A Slice of life in Tokyo, a view from the sushi train…

A Slice of life in Tokyo, a view from the sushi train…

I saw the video below from a tweet by Drew Coffman.

It made me smile.

I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The slice of life realness and the varied reactions of diners are fascinating.

The GoPro image was taken by Vlogger Tkyosam, an American living in Tokyo who captures his adventures on camera.

But apparently not everyone is a fan. Sushiro, the sushi chain featured in in this clip, has banned photography in their restaurants and claim they will prosecute offenders.

Some have claimed there’s a gulf in terms of etiquette between East and West. I’m not sure if cultural differences are a major factor here. Apparently most of the negative reactions have been about privacy and food safety. They sound like pretty universal concerns to me.

Sometimes, it’s harder for people to recognise similarities because they are more concerned about finding differences.

I’d say, enjoy this clip. And smile.

Hong Kong’s neon signs might be fading but not my memory of them…

Hong Kong’s neon signs might be fading but not my memory of them…

IDENTITY Communications might be the intelligent multicultural marketing agency, but our team also has heart. As Hong Kong’s neon lights fade, Brenda Leung, IDENTITY’s Insights Manager reflects on her childhood memories of the Pearl of the Orient.

One of my most vivid childhood memories is of evenings at Victoria Peak, Hong Kong Island with my family. Hong Kong at night is breathtaking. Looking down to Victoria Harbour, all my attention was captured by the vibrant, warm and inviting hue of Hong Kong’s iconic neon lights – glowing and blinking on skyscrapers that reflected on the harbour. It is this view that leaves a lasting impression for the 27m overnight tourists who visit Hong Kong every year. It is this view that gives Hong Kong its nickname of the “Pearl of the Orient”.

Hong Kong neon

Walking through the city of Hong Kong, the city’s lights are spectacular. Neon’s brilliant blaze has always been used by businesses to attract customers. Big neon light boards are found on the façade of commercial buildings, department stores, shopping centres, restaurants, clubs, with those colourful lights shining, sparkling and twinkling into people’s eyes. It is a city that embraces neon. I have no idea who made those neon lights and how they are made, but they are definitely the representative of the dynamic, bustling, fast pacing and never stopping lifestyle of Hong Kong. There is so much ambient light that you can even read a book at 2am if you sit by the window of an apartment in Mongkok, Tsimshatsui or Wanchai.

Hong Kong

The neon lights in Hong Kong also mark the beginning of the fun of its exciting nightlife, where retailers open until midnight and restaurants until the early hours of the morning. Other than the nickname of “Pearl of the Orient”, Hong Kong is also known as “Shoppers’ Paradise” because the shops stay open until late, with the purpose of entertaining the residents and tourists alike. When you have finished a movie at 1am, you can still make your way to a nice eatery where you can stuff your belly to recharge for the next day. Hong Kong is truly a city that never gets dark or comes to a stop.

Hong Kong

Light is an important part in celebrations in Hong Kong. Occasions or festivals like Chinese New Year, Hong Kong Establishment Day and Chinese National Day are times to celebrate with fireworks. Breathtaking fireworks glow over the Harbour with crowds of people lining the harbour on both sides to witness the spectacular display.

I read that recently, Hong Kong has shifted from neon lights to LED for cost effectiveness, safety and other technical reasons (watch the video above for the full explanation). That’s a shame, neon lights can be handcrafted to create different shapes and unique characters. When compared with LED, neons are brighter, glow with a larger variety of colours to help sign boards stand out.

Whatever happens to the lights of Hong Kong, in my heart nothing will stop the vitality of the city I love. In my heart, Hong Kong will still always be a city of energy and intense lights, and its sparkle is eternally vibrant.

English language proficiency as a criterion in audience selection

English language proficiency as a criterion in audience selection

Audience size and English language proficiency are often the two most critical selection criteria for multicultural marketing campaigns. IDENTITY Communications, the intelligent multicultural marketing agency agrees, and disagrees. Here’s why…

The audience selection for multicultural campaigns can be a little formulaic. Pick the largest language population for a particular demographic (age, gender etc), then consider their English proficiency as a way of further ranking them. For example, if the campaign targets all people 18yo+ then multicultural marketers might pick the largest 20 language groups in Australia, then they’d rank them by the proportion with low English language proficiency (those who claimed to speak English “poorly” or “not at all” when they answered the 2016 Census).

