Food Safari 13: Street Food

One of the most exciting things about being in a new country is trying out the local food. There will always be cafes and restaurants and bistros, but nothing beats the thrill of bolting an exotic dish sold by a surly street vendor with a rudimentary understanding of personal hygiene.

There are few opportunities for such occasions in Yuwaalaraay country, but street food does occasionally appear, comet-like, before vanishing in a trail of dust and saturated fat. Opal Festival is one such occasion.


But there are others, and here are a few examples from around the traps. Food Safari ratings have been applied.

The Supa Sausage / Curly Spud

I remember the thrill I got at last year’s Opal Fest when I saw my first curly spud-on-a-stick. I’d already smashed my face with salty fatty goo and so, while I meant to come back and get a curly spud later on, I got distracted by a shiny milk bottle top or a balloon or something and forgot. So I’ve been kicking myself hard in the nuts for 365 days as punishment for my stupidity.

But – at last! – the kicking stopped: the curly potato lady was back in town!

Her van wasn’t with the main stalls but was tucked away near the entrance to Spider Brown Oval. I was drawn towards it by an attractive sign. I have friends who work as designers and typographers: look on and learn, boys and girls.


The supa sausage was tempting but I kept my resolve and got the curly spud. It took a while for the lady to cook it, and that’s one of the differences between fast food and street food. This was a mum-and-dad operation and so each curly spud was individually battered, dropped into a ridiculously small vat of moderately hot oil, and cooked slowly – sloooooowly – until ready. A hearty shake of chicken salt and a hose down with red sauce and it was good to go.


My dining companion went down the supa sausage route.


But I’m glad I stuck to my guns. The curly spud ticked all the street food boxes: tasty, a bit weird, potentially life-threatening, yum.

Food Safari rating: 8/10

Bruno’s Pizza

I don’t really think of pizza as street food, but Bruno’s has a mobile trailer with a genuine wood-fired pizza oven bolted on the back. They deserve points out of ten just for having a crack.


I went for the margherita, which was really just a sauce base with a massive coating of melty cheese. Again, I was ably assisted by my dining companion, to whom a supa sausage was no more than an appetiser.


It’s a bit hard to judge this one. What am I comparing it to: a regular Bruno’s pizza or a curly spud on a stick? Sure, the cheese was a bit burnt, but not enough to make me not eat it. And inside that creme brûlée top there was a molten core of stringy mozzarella (or mozzarella-type product). If I say, “It did the job” then that sounds a bit unflattering, but … well, it did the job.

Food Safari rating: 7/10.

Kebab truck

This thing appeared overnight and was quickly the talk of the town. A night of catastrophic binge drinking isn’t complete without a fistful of foil-wrapped kebaby loveliness. Manys the time I’ve wobbled away from the Orient Hotel in Cooks Hill, only to find that my trusty bicycle has taken me to the Oasis in Hamilton, as though it knows that I need a kebab. How do bicycles know that stuff?


The Ridge kebab van had a bit of a queue when I arrived. A couple of coppers had pulled up their Toyota and were making an order. The interaction did not fill me confidence. The man copper asked for tabouli, but the kebab people did not have tabouli because “Khan’s can’t get it in” or something. WTF? Don’t you just chop up a bunch of parsley and mint and throw in a few bits and pieces? The salad consisted of an iceberg lettuce, some tomato and maybe a Spanish onion. The man copper looked understandably forlorn. “I’ve just come here from Fairfield” he muttered, to no-one in particular.

I ordered mine. No felafel were available but there was meat. Well, beef. So I got beef. There was some interaction about the salad; though I didn’t realise it at the time this led to further misunderstanding. Just for the record, here is the salad bar at the Oasis kebab shop in Hamilton. I’m getting EVERYTHING, and being served by a man who is impeccably polite in spite of having to serve people like me and the shrieking drunks who fall out of the Kent Hotel at 2 in the morning.


I know that street food should be eaten on the street but I took my kebab home. When I unwrapped it I found myself frozen in a state of disbelief. The kebab had been baked in a sandwich press into a kind of flattened meat biscuit. And there was no salad at all! It was just meat and cheese!


It was absolutely crap, of course, and most of it went in the bin.

As an aside, I stopped in Walgett recently and bought a ham and cheese croissant and a coffee. Again, they put the croissant in a sandwich press. Is it a western NSW thing? I’d always thought that the point of a croissant was the lightness of the fluffy flaky pastry. But at least the Walgett croissant tasted like a croissant. Ridge kebabs? Nope. Just, nope.

Food Safari rating: 1/10

Steak Sandwich

The steak sandwich, along with the sausage sizzle, must be the pinnacle of Australian street food. And yet it is, like any classic, so easy to stuff up. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been given a piece of boot leather slopped between a couple of sheets of doughy pap, all smeared with sugary sauce.

