Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Down and out Downunder: #1: Happy Hour at Uno Sushiya

For a long time, I didn't eat any meat apart from seafood. This wasn't due to allergies, bizarrely specific moral considerations or the traumatic childhood memory of being attacked by a chicken drumstick- I simply wasn't a big fan of meat... Who knows, maybe I was just too lazy to chew? Anyway, whatever the motivation, I considered myself a pescetarian for about eleven years... and I'm sure my use of the word 'pescetarian' prompted more than a handful of people to consider me ridiculously pretentious for about the same length of time.

This all changed when I moved to Hong Kong for a year and found it nigh-on impossible to avoid consuming meat. I should add that this was, in no small way due to my abysmal ability to grasp the complicated, tonal Cantonese language or to learn more than a small handful of basic Chinese characters. I should also add that my eating habits were equally as incomprehensible to my overtly omnivorous Hong Kong Chinese friends: as one explained to me, it is traditionally said that " the Chinese eat everything that flies, except aeroplanes, everything with four legs, except tables, and everything that swims, except submarines".

"Is this vegetarian?" I would ask, pointing hopefully at the yummy looking concoctions facing me or pictured on the menu."Hai-ah, hai-ah" came the inevitable affirmation. "Oh, ok, cool... hang on, what's that lumpy bit there?" "That? ...That pork". Hence, I discovered that to most street vendors and in many local restaurants, all too often 'vegetarian' roughly translates as 'fare that possibly has a vegetable in it- look, there it is- there's a scrap of bok choi next to that chicken bone'.

So, my discriminating diet fell by the wayside and, to the delight of my local mates, I became a fully fledged meat-eater and haven't looked back since. Admittedly, I still find myself habitually ordering the vegetarian or seafood option, and I'm yet to experience a 'steak craving'- that overarching desire for animal flesh which seemingly turns some friends into iron deficient vampires- but I'm working on it. As my list of consumables grew, so did both my appreciation of food, my enjoyment of eating out and my willingness to try new things- the latter of which is definitely an important attribute when living in Asia...  Fertilised duck egg, anyone?
Fast forward a few years and I find myself living in Sydney, a city of  food aficionados which, according to the S. Pellegrino restaurant awards, boasts three of the best eateries on the planet and offers something to pleasure the palate and titillate the tastebuds on every street.

Frustratingly, however, having lived the life of a pampered expat in Cambodia for just shy of two years, I'm finding that my deli-dollars don't stretch nearly as far as they did in Phnom Penh. 

As with so many things in Australia, by comparison food is heart-stoppingly expensive and an average meal costs more than the weekly rent of my last Cambodian apartment. There are, naturally, also a number of other pressing financial concerns to account for- shoes and alcohol to name but two- which make it all too tempting to skip the odd meal. Of course, doing this too often isn't a good idea, as an unfortunate side effect of giving up food is starving to death, which is a bit rubbish irrespective of how fabulous the shoes you're wearing at the time are. 

I definitely do cook more often now- although as I produced an absolute maximum of ten proper meals during my entire 21 months in Cambodia, that's not a difficult feat. For some reason, however, no matter what I try to cook, it ALWAYS ends up as some variant of a stir-fry, which is both repetitive and a little embarrassing... especially when you actually promised to produce someone eggs benedict. To make things worse, it seems to me that even the supermarkets are prohibitively pricey here and set to become even more so, thanks to Australia's recent woeful weather.

As a result, I've decided to embrace my inner cheapskate and have started to take note of the options I've found for budget breakfasts, low-cost lunches and discount dinners. The first of these is a tiny hole in the wall called Uno Sushiya, a stone's throw from Wynyard station. Sushi is not only one of my favourite foods in the world (and one that I am clueless about making given the absence of stir-frying during its preparation)  but one of the few dining options that generally works out cheaper in Sydney than the Phnom Penh equivalent... and as for quality, bar a couple of notable exceptions, on the whole there's just no comparison.

Consistently staffed by a couple of super-friendly Japanese girls, I popped by and picked up something to sit and eat for lunch in Wynyard Park from Uno Sushiya's on more than one occasion when I was working in that end of the city. It's a very basic grab-and-go concession- definitely no Azuma, Toko or Tetsuya's, and to be honest, there are countless similar joints offering the standard "3 rolls for $5" spiel. However, whilst recently doing a fortnight's unpaid work experience in Neutral Bay, my bank balance reached an all time low (AUS$6.10 to be precise, or approximately 3.5 edamame beans in Yoshii's) and affording any food whatsoever was looking a little tricky. But then, as I stepped off the bus on Street and began to mentally assess the edibility of the plants in my cousin's garden, something bargainously beautiful caught my eye: "Happy Hour Roll $1"... 

...Domo arigatou gozaimasu!

The lady serving looked more than a little suspicious when I asked her if I could take a photo, but when I explained I wasn't from the city council and just wanted to write about her she smiled broadly and told me to make sure I mentioned that she serves the "freshest, tastiest and cheapest sushi rolls in Sydney"... I can't say I fully concur, but you know what? One out of three isn't bad.

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