Use the table below to rank/sort languages by the respective columns – currently it’s ranked by groups with the lowest ratio of English proficiency.  On top that is Marra, an Australian Aboriginal language spoken in the Northern Territory around the Roper, Towns and Limmen Bight Rivers. Of eight people who speak Marra at home, 75% claimed to have low English language proficiency. Rounding out the top 3 are Zomi and Rohingya, mainly spoken by migrants from Myanmar.

LanguageTotal% Low Eng
Zomi 1,105 60%
Rohingya 2,245 56%
Chin Haka 4,806 52%
Karen 10,271 51%
Hazaraghi 22,270 37%
Mongolian 2,144 34%
Khmer 35,428 33%
Korean 108,999 32%
Hmong 2,451 31%
Vietnamese 277,405 31%
Murrinh Patha 1,971 31%
Wu 3,383 31%
Chaldean Neo-Aramaic 17,170 31%
Tibetan 1,474 30%
Dari 30,437 28%
Uygur 1,023 27%
Lao 9,981 26%
Mandarin 596,713 26%
Burmese 16,320 26%
Cantonese 280,947 25%
Hakka 8,986 25%
Kirundi (Rundi) 3,098 25%
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic 28,349 23%
Auslan 10,114 23%
Pashto 9,232 23%
Kurdish 6,202 22%
Kinyarwanda (Rwanda)87921%
Thai 55,446 21%
Ngaanyatjarra 1,113 20%
Tigrinya 4,578 19%
Oromo 3,045 19%
Loma (Lorma)7419%
Min Nan 17,907 18%
Turkish 58,354 18%
Persian (excluding Dari) 58,315 18%
Somali 14,176 18%
Dinka 12,700 17%
Djambarrpuyngu 4,286 17%
Moro (Nuba Moro)19417%
Bosnian 15,830 17%
Serbian 53,802 17%
Arabic 321,723 16%
Albanian 9,177 16%
Pitjantjatjara 3,127 16%
Macedonian 66,020 16%
Greek 237,586 16%
Japanese 55,969 15%
Russian 50,318 15%
Nuer 2,154 14%
Tetum 1,105 14%
Warlpiri 2,305 14%
Alyawarr 1,548 14%
Serbo-Croatian/Yugoslavian, so described 6,066 13%
Cypriot, so described24713%
Ndjebbana (Gunavidji)17813%
Italian 271,598 13%
Croatian 56,888 13%
Yumplatok (Torres Strait Creole) 6,172 13%
Portuguese 48,853 13%
Mandaean (Mandaic)16312%
Acholi 1,091 12%
Swahili 11,465 12%
American Languages11812%
Amharic 6,811 12%
Aromunian (Macedo-Romanian)4511%
Spanish 140,818 11%
Dan (Gio-Dan)22011%
Armenian 10,193 11%
Nepali 62,004 11%
Polish 48,080 11%
Kunwinjku 1,711 10%
Ukrainian 7,680 10%
Punjabi 132,490 10%
Kriol 7,153 10%
Finnish 5,967 10%
Kalaw Kawaw Ya/Kalaw Lagaw Ya95610%
Western Arrarnta43910%
Romanian 12,951 10%
Hungarian 19,895 9%
Gujarati 52,889 9%
Eastern Arrernte3899%
Tamil 73,162 9%
Tongan 17,694 9%
Indonesian 67,894 9%
Urdu 69,300 9%
Czechoslovakian, so described1639%
Sindhi 1,593 8%
Liberian (Liberian English)2498%
Samoan 44,869 8%
Malayalam 53,206 8%
Meriam Mir2198%
Bulgarian 2,680 8%
Bengali 54,565 8%
Slovak 5,435 7%
Telugu 34,433 7%
Maltese 31,987 7%
Malay 17,942 7%
Yiddish 1,499 7%
Krio 2,529 6%
Anindilyakwa 1,485 6%
Slovene 4,088 6%
Czech 7,931 6%
Martu Wangka7276%
Maori (Cook Island) 5,109 6%
Estonian 1,848 5%
Mauritian Creole 4,200 5%
Sinhalese 64,606 5%
Kannada 9,706 5%
Marathi 13,056 5%
Lithuanian 2,003 5%
Hindi 159,653 5%
Bisaya 4,063 5%
Tiwi 2,043 5%
Akan 3,094 4%
Konkani 2,416 4%
French 70,872 4%
Wik Mungkan4464%
Cebuano 2,821 4%
Seychelles Creole5224%
Igbo 2,033 4%
Tok Pisin (Neomelanesian) 3,743 4%
Latvian 2,951 4%
Hebrew 10,343 4%
Fijian Hindustani 2,708 4%
Fijian 8,143 3%
Swedish 8,955 3%
Nyanja (Chichewa)4193%
Tagalog/Filipino 182,498 3%
Norwegian 2,902 3%
Guugu Yimidhirr7733%
Aboriginal English, so described6543%
Ilonggo (Hiligaynon)6973%
German 79,357 3%
Gaelic (Scotland) 1,007 3%
Maori (New Zealand) 11,751 3%
Kuku Yalanji3242%
Motu (HiriMotu)6912%
Dutch 33,836 2%
Danish 5,780 2%
Irish 1,946 2%
Swiss, so described7092%
Kuuk Thayorre2062%
Norf'k-Pitcairn 1,033 2%
Shona 11,040 2%
Afrikaans 43,748 2%
Ndebele 1,366 1%
Yoruba 2,462 1%
Welsh 1,689 1%
Solomon Islands Pijin2941%
Yorta Yorta600%
Malak Malak100%
Gurindji Kriol30%
Eastern Anmatyerr30%

