There are farmers markets and there are farmers markets. The first kind is where you meet people with dirt under their nails. If you scratch the surface about the produce they can talk for hours on end with knowledge and insight; maybe telling you about why this variety has come on this year and this one hasn’t; informing you about the best way to look after it before you cook it (which really should be tonight). This is genuine farm to table. The second kind of farmers market is where there are people who have already prepared food – the kind where there are ten different types of olive oil at a stand; the ones with dips that range from a simple hummus to a pumpkin, feta, spinach number that contains more ingredients than you thought possible; the ones with all kinds of smoked meats ready for you to eat right then and there where they have samples pre-prepared waiting for you to snaffle as you walk past. These two types are, of course, ideal types of farmers market, for there is no pure one that is just like this. All farmers markets tend to have a mix of produce and finished product, of raw ingredients and ready-to-eat dishes, being greater than the sum of their parts. 

We have a very good one in Margaret River where we stop in for a sausage sizzle as soon as we arrive, putting our $3.50 towards a local charity be that Margaret River Karate or the local theatre company or the Lions Club. Then we do the rounds, picking up local meat, the best potatoes going, kale if we have raided the veggie patch a little too much since last week. This time though, we were up in Perth, seeing family and getting ready for the school semester. That meant we caught up with cousins at Subiaco Farmers Market. They live around the corner and not too far from us, and we joined them on a cloudy Saturday morning, the drizzle falling, making the dogs damp if not wet. There were dogs everywhere from puppies that looked like teddy bears to pugs impersonating wombats with their snuffling to border collies patiently waiting for treats. Some of the dogs, like some of the people, listened to the jazz band jangle their way through harder standards, not the easy muzak you used to get in elevators, but bebop and freeform like they were listening to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane at home, not only Louis Armstrong. Everyone got a coffee and we wandered round. As is our want, K and I got bratwurst, and the cousins got corn fritters with haloumi on top. 

We bought fresh pasta, and apples to make a pie with, walking past bakers with their cakes, tapas stands telling us to take some home, and butchers who had racks and racks of dry aged steaks behind them in refrigerated cases that looked like museum displays. And on we wandered, stopping to pick up a plant and watching the 30 members of SUFFA (Subiaco Ukulele Free for All) sing out Vance Joy’s ‘Riptide’. They were infectious, enthusiastic, joyous, making the sun with their voices while the drizzle continued to fall. And the dogs stood there and watched, nonchalant as they had been with the jazz, nonchalant as though the farmers market was no big deal at all.


When I was a child growing up, we used to visit Miss Maud’s at Floreat Forum. I would always order a ‘Tiny Tots And Not So Tiny’. From memory, it was a ham sandwich cut into triangles with world flags planted in it, potato crisps, fairy bread, a drink, and a small toy (say, a parachuting man or something like that). It was a treat for us, and, in my memory, Miss Maud was a special institution in a suburb nearby. I’ve always had fond memories of it. I still do.

Recently, K and I were walking past Miss Maud’s in Perth City. This is their flagship restaurant in the Murray Street location. It looks like some sort of Alpine Family Robinson getaway with soft lighting and maroon carpets out of place in some later century with its faux lead-light of Vikings and wooden outside. We passed it and K was intrigued. I went on to explain the historical importance of the chain and to express my nostalgia as well. We pledged to come back, if only because Perth is short of local institutions.

It took us a month or so before we got round to going to Miss Maud. We had brought it up with friends over lunch and they said they wanted to go too. One of them was from Perth, and, like me, had long and fond memories of the restaurant. His partner was from overseas, and had lived here for five years and always wanted to go. Miss Maud had caught her eye just like it had with K. It was unique and attractive in some idiosyncratic way. These friends were about to head off to New York to live for the next few years. Of course, they would be back every now and then, but Miss Maud seemed like the kind of place you could go for a celebratory last meal. It would be a place to say farewell, a place to remember Perth by as well. It was closing down too, so it seemed like a fitting tribute to make to this place.

