines, Indonesia,  Persia,  Afghanistan and South America as well as many others, and even the ubiquitous Barbie out the back. 

A taste of Kabul
Judging by the long queues, the Sierra Leone Mende stand seemed especially popular so I thought I would wander around for a bit and see what else there was and possibly come back later.  Alas, by the time we had done a lap of the park trying to decide what to have, most of their food had gone and we were lucky to still find a few Momo – small crescent shaped vegetable dumplings, at the Bhutanese stall. As it happens Momo  were one of my favourite foods in Mongolia and while popular under various names in many Asian countries, the Bhutanese version was accompanied by a particularly rich and delicious spicy sauce..

The Sierra Leone Mende  stand had long queues

Maybe a Taste of Philippino Cuisine

Or maybe South American? It was all too hard

 African rhythms provide the backbeat
  
It wasn’t just the food though. With the blessing of good weather the attendance at this event was huge and there were many different faces and styles of dress in the crowd -so many people from different backgrounds having a wonderful time. Throughout the afternoon you could hear soul stirring African rhythms drifting from one stage while on the other you could watch all kinds of dancing from Hip Hop and Bollywood, to Scottish Highland and Belly Dancing, Morris Dancing, Balinese Traditional, Indian, Iranian, Polish and Greek, some modern and high energy, others slow, graceful, secular or sacred. While all were spectacular to watch, the real show stopper for me was the fiery Lion dance put on by the Chinese Buddhist Community. 


The Lion dance put on by the Chinese Buddhist Community 
provides spectacle and colour

Young Lion Dancers steal the show
 Other aspects of cultural diversity were apparent in the variety of children’s activities. As well as face -painting and artwork using various techniques and traditional designs, there was also African hair braiding and the application of temporary tattoos. Meanwhile students from Cosgrove High School were demonstrating games like  Carrom of Indian origin, a tower moving game from China and the Jenga block game which Leslie Scott originally played with her family in Africa. There were also cooking demonstrations, information for newcomers, grape treading, a water melon eating contest and a variety of other activities which we unfortunately missed during our quest for food. 

Carrom, originally a South Indian game but now played widely throughout Asia

 
Perhaps  the way to peace and international understanding is through the stomach. If ever there needed to be a demonstration of how well different cultures could get along together, this was it. Until I went to the Festival I didn't know that Tasmania was now home to more than 2000 Africans from at least eleven different cultures, or that there were around 600 Bhutanese, as well as people from Myannmar, and various Afghani tribal groups - I had to look up who the Hazara were,  and that's not counting those who are well established here such as those from the Philippines, Vietnam, India, China or Europe. Members of the Aboriginal community were also present and opened the festival.

A young girl shows of off her newly acquired tattoos
 As well as having fun on the day, the festival also inspired my cooking all week - Turkish Gozeleme on Monday, Vegetable Rogan Josh on Tuesday, Greek salad and Chilean Empanadas last night. I love the way so many traditional dishes use a handful of simple ingredients - pulse, grains and vegetables plus a few herbs and spices, to make a satisfying and tasty meal. As food prices in general and meat in particular, has become more expensive here (and will be even more so in the wake of recent floods and cyclones), we would do well to take note.

Multicultural dining may not be quite the same as tasting it in its country of origin, but it’s nice to know that you can enjoy a little of the world’s richness and diversity without going far from home -  no tickets, travel insurance or passports required.






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