The Men’s Shed were having a fundraising BBQ on Opal Street one morning: Grassy and (I think) Peter were hard at it, frying away on the mobile trailer they use for these things. I’d been hearing good things about the new butcher and thought what the hell, I’ll give it a go.


I’m so glad I did. The steak was from the butcher and the bread from the baker next door, fresh that morning. There’d been a slow down in custom and so my steak, when I got it, had been rested, just like real food. It was THE BEST STEAK SANDWICH I HAVE EVER EATEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.

Food Safari rating: 11/10

Chicken Tender Pizza Roll

Yes, you read that right.

This doesn’t really qualify as street food as it came from the school canteen. I was on duty in the gym; the usual boys were playing basketball and the usual girls were slumped at the side watching the usual boys. There’s a “no food or drink” rule in the canteen but one of the usual boys arrived late and, in the way of boys that age, was pressing fuel into his mouth. (At what age does that end, that ability to eat two pies then play a game of football immediately after, without wanting to vomit?)

I was so startled at this thing that I asked him to deconstruct it for me. It consists of:

  • 1 x ham and cheese pizza roll
  • 5 x chicken tenders
  • 1 x tomato sauce squeezy sachet


A cousin who lives in the shadier part of the Edinburgh docks told me about a thing called, in those parts, a “pizza supper”. You go to the chip shop and they get a frozen pizza, fold it in half, put hot chips inside the folded pizza and then deep fry the lot.

There’s a kind of genius logic in there, and I have to admit that there was a time when I would have thought that the chicken tender pizza roll was also the work of genius, rather than a starving 15-year-old boy.

Food Safari rating: untested and so unmarkable, but 8/10 for innovation.

Narran Lake

Lightning Ridge is Yuwaalaraay country. The Yuwaalaraay language is no longer a first language but it’s still spoken around here, and lots of schools in the region teach Yuwaalaraay at primary level or (in high school) as part of the mandatory Languages Other Than English (LOTE) course for students in Year 7 and Year 8.


The school in the Ridge is part of a group of schools involved in the Yuwaalaraay Language Nest, a system borrowed from the Kiwis to support and resource language maintenance. This week I was lucky enough to work with Yuwaalaraay and Gamilaraay language workers from the Ridge, Walgett, Goodooga, Collarenebri and Dubbo, sharing and developing materials for next year’s study and beyond. Part of the week involved a trip to a site of huge importance to Yuwaalaraay people: the Narran Lake.


The Lake’s about an hour’s drive south-west of the Ridge, down the Cumborah road then south till you hit East Mullane. This former sheep and cattle station must have been super remote back in the day. It’s now the HQ for NSW National Parks & Wildlife Services, and any group that comes to study here.


And there are lots that do. You can’t just drop in to Narran Lake. It’s not a park, it’s a nature reserve, co-managed by Parks and the Yuwaalaraay community. You have to have a reason to come here, usually scientific or cultural. There are people studying birds (the Lake’s on the Ramsar list for migrant birds), water movement, vegetation and – this past couple of weeks – a team of archaeologists from the University of New England.

Among them was Dr Mark Moore, a native of Indiana, USA, and a leading expert in stone tool manufacture, or “knapping”.


Mark and his team were analysing earth ovens when we came across them. What looked like a bunch of rocks was in fact the exposed remains of heated stones used to cook food. We were up on the ridge, near the station, but the team had also examined these ovens down at the Lake and on the flats, though down there generations of livestock had pretty much smashed the evidence.


As is so often the case with archaeology I had no idea what I was looking at until I’d been told. Buncha stones? Nah! This is always sobering for someone with a History degree and a qualification from the NSW Government to teach Ancient History.

The evidence wasn’t just in the stones on the ground; by mapping their location the team had developed patterns of placement, use and movement that offered a glimpse into the way that people from dozens and dozens of generations past had lived and moved on this patch of dirt. Bloody amazing.


There were hundreds of shards of tools too. Again, things that – in my ignorance – I’d have stepped over or kicked aside. Each piece was flagged, recorded and replaced. Nothing was taken away; this is modern archaeology with a focus on the partnership between the academy and the community.


Back at the station, in fact, there were boxes and boxes of previously plundered artefacts that are being repatriated by the university. These artefacts will be stored in a keeping place, probably at the station.


After we left the team we dropped off the ridge and into the Lake proper. Our guides were two Yuwaalaraay men, N (Bubs) and J. These guys were brilliant: they had the extraordinary ability to simultaneously describe the world around us in the language and mindset of the Yuwaalaraay and the scientists, botanists, hydrologists and academics who make their pilgrimage to the Lake.