When English proficiency is used, language groups such as Hindi, Punjabi and Tagalog/Filipino are often excluded. This makes sense for mass awareness campaigns because these groups are able to access information via ‘mainstream’ comms. In Australia, cultural media are relatively limited compared to mainstream options, so these groups are more likely to be exposed to campaign messaging via mainstream channels.

But what if we wanted to go beyond driving awareness? What if we wanted to drive consideration and action?

Even  groups with very high English language proficiency, advertising in-language, in either ethnic media or mainstream media, has a positive effect in terms of awareness, trust and likelihood to buy, according to a new US study by the Cultural Marketing Council (CMC). Their report, Digital Lives 2018: A World of Digital “Everything” Through a Cultural Lense found “ads placed on platforms with cultural content have more power across ages and languages… Spanish-language ads – even in mainstream sites – create more engagement with Hispanics. The CMC conducted an online quantitative study of 3,500 total 13 to 49-year-old respondents with equal representation of non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic African-Americans (NHAA) and Hispanics (HISP), as well as in-home qualitative among 15 respondents.

Culture Marketing Council 2018 Digital Lives Whitepaper

As can be seen in the image above, placing Spanish-language advertising on sites with content for the Hispanic community will lead to this audience paying more attention to the product, trust that brand more and ultimately more likely to buy that product. The results were similar regardless of whether the language on that site was in Spanish or English. Similarly, placing advertising on a site with African-Americans content, although the site is in English, dramatically increases the likelihood of purchase.

What does this all means? Well, if it’s a simple information campaign which doesn’t involve consideration and behaviour change, and you’re spending a decent budget on ‘mainstream’ channels, then translated advertising placed in cultural media may not be essential for groups with high English language proficiency such as those born in India and the Philippines.

But… if you are a car brand who want to stand out in a competitive market, it makes a lot of sense (and dollars) to use cultural media to build awareness, trust and consideration for your brand.

And that’s why our media planners used Indian media for the Sonata campaign for client, Hyundai.

Agree or disagree? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.

Have questions? Send us an email, we’d love to hear from you. 

A Corporate Cultural And Food Experience

A Corporate Cultural And Food Experience

You can rack up big bucks on corporate entertainment, or stand out from the crowd and give them an rich and interesting cultural experience. IDENTITY Communications, the intelligent multicultural marketing agency has a suggestion…

Last year a PwC report found report found that 82.7% of people who work in media and entertainment are monolingual and speak only English at home. Most live in Sydney and are clustered round the Inner West and Eastern Suburbs with the top 10 suburbs shown below:

  • North Bondi
  • Newtown/Camperdown/Darlington
  • Leichhardt/Annandale
  • Surry Hills
  • Potts Point
  • Bondi/Tamarama/Bronte
  • Coogee/Clovelly
  • Paddington
  • Randwick
  • Redfern/Chippendale

This is dramatically different from the demographic make up of Sydney, where one in three speaks a language other than English at home (2011 Census, ABS). According to ThinkTV research released this month, “media and advertising types are living in a bubble called AdLand“.

