Court by choice
The rote ramen gets me every time
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.