We crossed a massive, two-kilometre shell midden created from seasonal feasting on freshwater shellfish created by countless generations of Yuwaalaraay people, and the visitors from who knows how many other language groups who met and camped and celebrated here over thousands of years.


While the women took off to do whatever is Yuwaalaraay women do, Bubs and J took me around a series of lunettes recently exposed by wind and rain. The ground was littered with rocks; at least, that’s what they looked like to me. Under their tutelage I began to see hammer tools, spear barbs, axe heads, grinding stones: a whole, industrial-scale manufacturing site for the tools of living in this part of the world.


There were amazingly complex pieces of worked stone. Who was the last person to pick up or use this drilled stone? (Dr Mark, Bubs and J conclude that it may have been used as part of a fire-starting kit.)


The Lake wasn’t full, maybe half full. Black swans, pelicans, plovers, cormorants and shags squawked and wheeled in the sky around us. Against this ancient backdrop, the occasional vapour trail of some invisible passenger jet hauling tourists and business people to Singapore or Dubai scribed its way through the blueness above.


We regathered, men and women, and headed back to the station for a late lunch of salad, and chops barbecued by Bubs and J. We were ravenous and fell on it like we hadn’t seen food in a month. Sated, we lolled around for a little while, before R and D collected some fresh sandalwood leaves, set them afire, and we passed through its aromatic smoke.


It was a magical day. Even the tyre shredded by the brilliant white shincracker road couldn’t put a dent in our enthusiasm.


The Lake was unlike anywhere else I’d been and, without wanting to sound like I’ve been everywhere man, I’ve been fortunate and privileged enough to have visited some quite extraordinary places in my time. I doubt Narran Lake would have had such an impact on me without the company of the Yuwaalaraay people, and Dr Mark and his team.

On Friday night at the pub, the usual group of wise men lamented modern politics and we gnashed our teeth and shredded our garments over the exponential surge in global population and the rise of the Stupid People and wondered, pessimistically, where it would all end. Then we drank some more and solved all those easily solvable problems (global pandemic, anyone?). At least, it appeared to have been solved until Saturday morning, when we woke to find that the Stupids were still in charge and the population was still exploding.

But Narran Lake will still be there, in all its quietness and stillness.

Missed opportunity

Every town has its idiosyncratic street names. There’s a Bald Knob Road in Peachester, Queensland, a Tittybong Street in Quambatook, Victoria, and a Curly Dick Road near Oberon, NSW. But Lightning Ridge has the best street names of all.

I have to admit to a thrill of excitement when I learnt that my new address in town would be on the junction of Halleys Comet Street and Fantasia Street. Fantasia Street! How goddam cool is that?


And just to add icing on the cake, Halleys Comet runs into Nobby Road.


The link, of course, is opals. Lightning Ridge is the home of the black opal, Australia’s national gemstone, and so these street names – Red Admiral, Black Prince, Butterfly and so on – all refer to some of the great opal finds of the past.

At Lightning Ridge Central School the high school classes are named after local streets / opals and so there’s Rainbow, Cardinal and Pandora, amongst others.


But, unbelievably, there is no Fireball class! What a missed opportunity! Who wouldn’t want to be in Fireball Class?


And there is no Shincracker Class! Oh my Godfathers! If I was a kid I would love to be in Shincracker!

Or imagine being able to say that you lived on the corner of Fireball and Shincracker! Oh, such missed opportunities …

More “woah!” factor than the Sudan

Last year a friend, a woman teacher*, reached a point in her life where it was time for a change. Her daughter was due to finish the HSC and, with that milestone behind her, she looked for new challenges. She got a job at an international school in the Sudan.

When we heard the news we were shocked, but kind of jealous-shocked in the way you are when you hear someone has got an unexpected promotion or a handsome PowerBall win. “The Sudan!” we said. “Phwoar!” There were a few questions about the civil war thing but, as it turned out, her classroom was not a bedouin tent in the middle of a sand storm with the sound of kalashnikovs in the background. In fact, she’s having a ball and working on her golf handicap at the local course, an idyllic 9-holer on the banks of the Nile.

So when I told the same group of friends that I was going to teach at Lightning Ridge I didn’t expect their reaction to out-Sudan the Sudan, but it did. “Lightning Ridge?!” they went, “WTF?! ZOMG! Etc!!” They were more shocked that someone would go to Lightning Ridge than that someone would go to the Sudan.

The Sudan? Oh yeah.

Lightning Ridge? Are you completely fucking insane?

It made me wonder about this place. How does some little mining town a bit north of Dubbo capture people’s imagination like that? It’s gotta be worth writing about.

And so this blog began.


  • A teacher who is a woman, not a teacher (of indeterminate gender) who taught a woman. Thank you, Mary-Lou, for pointing out this anomaly.