Cabramatta main street

John street, Cabramatta

Last year, a media agency contacted IDENTITY Communications to run a food tour for their team of 20 people. The team has done just about everything; fine dining with lots of booze and other typical corporate bonding activities. Encouragingly, the group director really wanted his team to experience cultures and geographies outside of the inner city, eastern suburbs bubble. We jumped at the chance. The half day adventure was a roaring culinary and cultural success which is still talked about today.

While the cultural diversity of clients is probably more balanced than AdLand, a food tour of Sydney’s diverse suburbs can also be an eye-opener, and help clients and agencies understand their customers. It makes an imaginative and interesting change from the usual fine dining and boozing.

Merryland Taste Food Tours

As I discovered recently during a Merrylands experience run by Taste Food Tours, a three hour cultural and food tour costs less than a typical three course fine dining experience. Not only do you feel richer for the experience, the walking and talking burned more calories than sitting on plush chairs being looked after by uber cool waiters.

Merrylands was part of the Holroyd Council before it merged recently with Auburn to become Cumberland Council. Just over half of the residents of Holroyd Council spoke a language other than English according to the 2011 Census. The area is home to a sizeable number of migrants from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, China and India. This Taste Food tour was called From Afghanistan to Persia, an evening experience coinciding with Ramadan.

Afghan mantu Merrylands

Afghan Mantu, Bahar Restaurant, Merrylands

Seven stops, seven different food experiences and an opportunity to talk with the hard working, humble owners of these amazing eateries. If you have a sweet tooth, check out Asal Sweet for their Persian cakes and pastries or Shiraz for the alluringly named dessert, rice in rose water and saffron ice cream. Love dumplings? Mantu (above) is a must-try; the skin is thick and firm, inside it’s a mixture of lamb mince, onion and spices. They’re served with a sauce made of yellow split peas, tomato, onion, garlic. Yogurt is also poured over the top. If you love your meat, Kebab Hojat is your stop – the charcoal grill will make your mouth water (below).

Kebab Hojak Merrylands

Kebab Hojat, Merrylands

Photos and videos used are courtesy of noodlies, Sydney food blog. You can read more about Taste’s Afghanistan to Persia food tour at noodlies.

If you’re looking for a different and interesting experience than the usual, pricey fine diner – a cultural food tour might tick all the boxes.

UPDATE: I did Taste Food Tour’s Ramadan Night Markets in Lakemba last night. It was amazing, check out the video below.

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Credit: This amazing Merrylands experience was thanks to Taste Food Tours (they do heaps of tours all over Sydney).

Sydney’s Best Pho

Sydney’s Best Pho

We work hard and smart at IDENTITY multicultural marketing agency, but there’s always time for food! IDENTITY’s Thang Ngo writes about the best pho in Sydney for Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food.

Sydney loves a food trend. We adore tucking into the must-eat dish, snack or ingredient of the moment. But there are some food addictions that span years, even decades, that never find themselves at the bottom of the thumbs-down list. They are part of the dining pulse of this town. One of these addictions is pho.


Pho is up there with the great noodle soups of the world, says Merivale chef Dan Hong. “The spices within the clean and clear broth have almost healing properties, and it makes you feel great when eating it.”

Hong says pho can be slurped any time. One of his earliest memories was of his mother, Angie Hong, making “a large batch, and we would eat it for breakfast or dinner for at least the next two days until it was gone”. He adds: “It’s also the perfect hangover cure.”

The complex broth is derived from boiling beef bones for hours. The meat topping is almost always beef – pho tai (uncooked thin slices of beef), pho nam (cooked beef), pho bo vien (beef balls).

There are other varieties. Pho ga (chicken) is tolerated, but purists will grimace at pho do bien (seafood) and pho chay (vegetarian).

