Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Best Australian Stuff is . . . Chinese?

A famous political quote that I am unable to attribute properly, so I will instead have to plagiarize, is the following:  "Geography is Destiny."  While most of Australia thinks it is actually England (tiny houses, tiny cars driving to tiny shops on tiny, hobbit-sized roads), Australia is actually part of Asia.  Its biggest neighbor is the third-largest country (by population) in the world and the largest Muslim country anywhere, Indonesia.

This has certain advantages.  Electronics are relatively cheap, and there's some interesting Indonesian, Malaysian, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Indian food to be sampled.  The rich, fatty, spicy goodness of Indian food in particular helps fill the void in my life created by the absence of proper Mexican food.

In the 60's, the niche of market gardens and veggie shops was filled mainly by Italian immigrants.  That industry today is dominated by Asian immigrants.  Our local veggie shop, like many others, is a family-run operation.  The  girls at the till are family members, and are therefore part-owners through Discretionary Family Trusts and other quite sophisticated financial structures.  These people do their homework, and they learn fast.  I respect that.

Because there are no employees, only part-owners in the business, the service is excellent.  In a veggie shop there are no bar code scanners, only nimble brains and quick fingers that know the price of every last item in the store off by heart. It takes even less time to check out at the veggie shop than it does in the normal supermarket with their scanners emitting a steady rhythm of BEEP!  BEEP!  BEEP!

At the veggie shop, when you go to check out, the girl looks up from texting on her cell phone and peeks into your basket of produce.  She adds up the more obvious figures in her head and taps it into the cash register without looking while placing items sold by weight onto the scales. They have never made a mistake that I am aware of.

One extra benefit of shopping at the chinese veggie place is their unusual selection of odd things.  There are vegetables I've never heard of, fruits I can't pronounce, strange herbs, and cans or bottles of substances that westerners don't even have a word for in English, much less know how to use.  And they have a very eclectic assortment of Asian soft drinks (mainly tea or animal flavoured) but also including a few American soft drinks that are traditionally popular in Asia.

I already knew that Singaporean A&W Root Beer was sometimes available, but today I made an exciting new discovery: Welch's Grape Soda.

My First Grape Soda in over 10 years on these shores.

I remember when this product first came out.  It is an authentic, uncompromising product chock-full of sugar, artificial flavours and so much artificial purple coloring that even the foam has a blue tinge.  I really respected it for that.  It was my second-favorite drink.  And now I know where to get it in Australia.

At only $3 a can.

On close inspection, one finds it is imported from Korea.
Not being able to read the ingredients is, on the whole,
probably for the best.

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