Speaking of Language – Part 5

Speaking of Language – Part 5


All this talk about language this year has left me quite hungry. Maybe it’s time to devote some thought to the talk of the table – FOOD!!

The language of food has become quite international in our humble little but large land. Historically, Australia had its multitudinous indigenous nations, and their foods would have been named in their relevant aboriginal languages. This would imply a word bank of thousands of words. Witchetty grubs would be the one meal that would spring readily to the minds of most Australians today, but further ingredients such as Akudjura spice and the Parakeela and Quandong fruits, as well as the Bunya nut, are equally delicious. In the scheme of things, however, this list is somewhat paltry in relation to what one might expect. Perhaps this says a few things about a number of factors.

The British have always had an abnormally high regard for French “cuisine”, or cooking as normal mortals might call it. French was of course the language of the courts, and courtiers and royals had generous access to that “cuisine” named earlier. Hence the importation of a vast French food vocabulary. Why, even now we talk of preparing the choux pastry for the croquembouche while the chaud-froid awaits its jus. Yummeee, I think.

Migration then broke the food-language barrier. We now know literally hundreds of dishes from other lands in their original language and we, Australians in particular, are veritable epicures with vast self-professed knowledge of the subtleties of each dish.

  • Canard is best cooked sous-vide
  • Chevreuil is delicious en brochette
  • Uitsmijter is enhanced by roggebrood

And so on.

Gone are the Chiko Roll and fried rice with peas and corn. Where is the coconut ice? Who took the packets of sultanas from all the school canteens? And the cups of hot tinned tomato soup? Right Mr. Heinz?

A huge linguistic diversity can be enchanting and enlightening. We learn as we eat. But the breadth of available tid-bits can also create a new range of class distinction, from the “fine dining” for the cashed up to the “Yobbo grub”: for someone not so flush and in a rush.

On the one hand we have “To die for” and “Cooked to Perfection”. Should a béchamel be al dente? Do we keep Sui Mai in a charcuterie? Does a hotchpotch go in the bin? Shall we infuse a quenelle?

And on the other hand, where do you find a 4n20 sausage roll in the David Jones Food Hall? When you’re hunting for some basic Keen’s Mustard, why do you find yourself struggling home with an expensive load of turmeric? And why, why can I just not get the whole umami thing when I’m indulging in a refreshing Sunnyboy?

Enough, enough. I’ve got indigestion.

I leave you simmering. All my zest has evaporated. Yakitori to the whole bizzo!

English Teacher

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