Saturday before Easter
For some reason Saturday seemed to be all about food. Multiple times I had my mind opened to new flavors or new ways of eating things I had tried previously. Australia and America have pretty similar tastebuds but there are a few things that Aussies either made up for themselves or inherited from the British that America dibbed out on.
It started at breakfast. Yollana opened a package of bread rolls and said she was really excited about Easter cross buns. I asked her what that was and she looked concerned.
“You don't know what hot cross buns are?”
“I don't guess so. Doesn't sound familiar anyway.”
“Well you have to try one! Here let me fix you a proper one.” I watched as she pulled apart a bun and cut it in half. She then toasted it for a few minutes before smothering it in butter then melted as soon as it touched the bun. I didn't know anything about the hot cross part but I sure loved bread so I knew I was in for a treat. Yollana handed me a saucer with the two halves on it and told me to try it. The smell was delightful. I raised a half to my mouth and took a bite. First I tasted the warm, salty butter then a sweet bread flavor. I chewed a bit and noticed something that felt like a raisin. I sensed a cinnamon flavor as well.
“What's all in this?” I asked with gooey buns sloshing around my mouth.
It's got cinnamon and spices in it, plus some dried fruit. A lot of times you'll see these with a dribble of icing in the shape of a cross on them too. This particular kind doesn't have any, though.
“It's really good. Is it an Australian thing, I'm assuming?”
“I don't know, is this an Aussie thing?” Yollana turned to look at the only other Aussie present, which was Kim.
“I didn't think so but sure enough if the American's don't eat it then it probably is!”
“It's really supposed to be an Easter thing, you know, with the cross symbolising Christ's death on the cross and whatnot.”
“So you don't eat them year round?” I asked, still chewing happily.
“Oh no, you only see them around Easter time—maybe a month before. It's definitely a holiday food.”
I was beginning to realize that Easter was taken more seriously in Australia than it was in America. Sure in America we go to church and maybe eat with a small family gathering afterwards but other than that it wasn't a vacation weekend or anything for us. Australians on the other hand, seemed to treat it like we do Labor Day. It is their last warm weather holiday before the winter season so like Americans, why not use it for a three day vacation in addition to the religious observations.
The cabins were booked for both the week before and after Easter. Yollana told us the Easter holiday lasted around two weeks because of different school schedules. Most of the people I had talked to in the cafe were just passing through for their last summer getaway. They weren't driving in to visit family for the holiday or visiting a church, they were simply here to relax. It's funny how far we can stretch our holiday time in both America and Australia.
My next mind opening food experience was at lunch. Matthew was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I thought it looked good so I made myself one too. While we were sitting at the table eating Kim walked in and observed our plates.
“What the bloody hell is that?”
“Peanut butter and jelly.” I said again with a full mouth of food moving around.
“What?” Kim was making a horrified face and cocked her eyebrows to one side of her face.
“Pea-nuuttt buttt-err and jelll-eeeee” Matthew said with a touch of dramatics.
“Ugh.” Kim made a disgusted sound. “You American's put peanut butter on everything don't you?”
I laughed. “I didn't think we ate that much peanut butter.”
“You eat more peanut butter than anyone I've ever met. Both of you eat it on toast in the morning. That's weird!” Kim had a way of talking that always made me laugh. Her Australian accent was thick and she was always loud and dramatic. If she was in the room you knew it. If she was talking you were either laughing or listening closely to figure out if she was making up stories or not.
Matthew laughed too. “Well, I guess we do like our peanut butter. Do you not eat it?”
“No way! I eat vegemite. I've been craving it like crazy since I got here. Yollana won't buy me any.” I remembered the small tub Matthew and I had bought it Surfer's Paradise. We had only tried it the one time. I thought it tasted alright I just hadn't thought about eating it again.
“Hey I have a small tub in my bag! I'll share it with you.”
“Oh my god that would be amazing! I'd much rather have that then your bloody peanut butter.” I just laughed and shook my head. No Aussie was going to talk me out of enjoying my peanut butter. It was one of my favorite foods.
The food lessons continued when lunch time was over. Matthew and I went back to work at the cafe and found Yollana taking some biscuit looking things out of the convection oven.
“What are those?” I asked and pointed to the ball of baked dough on the plate.
“Scones.” Yollana continued stacking the scones two to each plate.
“I thought scones were triangular. And fruit flavored.” I had learned about scones several years ago while visiting my aunt and uncle. We had seen them at the airport and my uncle introduced me to them. When I got back to college and tried baking my own and did a decent job. Every scone I had seen from then until now had been triangular and fruity but Yollana didn't seem to know anything about those kinds of scones.
“Have you not had scones like this before?” Matthew and I shook our heads.
“Well you need to try them so you'll know what you are selling to the customers.” Once again I knew I couldn't go wrong with bread so happily accepted the offer.
I watched as Yollana cut two scones in half. She smeared all four pieces first with butter, then a thick white cream and finally a bit of local jam. I learned that the cream was whipped thickening cream and by itself it did NOT taste like whipped cream. It was almost bitter and quite tasteless. The jam on the other hand was amazing. It was just the right combination of tart and fruity. It had currants in it. I hadn't had currants before but I knew they smelled good because I always gravitated towards currant Scentsy refills.