It was Friday evening when we went, and, as always, the Swedish smorgasbord buffet was laid out before us. I was in trouble just by looking at it. I had been sick the day before with stomach pains and a feeling of flatness. The only thing I ate was a chicken and veggie noodle soup with plenty of ginger. In fact, it had been a shithouse week and I had been copping it for some bad writing. I deserved most of what came up, but some of the criticism went a little too far. But, thank god it was Friday and thank god I was at Miss Maud. I had a few items I didn’t think I could stomach but, there was a  (somewhat shitty) cornucopia on offer and I was up for it all.

Let’s begin where the food begins – I wanted the seafood and the cold cuts and the roasts and the cheese and the cakes and the drinks and the whole buffet in my mouth, all at once. I wanted it now, but from experience I knew that I had to pace myself. It would be better to be here for a long time, to go at it slow and steady, with some sort of method, rather than just piling it all on. I wondered if I should have a sample of everything there and then just focus in on what was best. That is my usual buffet tactic, but then you often had a bite of something that you knew was always going to be terrible. This all looked terrible, in the best possible way.

Here, I am reminded of a story my old supervisor used to tell when I was studying at the University of Pennsylvania. She was researching the CIA’s activities during the Second World War and how they had employed librarians to be spies who took a lot of archives from Europe when it looked like it was all going to burn overnight. She told me that the Americans were indiscriminate in what they took – sending back shipping containers full of documents that the Library of Congress is still going through to this very day. The British on the other hand only took what they thought was the best. They were selective in what they were going to save. We could assume there is something important about national character in this, a quantity and quality argument about the way to approach what is on offer. Australia often thinks of itself as a combination of America and Britain, and though I do not subscribe to that view, I do think there is something in approaching a buffet that learns from the two.

In remembering that now, I thought, right here, before me, I had better approach all that food with caution. It was not that I wanted the most of what was best, as though maximum quantity of top-most quality would make the best eating experience. It goes without saying that I did not want the opposite – minimal quantity with terrible quality, which might not have even been possible. Rather, it is that you learn what is a good amount to eat and what tastes good to you once you have to make your way through the archive, world, buffet as it is laid out before you. You simply make do with the possibility depending on where your nose leads and what your friends are interested in. And so I had to choose. Would it be prawns or oysters? Would it be ham or salami? Would it be Princess Cake or Black Forrest? Or would it be all of that?

I ate two oysters, three prawns, three slices of ham, two slices of salami, some pasta salad, some potato salad, four roast potatoes, two roast carrots, a spoonful of cauliflower cheese, two slices of roast lamb, two slices of beef brisket, a slice of Black Forest Cake, a slice of Princess Cake, a cup of Irish Breakfast tea, and a piece of garlic bread, in that order. It was all bad quality and very overpriced. The live keyboard player was having a go at it and the wait-staff were friendly. But, we could sense the reason why the place was closing down. Capitalism had won this round. 

The Princess Cake was the consolation prize. I remember it as being delicious and it still is. I was eating the past more than anything else. It was a moment where you thank the gods above and the ancestors past for putting this Swedish restaurant here to help introduce us to a world of food that touches the heart. I would not change that moment, not for the world if only because our friends were there. I will remember sharing this sweetness as I say bon voyage to them on their way to New York. They must know that they can return to eat with us anywhere, for now and forever. I'll miss those guys more than Princess Cake and all the buffets in America. Let’s eat together sooner rather than later.


In his essay, ‘Moon Under Water’, George Orwell describes his perfect pub. I am not looking for the perfect pub but the most delicious meal where I live now. When I think about food, I have to think about ideas, stories, ingredients, context as well as taste (balance, uniqueness, flavour).

It is not only that food needs to be yummy, but that it also has to be compelling. That means it has to have a concept, has to have thinking behind it. We cannot theorise every meal as though Jacques Derrida was the first person to enjoy scrambled eggs. Yet some consideration and reflection should go into cooking and eating. It does not make immediate sense to assume that raclette matters in Sydney, or that ramen is best served on a 40 degrees day, unless it is chilled perhaps. 

