JEFF CORBETT: Why monocultural China was boring

​The past fortnight was not a good time to send me a spiel arguing that migration is not good for and that multiculturalism is a failure, although I doubt that any time is a good time. You see, I remember the days when was not multicultural, when British culture was so dominant it was effectively the only culture, and if I didn’t realise then that this was boring I do now.
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My generation was hungry for diversity and we embraced it, while those of the generation after mine, my children, were born into it. Walk through an inner city at lunch time to see this in action.

As I explained to my emailer, my wife and I at that time were in Sydney enjoying the rewards of multiculturalism, a fortnight house-sitting for friends in an Asian suburb. Does the fact that I can label a suburb Asian, and that a few of Sydney’s suburbs will spring to your mind, mean that migrants have not assimilated? Do we expect and want them to assimilate?

The result of the complete assimilation preached by opponents of multicultural policy would be a return to the single-culture , and while the n-born children of migrants from many countries become indistinguishable in all bar appearance and name I think that the culture introduced by their parents becomes part of our n fabric.

The most visible part of that culture is food, and few cities offer a better variety than Sydney. My wife and I ate each day at restaurants that used to be described as ethnic, usually for lunch, and in our fortnight doing so we did not see that staple of boring food, the hot chip, once.

The restaurants we seek out are those that are eating places for people of that ethnicity, part of those people’s every day rather than a special occasion, and with such a discerning market the restaurants are very good and very cheap. No mod Oz with its silly drizzles and dots for us, thank you.

Our first meal on this Sydney trip was Korean at Eastwood, on the Korean side of the railway line, a pot bubbling over a butane stove of what was described as spicy pork chop with vegetable and which is better described as pork with cabbage and lots of chilli. If the cabbage was not the fully fermented kimchi it was not far off. Cabbage overload, and for my wife chilli overload.

Later on the other side of the Eastwood railway line, the Chinese and Vietnamese side, we had the famous Vietnamese soup, pho and pronounced as fur spoken abruptly, and I’m not sure the word soup captures this dish of meat, vegetables and noodles in a broth.At Auburn we had the traditional Turkish dish of a variety of meats on skewers cooked over charcoal, with garlicky tahini, chilli, pickled cabbage and flat bread, and a few days later we had the Chinese version, the Chinese barbecue of red roast duck, soy chicken, red BBQ pork and crispy skin pork you may have seen hanging in the steamy windows of generally small eateries in Sydney.

In the mix was the Japanese noodle soup, ramen, at Ashfield; an extraordinary Beijing-style lamb with a spice we’d normally associate with India, cumin;and at Campsie slightly sweet and very piquant Malaysian dishes. At Croydon there was pizza at an Italian restaurant, and one of the reasons it was not a patch on our own was that the base was rolled in a machine. On our last night we made up for that disappointment with exceptional pizza at Balmain in a very Italian pizzeria that proved its dough for 72 hours.

At Harris Park we ate vegetable curries in the style of southern and northern India, and at Punchbowl we were in the Middle East with falafel, kibbeh and tabouli.

Yum cha, which is the Chinese term for tea and small snacks called dim sum, was a highlight, first at Cabramatta then at Chatswood. Yum cha in a busy Asian restaurant, and if it’s not busy it’s not good yum cha, is well worth the drive or train journey to both those suburbs.

Interestingly, while Cabramatta’s frenetic shopping area feels, sounds, smells and looks like it’s been transplanted from Vietnam, our migrants from Vietnam are surprisingly quick to mix into the n way of life, and their children can seem more n than the children of families that have been here for many generations. This suggests that the food and market culture of migrants from different countries will survive for more than one or two generations.

The food of my childhood didn’t survive a single generation when migrants arrived in number after World War II. It was meat and three veg, more specifically steak, chops, snags or mince fried or grilled and accompanied by three of cabbage, green beans, carrots, peas, potato or cauliflower boiled for so long they’d disintegrate on a fork.That was daily.

I told you that pre-multicultural was boring.

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