Matthew, Yollana and I each picked up a half of scone and bit in. I loved it. It was a lot like Mom's Sunday morning biscuits except better. They were soft and almost doughy plus a little sweeter than an American biscuit. The whole thing was round which meant there were no flaky corners to mess with. I like things soft and doughy. It is my texture of preference. I also like sweets and breads so basically I was really digging the scones.
“If this is a scone then what do you consider a biscuit?”
“Biscuits are flat and crispy, not doughy like this.”
“So like a cracker?” I used my finger to wipe some jam off the side of my mouth and then licked the jam off my finger.
“No, biscuits are sweet. Crackers are not.”
Matthew translated Yollana's explanation so I could understand. “Basically their biscuits are like a crunchy cookie for us.” I nodded my head and chewed another bite of scone while I thought for a minute.
“So what is an Australian cookie?” At that moment the door ringed and Yollana jumped up to greet the customers walking in the door. I looked at Matthew and he shrugged his shoulders and went in for another half of a scone. I was thoroughly confused on the Australian food terminology but I did know one thing: scones are good.
Yollana walked back into the kitchen with an order paper in her hand. She announced that the customers had ordered a fisherman's basket and a classic hot dog. I hadn't seen anyone order a fisherman's basket yet so I didn't know what the plate consisted of.
“Alright, I've been wanting to see this one. What's in a Fisherman's Basket?” I followed Yollana to the freezer and held the bags she was pulling out one at a time.
“The Fisherman's Basket is four prawn, four calamari and a piece of whiting on top of a bowl of chips.” We walked back into the kitchen and put the bags of food on the counter.
“That sounds good. What are prawn, though?” She pointed to a blue plastic bag that had a clear front. I looked through the front and saw shrimp.
“Is prawn another word for shrimp?” I looked again more closely but couldn't tell a difference between the two. Yollana was off on another task and Matthew was busy dumping fries into the fryer.
I walked over to where Yollana was and I watched as she put butter on a hot dog bun. I hesitated before asking. “Is that an Australian thing too?”
“Butter on a hotdog?” I nodded.
“No, it's just how you make a proper hot dog.” She moved back towards the fryers and dumped some prawn in the basket.
I had never in my life seen anyone butter up a hot dog. I knew for fact it was an American food. Then again, I didn't want to be aargumentative or annoying so I shut my mouth and prepared a basket for the meal instead.
While Matthew cooked the hotdog I watched the fryers to make sure nothing burned while Yollana took another order. A few minutes later she walked into the kitchen with another announcement: “one chicken schnitzel and a poached egg”
“Alright, so what's the deal with Chicken Schnitzels?” Matthew turned to face Yollana. He had a pair of tongs in his hands and an apron around his waist.
“Boy, you guys are learning a lot about food today, hey?” Yollana smiled and looked at us for a moment before heading back to the freezer for more supplies. I knew what Matthew was asking. We had seen schnitzels in every city we'd visited so far and they had all looked slightly different. In America the only time I heard the word “schnitzel” was when someone was making a derogatory joke. The schnitzels at the cafe were wide and flat, shaped in a heart. It was basically chicken fried chicken without a crumbly crust.
Yollana explained that most schnitzels were covered in gravy or sauce, though what kind of sauce, she never said. It was simply “sauce.” I heard that a lot from Australians ordering schnitzels. “Do you have any sauce?” Never a specific kind. Just “sauce”. And when I ask if they mean tomato sauce I get a hard no and a “never mind.” What was worse than asking an aussie if they wanted tomato sauce on their schnitzel, was asking an aussie if they wanted ketchup with their fries. In Australia they aren't french fries. They are “chips.” And it isn't “ketchup.” It's “tomato sauce.” Mentioning either french fries or ketchup is a dead giveaway that you are American. Oh, and another fun fact—French people don't call them french fries either. Go figure.
As for tomato sauce. It's pronounced toe-mah-toe no toe-may-toe. I'd always heard the saying, 'you say toh-may-toe, I say toh-mah-toe,' but I had never actually heard anyone pronounce it toe-mah-toe until I came to Australia. What's worse is that within two weeks I was doing the same even though I disagreed with the pronunciation.
The other foodie things I had noticed in the cafe were that Aussies loved putting beetroot on their burgers. Apparently it was a common thing to do even though the only person I know back home who eats beetroot is my grandpa. I also learned that it is totally acceptable to serve milk with a mug of hot tea. I thought this was an aussie thing but Matthew told me it was a regular occurrence in America too. I was probably just unaware because I don't drink hot tea.
“So, did you say Americans don't put butter on their hot dog buns?” Yollana caught me off guard with this one.
“No, I've never seen that.”
“Maybe we shouldn't do that either, then. I'm sorry I didn't think about it earlier but you probably know more about hotdogs than I do since you are from America.” She laughed at her mistake and I told her it was no biggie.
The best thing I learned about Aussie food is that because they use the metric system, they don't have any calories at all!