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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Dim Sum Dilemma

Being the type of person who rather likes eating, food and anything that has ever had anything to do with a frying pan and hot oil, as well as being a fan of activities in which efficient people bring you endless plates of crispy, salty things that you equally as efficiently vault down your gob, one of my favourite pastimes is yum cha.

If you're not familiar with yum cha, it's basically the best Chinese invention since the compass. And the compass was only invented so Chinese people could find their way to the next yum cha restaurant, so that puts THAT in perspective.

Also known as dim sum, yum cha is a type of dining in which waiters push trolleys full of little baskets of food around and hassle you until you take some from them. Then they make a mark on a special piece of paper on your table - the more marks you accrue, the more likely you are to have a coronary after you leave.

You might think that the kind of event in which you are virtually force fed dumplings and beer until you burst has no down side. But you'd be wrong. There is one fatal flaw with the yum cha experience - you can't talk to anyone. (Of course, indulging in conversation does reduce the amount of dumplings you can eat rather dramatically, so it's up to you whether that's a problem or not.)

The reason you can't talk is not to do with the food, it's this:

"You want squid? Dumpling? Pork bun? You want pork bun? Hey, YOU WANT PORK BUN?"

If you've ever had to explain advanced computer programming to a parent of 13 children under three who have recently all been given a box of matches then you'll have some idea what trying to have a conversation at a yum cha restaurant is like.

The other day I went to yum cha with some friends I hadn't seen in ages for a "catch up". The conversation went something like this:

You'll never believe this but last week I got to meet FRIED BEAN CURD? And the most incredible part of the whole story was STEAMED PRAWN ROLLS? And then I worked out who murdered Mark - it was BARBECUE PORK BUNS?

After attempting a citizen's arrest on a plate of pork buns for homicide, I came up with the best idea in the history of ever - THE YUM CHA FLAG.

You want waiters to hassle you with dumplings? Flag up. You want to be left alone to eat and talk? Flag down. IT'S THAT SIMPLE, GUYS.

Now, if only someone would adopt the idea it could be the best Chinese invention since yum cha.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Cooking shows spice up reality TV

Remember about 10 years ago when we Aussies were obssessed with home renovation? Every time you turned on the telly there was some berk changing a room or blitzing a backyard (usually Jamie Durie), the entire population seemed to instinctively know the difference between a frieze and a mural and previously normal people became disconcertingly over-enthusiastic about water features.

This may have had something to do with it. Hi, Jamie.

Well clearly we all finished our home renos a while back because now it seems all we want to do is obsess about our kitchens. At least, that seems to be all we're interested in watching on television these days – people doing things in kitchens. Preferably with food. And preferably not in a creepy way.

In the last few years we've had Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, Hell's Kitchen, The Chopping Block, Come Dine with Me Australia, and everything Jamie Oliver has ever done - Jamie's School Dinners, Jamie's American Road Trip, Jamie's Fowl Dinners, Jamie's Ministry of Food, Jamie Saves Our Bacon, Jamie Picks Up A Knife, Waggles It Round A Bit And Puts It Down Again But It Still Rates Its Socks Off...

Of course there was also the grand daddy of them all, Masterchef. (There was also Celebrity Masterchef, otherwise known as the Masterchef We've All Agreed to Pretend Never Happened.) And this week saw the hotly anticipated launch of My Kitchen Rules, to be followed later this year by Junior Masterchef, otherwise known as Ch 10 Flogs A Gasping Horse (And Then Turns It into Dinner).

Clearly cooking-themed shows can do no wrong with the Australian people right now. And so, just like throwing a handful of salt on a piece of rotting beef makes it slightly more palatable, here are some ideas to spice up some other reality shows that may have gotten a bit “on the nose”.


Replace Dicko, Marcia and Jay-Dee with Matt Moran, Maggie Beer and Neil Perry, turn the stage into a giant wok and make the contestants literally sing for their supper. Losers are forced to chop onions for the winners, who get to eat a three course meal cooked by host Gabriel Gate.


Chuck 12 chefs in a house fitted out with hidden cameras and force them to make a 20 metre tall dessert in 12 weeks. Rename the show 'Big Pavlova'.


Lock a bunch of skinny models in a Westfield food court and force them to live on KFC, Wendys and Muffin Break for a month. Whoever is still able to secure a modelling contract at the end wins.


A bunch of women must vie to win the hearts of some cattle, sheep and chicken farmers by slaughtering, preparing and cooking their livestock. A croquembouche is involved at some point.


Take 12 aspiring cooks, chuck them in 12 separate trendy pubs around the country and rename the show 'The Apprentice Chef Australia'. Whoever manages to create a menu that doesn't include salt and pepper squid is the winner.


Rename the show “So You Think You Can Skin a Chook”. The rest writes itself.

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's TV Guide on February 7, 2010.