With so many ingredients and regional differences, each chef has their own, closely guarded recipe. Sweet, star anise-perfumed, fish sauce-rich, ginger-spiced – each bowl is as distinct as the hands that create it.

Pho has a somewhat murky history, though most agree it originated in the north of Vietnam in the 1880s during the French colonisation. The Chinese living in the north contributed the rice noodle component of the soup, while the French introduced beef, a previously extravagant meat, to this street food bowl.

Chef Luke Nguyen had his first pho at about four years of age; his parents used it to teach him how to use chopsticks. Researching for his latest TV series, Luke Nguyen’s France, he concluded that pho actually has it origins in France. According to Nguyen, pho bears similarities to the French classic pot-au-feu in name and cooking method. “The essential cooking technique of both dishes is the same – to extract all the natural sweet flavours of the beef bones, meat and vegetables to get a very clean, aromatic, tasty broth.”

Sydney's Best Pho

In 1954, when Vietnam was split into communist north and democratic south, those who migrated south to avoid communism helped spread the love of pho. Pho bac (northern pho) reflects the austere, considered character of that region, while pho nam (southern pho) embodies the brashness of the easy-going south.

“Northern pho tends towards subtle, light, mild, clean flavours; the south tends towards a sweeter yet sharper flavour from exotic fresh herbs, aromatic spices with Indian, Cambodian and Thai influences,” Nguyen says.

With the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, pho spread, thanks to Vietnamese refugees, to the West, where the pho flavour evolved further. Many claim pho in Australia is tastier thanks to better-quality beef that gives the broth a bigger, richer punch.

Whether north, south or Aussie, watch out ramen, laksa and handmade noodles – pho is coming for you.

Sydney’s best pho

Pho Tau Bay
12/117 John Street, Cabramatta, 9726 4583

Critics and connoisseurs consistently name this tiny noodle house as one of Sydney’s best. Cabramatta’s first pho restaurant began in 1980 as a Sunday pop-up in Thi Nhu Pham’s garage. With an infant son, it was the only way to make money to support her husband and the rest of her children back in Vietnam. Within two years she saved enough capital to open Pho Tau Bay at the current location. Pham’s recipe is a well-guarded secret; no one knows how she gets that amazing depth of flavour or how she balances sweet, saltiness and Asian spices so perfectly.

Pho An
29 Greenfield Parade, Bankstown, 9796 7826

Dan Hong’s favourite pho, this institution attracts punters from all over Sydney. Enter this vast, double-fronted restaurant and you’ll be greeted by the aroma of basil leaves and the sound of happy, slurping diners.

Pho An is renowned for its seductive, aromatic broth with star anise, clove and Chinese cardamom that many have unsuccessfully tried to emulate.

308 Illawarra Road, Marrickville, 9559 5078

Previously Pho Bac Hai Duong, but shortened to PHD after a bold makeover. Hien Le is front of house, while wife Lanh Nguyen cooks up a storm in the kitchen. The owners come from Hue, so while they serve pho nam (southern-style), it has a central Vietnam twist. This is one of the sweetest pho in Sydney, with generous use of beef and chicken bones, onions, ginger and fried garlic. It’s finished with cracked pepper – another marked difference.

Bo 7 Mon Thanh Tam
Level 3, Market City, 8-9 Hay Street, Haymarket, 8252 7815

Don’t be fooled by its location; one of the best pho stops in Sydney’s CBD is in a food court. For two decades, owner Phuoc Hoang has run restaurants all over Sydney, including Darlinghurst, Bankstown and Canley Heights. These days he’s in a food court to escape the punishing restaurant hours. It’s a punchy umami-rich broth that makes the nearby competitors taste watered-down. At $9 a bowl, the food court price is a sweet bonus.

Cafe Buon Cibo
33 Herbert Street, St Leonards (no phone)

A sweeping generalisation, but the further away from the Vietnamese hubs of Cabramatta, Bankstown and Marrickville, the harder it is to find decent pho. This cafe-cum-pho eatery on the ground floor of an office block in St Leonards is a redolent exception. The owners, Allan Thai and his mother, cook the broth overnight in their home in Cabramatta and drive the 70-litre pho pot to the north shore each weekday.

