After spending more than a month in Australia, I can say this with absolute conviction about the Aussies – if there is something that turns them on more than outdoors and sport, it is food.
Sport and food and beverages are the biggest pitch for tourism authorities of any state or city you visit here. There are hundreds of speciality restaurants, and all of them are bustling at dinner time. But a more telling indicator is that programmes like My Kitchen Rules, and MasterChef Australia have consistently garnered the highest TV rating year after year.
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Just to prove my point, Friday’s match between Australia and Pakistan, despite featuring a gripping battle between Shane Watson and Wahab Riaz, fared poorly compared to MKR ratings earlier in the week – appx 919,000 households watched the cricket against 1,602,000 for MKR’s Wednesday episode.
— #MKR (@mykitchenrules) March 23, 2015
AFL Grand Final last year between Hawthorns and Sydney Swans managed to knock out MKR as the No1 TV programme of 2014, but the cooking shows have ruled the roost for four straight years before that. In fact, MasterChef Australia finale in 2010 was the third most watched TV show in the history of Australian television.
At 6 million homes, the wedding of Prince Williams and Kate remains the most watched programme of all time in Australia, but then there was no escaping that event as it was televised live on all major networks.
MasterChef Australia 2010 finale (4.03m) is sandwiched between the 2005 Australian Open tennis final between local hero Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin in 2005 (4.04m) and the 2003 Rugby World Cup final (4.01m) that the Wallabies lost to a last-minute Jonny Wilkinson drop goal.
But moving back to the actual restaurants, unlike other countries, where there is a tendency to alter the taste of foreign dishes to local palates, Australians have remained very true to the original recipe.
The one reason for this must be the fact that it is a very cosmopolitan country, and the majority of clientele an eating joint attracts would be from their own nationality.
I wanted to relate two of my restaurant experiences that were the genesis of this diary.
In Perth, I walked into a superb little Indian joint called Mirch Masala (Chilly & Spice). As I placed my order, the serving lady asked: “How do you want your curry? Normal, hot, or Indian hot?”
It was the first time I had come across such a classification of curry, and my Indian roots immediately revolted against the first two.
I think the lady sensed a smugness with which I told her nothing but Indian hot for me. To cut a long story short, there was so much heat in that one small bowl, it would have put the sun to shame. I somehow finished it, alternating between sucking on ice cubes, wiping tears from my eyes (which had nothing to do with the joy of eating Indian after a long time), and with sweat dripping down my forehead.
The second incident shows how the Aussies have all become critics after watching MasterChef and MKR. In Sydney, I was at an Indonesian restaurant when I overheard an Australian gentleman make this complaint to the owner about his ‘Crispy sweet chilly chicken’ – “Didn’t like it one bit mate. It was fried too much, was too sweet and not enough chilly.”
At least he was happy with the chicken part!
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