Court by choice

The rote ra­men gets me ev­ery time

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - LIFE - John leth­lean

Idon’t re­ally like malls. Shop­ping cen­tres. The pall of re­tail avarice. And it’s tempt­ing to ask “Who does?” But the vote is in, Aus­tralia: we love this stuff.

Once we talked about the “Amer­i­can­i­sa­tion” of our shop­ping but re­ally, it’s the Asian­i­sa­tion. The re­tail cen­tre thriv­ing in Aus­tralia th­ese days is the kind of place that dom­i­nates re­tail in Hong Kong and Sin­ga­pore. Big, shiny spa­ces where square me­tres are mea­sured in thou­sands of dol­lars’ rent and in­ter­na­tional brands rule.

Food courts, or what­ever shop­ping-cen­tre spin doc­tors call them now (din­ing precincts?), are a bit dif­fer­ent. A far cry from nut­sand-bolts cook­ery – much of it is just pre-pre­pared food as­sem­bly – they’re full of peo­ple ex­cited about eat­ing some­thing in­ter­est­ing.

And that’s a good thing. Food courts are a per­sonal guilty plea­sure.

Cast your mind back a few decades and the af­ford­able CBD meal was the Myer cafe­te­ria, all grey roast lamb with gravy and god-aw­ful pota­toes cooked in tal­low. How things have changed.

Far from the world of groovy res­tau­rants, the af­ford­able lunch is raw cap­i­tal­ism at its blood­i­est, the food court its most com­bat­ive – and po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive – arena.

You want to see the kinds of smiles only hard cash can gen­er­ate, walk into a food court and look at the guy who is sell­ing lots of food; want to see the face of some­one who put his su­per into a Mex­i­can fran­chise just as Mex­i­can was go­ing off the boil? Cut-throat com­merce. And it’s taken down more than one fa­mous chef be­fore now.

What I like about head­ing into a food court, sorry, din­ing precinct (some­thing I do reg­u­larly when vis­it­ing Sydney) is the sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion and en­thu­si­asm about eat­ing lunch. If there’s a pos­i­tive spin-off from the me­dia sat­u­ra­tion af­forded food and chefs on telly th­ese days, it’s the aware­ness that there is much to get ex­cited about come lunch time.

Get on the gi­ant es­ca­la­tor that leads from Pitt Street mall to the food court – or what­ever it’s called – at West­field around 12.30pm any week­day and you’ll see what I mean. Co-work­ers dis­cussing pho or sushi. Cou­ples who de­cided at break­fast to meet for laksa. Work­ing dads meet­ing mums with tod­dlers for a fam­ily feast of dumplings. High-school girls search­ing for that juice bar; tourists do­ing cha or frozen yo­ghurt; tradies com­par­ing burg­ers. There’s a whole cross-sec­tion of so­ci­ety in a place like this at lunch, and ev­ery­where you look, and lis­ten, peo­ple are dis­cussing food. Or think­ing about it. Me, too.

I al­ways do the tour: Greek, Le­banese, Viet­namese, Ja­panese; sushi, noo­dles, pita, pasta or falafel? And I al­ways end up queu­ing for the in­ter­na­tional Ja­panese ra­men fran­chise.

There is al­most cer­tainly bet­ter ra­men out there some­where, but this is clean, value for money, scar­ily ef­fi­cient and anony­mous. Out­ra­geously con­sis­tent. I can play with the phone with­out feel­ing guilty, and I like the soup. It’s a dol­lop of en­ergy and ex­oti­cism in the mid­dle of a work­ing day. I look for­ward to hit­ting the food court, hun­gry, with its vibe of peo­ple who want to use their hour well.

Shop­ping cen­tres, malls and all that? Yeah, they suck. Vul­gar. Anony­mous. Mostly.

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