The next part is that we can use it to tell a story. We need to have a good narrative so there is something to talk about – that might be a local yarn in the case of Paul Iskov or a tale of your family’s arrival in Australia but it could just be a retelling of how you battled the crowds to get the best bagels downtown.

From here, you need the right ingredients, which is to say ingredients that make sense in a family resemblance for your dishes. If you know you cannot get excellent uni, then work with what you can. This does not mean we forget what is unique or only forage or only go seasonal. It means that we can respect our ingredients by using them creatively. Sometimes what seems like a constraint can be liberating and from that we can make a whole new taste. Cooking with the ingredients in the pantry means that we get to invent dishes we cannot yet imagine. Sometimes that fails, but sometimes it works incredibly well.

One does not only need to deal with how the meal fits together, but to think about whether it is contextually appropriate. This is not only about pairing wine with cheese, but with the sunlight, the vista, the temperature, the weather, the climate, the people, the occasion, the frame of reference, with ecology and social relations.

And finally, we need to consider taste – what makes it yummy to us? What makes us want more now and into the future? For some people, that might mean they make it hot with chillies, others cannot let go of umami. But I do not mean specific flavours and personal preference. Instead, I mean how do these things sit in your mouth and stomach, how they feel right, what we can intuit even if we cannot quite say why.

From that, you need to balance the idea that your taste suits someone else as well. To make that happen, you need to know their allergies and how to empathise with their love of green jelly. Not everyone is a gourmand every minute of every day. We should avoid a misplaced peanut just like we should riff on someone’s favourite dish next time they come for dinner at our place.

Given that the focus of this blog has mainly been in Australia, it is worth pausing here to think of our place on this continent. With that, it might simply be enough to point out that there are arguments over identity and belonging every January 26th. I for one have been to Invasion Day Protests and to lamb barbeques in the same 24 hours. I understand that people are angry and sad, and not only Indigenous people but those who were forced to leave their homes from convict England and war torn Sudan. To say that does not flatten those differences. But, we have built a remarkable society and we need a day for everyone to embrace. We have made mistakes. And yet, we always get a chance to do what is right. We get tomorrow to make it better. We cannot change the date out of hollow symbolism or because we want to avoid talking about the past. Instead, it offers an opportunity to think about who we are and how we have come so very far.

We need a new date that celebrates something meaningful. To my mind, that day can be in support of a new social contract that leads to a new constitution, which represents a new type of body politic that could also include a universal bill of human rights and a treaty. I do not say this because I think politics has a place in the kitchen. I say this because I want to plan a new meal of celebration. Depending on when it was held would alter what I cooked. In Australia, we could do with a winter feast, a holiday in July so we could roast to our heart’s content while drinking the shiraz, stouts and whiskeys we have become so good at making.  Why not change the date to something we can all enjoy and get behind?

My perfect meal would happen down at Redgate. I would have been for a swim in the morning, read during the day, worked on some writing and settled into cooking for my family as the afternoon wore on.  On the menu could be saffron marron pie with bush tomato chutney with a salad of saltbush, marigold, spinach followed by a Kakadu plum compote and a cardamom crème Anglaise. Maybe the next year, we could have a kangaroo stew with turmeric rice and minty peas followed by a quandong trifle and lemon kulfi. And, the year after that, pulled mutton on sourdough and wattleseed bread with blue cheese, rocket and honey ants followed by gulab jamun with lemon myrtle pistachios and clotted cream. But those are only half formed ideas of something hearty, welcoming, and symbolic; something that connects me to history, place, and community. Other people will think of other, better things we can all share, together as friends, family, and strangers.

I might have got it wrong, but isn’t the point of food to be inclusive, respectful, and authentic? We can do that and move towards a better society on this continent. That is what makes something delicious. That is what makes my own ‘Moon Under Water’ where you can taste the love if not the secret. Everyone is welcome at my table, everyone can find something to eat that is tasty, everyone can sit down and speak about their day, and what they dream of doing. I do not think it is beyond us. With that, good luck with your own meals of celebration and I look forward to sharing a plate with you one day.