I suppose it started to sink in at last year’s Multicultural Festival. There I was, checking out two very large metallic double handled cooking vessels, both simmering away under the covers of one particular stall. One was filled to the brim with paella, the other with pad Thai. I wondered what country this stall represented, as there were no visible flags emblazoned on the awning, and the only signwriting read ‘PEALLA and PAD THAI.’ Simple enough.
I walked to the rear of the tent, camera in hand, and asked the man who was toiling over the hot flames a simple question.
“What country is this?”
The man, sweaty and middle aged, with a furrowed brow and an air of frustration on his face, looked at me rather dismissively. “No country! Just Pad Thai.. or Paella. Which one you want?”
I decided against both, and moved on in search of German sausages, various flame grilled meats on sticks and Greek honey dipped loukoumades. It isn’t that I didn’t want to have Paella. It is just that, in this community based event, the vendor came across as so damn mercenary. In truth, I wasn’t that hungry; I just wanted to share this day with the myriad of ethnicities that make up the population of my city.
I know that this day is not just about food. There is so much more to take in, but I figured that this most basic of human activities–the sharing of food–was the perfect way to connect with my fellow Ethnics. More than that, I wanted the connection to be made in the most authentic fashion. I know that I shouldn’t begrudge a person an opportunity to make a buck, but I wanted to buy something from a community volunteer, and I wanted my dollar to perhaps go toward the buying of an elaborate national dress worn by an excited kid with a nervous smile making their stage debut.
But this year, like the year before, the more I looked around the more I saw that this festival was being crowded out by various ‘carny’ food stall types, all unashamedly mercenary in their outlook, all vying for the ‘curly-fry dollar.’ I mean, really! How many places can sell Gozleme at one event? And is there a Turkish community stall out there wishing to spread love and understanding through its wonderful cuisine, or just a bunch of private vendors in it for the cash? I don’t know. If there was a Turkish community stall that I happened to miss, I hope they weren’t selling damn Gozleme!
Which brings me to Dutch pancakes and chips-on-sticks. You could have been forgiven for thinking Canberra’s Dutch population had exploded in recent times, along with that country where they eat chips-on-sticks… A couple of Greek guys I know did a roaring trade this year selling Dutch pancakes and vodka infused slushies. A number of blow-in catering companies (or company) had every corner covered with a bunch of generic shit or other, mostly chips on sticks and snow cones or something. I’m not sure what cultural significance these stalls had, or if that should even matter. But I did wonder why nobody was selling Dagwood Dogs, and I did feel a little empty on the inside.
And it seems I wasn’t the only one. An assumedly disgruntled festival goer named Matthew Archer has launched an assumedly tongue-in-cheek change.org petition, calling for the banning of Dutch pancakes and chips-on-sticks. It has garnered the support of a whole 43 petitioners. I’m not sure that I’m ready to be number 44, but I feel his pain.
In truth, I left the festival early this year. It wasn’t that I couldn’t bare to look at one more Gozleme stall, one more pancake stall, one more chip on a fucking stick… I just had another engagement. But I didn’t feel sadness ducking out. A couple of years ago I may have, but not this time. See, I was on my way to a mate’s barbecue. He was cooking up a huge batch of Cevapi for his son’s birthday. Real ones, made according to the recipe his Serbian father had passed down to him when he was alive. And they weren’t on sticks.