Each bowl is served with pride, piping-hot, including all the condiments you’d expect from a Cabramatta restaurant.

Pho Huong Xua
Shop 4, 219 Canley Vale Road, Canley Heights, 8764 4117

One of a few places in Sydney for subtle, elegant pho bac (northern-style). While the broth is clean, the beef is lightly stir-fried with fish sauce and garlic.

They’re also renowned for Australia’s biggest pho bowl, which weighs in at 1.5 kilograms, with equal parts of noodles, beef and soup. At $17 it’s also the best-value bowl in town (but eat it all in 11 minutes and it’s free!).

Great Aunty Three
115 Enmore Road, Enmore, 9519 2886

Just off King Street, look for the red Vespa, bright plastic stools and long queues. This is hipster pho with a solid pedigree – the recipe is passed on from owner Michael Le’s maternal grandmother. It’s a fragrant bowl, thanks to basil and star anise. While you’re there, go the whole hog and order a gourmet banh mi, fresh roll and a glass of Vietnamese drip coffee.

Hai Au
48 Canley Vale Road, Canley Vale, 9724 9156

This place is one of the most popular restaurants for the local Vietnamese community, renowned for in-your-face, authentic home-style Viet.

And if chicken is your thing, then pho ga at Hai Au is the best in town. It is a complex broth, umami-rich and highly spiced with basil, chopped coriander, spring onion and fried garlic, though it is the sliced Spanish onions that give the bowl a distinctive sweetness.

Duy Linh (now closed)
Shop 10, 117 John Street (Enter via Hill Street), Cabramatta, 9727 9800

Vegans rejoice – here’s is a pho for you. It’s a sweet broth with a surprisingly firm punch. Mercifully, there’s no mock-beef, though two types of mushrooms add earthy heartiness. Basil, coriander and ginger help to evoke the pho feel.

Pho Pasteur
295 Chapel Road, Bankstown, 9790 2900; 709 George Street, Sydney, 9212 5622; 137 Church Street, Parramatta, 9635 0782; Westpoint Shopping Centre, Patrick Street, Blacktown, 9676 1333.

Pasteur was the first to take pho outside the Vietnamese hubs, spreading the love to Haymarket, Parramatta and Blacktown. It’s an accessible broth, hedging its bet – neither too sweet nor too salty.

How to eat Pho

A steaming bowl of pho at your table is just the start – what you add to it will really make the experience. After all, no two bowls are alike.

Dunk: Pho tai (raw beef) arrives with thinly sliced red beef on top of your bowl. Grab your chopsticks and immediately submerge into the piping-hot broth to cook. This applies to pho nam (cooked beef) or other meats such as pho ga (chicken), to bring your meat to the same temperature as your pho bowl.

Sides: That plate of side mints can really help to lift your bowl.

Fresh is best: You may be offered lightly blanched bean sprouts. This practice originates from Vietnam. In Australia, pick fresh sprouts for a crispier, more lively texture. You get a lot of sprouts on the plate, but one handful is usually enough – too much will prematurely cool the broth.

Rip it: Asian basil is another standard side (flee out of there if it’s not). You should get a few stems. Only use the leaves; discard the wiry stems. Tear the basil leaves in two before dropping into your bowl to release the flavour into the broth. This one tip can make a world of difference.

Zest: Lemon should be squeezed to taste – usually no more than one slice per bowl.

Condiments: That cluster of inscrutable condiments taking up valuable room on your table should be loved, not loathed:

F is good: Sometimes sauces are transferred to generic glass containers, but there’s a simple guide. Usually, there are two containers with dark, runny sauces; the one marked with a handwritten “F” is fish sauce (add half a tablespoon for extra saltiness), the one marked with “S” is soy (to be used for other dishes – avoid if you’re having pho).

Squeeze it: The black paste in the squeeze container is hoisin. Some add it to their bowl instead of fish sauce, but most squeeze onto one side of a small side dish to dip your meat in. The red squeeze container is chilli sauce, to be added to the other half of the dipping dish for a yin-yang look.

Spice it up: Finally, if your side dish doesn’t come with chilli, look for a small aluminium sugar container – it usually contains freshly sliced chilli. Three slices should warm you up, six if you’re brave.

Free tea: Unlike some Chinatown restaurants, bottomless tea is free. The waiter usually brings enough tea cups for your table. Help yourself to hot oolong from the large thermos on your table.

Sydney’s Best Pho by Thang Ngo was originally published as a cover story for Good Food, photo courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food. Photo credit Edwina Pickles.

Why We Might Be Eating Dumplings For Australia Day In The Future

Why We Might Be Eating Dumplings For Australia Day In The Future

This year’s Australia Day lamb ad from the folks at Meat and Livestock Australia pushed up a lot of people’s blood pressure.

Some were indignant that it tells us to eat lamb on Australia Day, without mentioning the words “Australia Day”, while others objected to the comparison between newly arrived boat people and the First Fleet settlers who killed many Aboriginal Australians.

First Australians have never welcomed Australia Day on January 26, and the vegans probably don’t like the cheeky dig. Though, I reckon it’s safe to say the Indians, Serbians and gays are ok with it.

Personally, I love it, especially the Haddaway ‘What Is Love’ backing track. But I don’t want to go there, today.

I love food as much (and probably more, judging by the scales) than the next person. The national debate sparked by the lamb floggers has got me thinking: what is Australian food? Do we have a national dish?

For those from India, there’s no shortage of distinctive food from their culture. I’m addicted to dosa at the moment.

Chinese – where do we begin? I’d begin and end with dumplings.

Japanese ramen; Yorkshire pudding comes to mind for the English; and the mere mention of Vietnamese pho and pork rolls instantly make me salivate.

Veteran food critic and author, John Newton, says Vegemite comes closest – and in incredible timing, it’s back in Australian hands after Bega bought it from the Americans.

For him it’s not “the Pavlova, whose provenance is hotly contested… not Peach Melba which, although named after an Australian, is not Australian. None of these justly celebrated desserts/cakes – with the possible exception of the lamington – came from Australian domestic kitchens. And none are associated with one place.”

Other favourites such as damper, lamb, steak and eggs, and pies aren’t uniquely Australian, he laments.

Newton says, just maybe, the Adelaide pie floater – “meat pie island in a pea soup sea” – qualifies. While people have served peas with pies, the “floater” is an original idea fresh from pie carts in Adelaide.

Food and drink are key ingredients of any celebration. So on Australia Day, what should we eat?

And this year, Lunar New Year is just two days after Australia Day. The Year of the Rooster falls on Saturday, January 28. With around one million Australians from Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean backgrounds, and the New Year falling on the weekend, the shindig will be huge.

But there’s no confusion when it comes to what food will be on the party table. If you want good luck, eat these lucky Lunar New Year dishes:

  • Spring rolls and dumplings: is all about wealth. In addition to being delicious, their shapes resemble ancient Chinese gold ingots.
  • Fish: for prosperity. As it sounds like “abundance” in Chinese, eat whole fish for wealth all year round.
  • Noodles: if you want long life, choose dishes with long strands of noodles. Cut them and you risk cutting short your life!
  • Tangerines and oranges: believed to bring wealth. In Chinese tangerine sounds like “luck”, while orange sounds like “gold”.
  • Mut (candied fruit): according to the Vietnamese, sweetness brings a sweet life and candied seeds such as lotus bring family happiness through having more children.
  • Watermelon: Vietnamese believe good luck comes to the household if a watermelon is cut during New Year. The inside is red and the darker the red, the greater the prosperity.
  • Lettuce: sounds like “growing wealth” in Chinese. That’s why lettuce is always ripped and thrown to the crowd at the conclusion of lion dances.
  • Whole chicken: including head and feet is symbolic of family reunion, togetherness and happiness. Make sure the chicken is as “whole” as possible, including head and feet.

Don’t ask me if I’ll be celebrating Australia Day or Lunar New Year this year. Why the either, or? I’ll be feasting on both.

In 2028, Lunar New Year falls on January 26. If we haven’t sorted out a national dish by then, it might be dumplings and noodles all round, mate!

Thang Ngo served as a local councillor in Fairfield for nine years (1999-2008). He is managing director of IDENTITY Communications, a multicultural marketing agency that is part of the global IPG Mediabrands network. He also publishes the noodlies food, travel and lifestyle blog.

Originally published by SBS, header image courtesy of SBS.