10. Fast food in Melbourne & South East Asia
10. Fast food in Melbourne & South East Asia
By Alena Lien,
17 September 2018
Hi! How're you? Welcome to the Along Came English Podcast. You're listening to Alena.
It's actually spring in Melbourne now, which is quite a nice change. Not that I'm an outdoor's person that enjoys basking in the sun, but it's nice not to feel so cold indoors and outdoors.
So just a few updates.
Just letting you know that I'm away the first 2 weeks of October. I'm going to South Korea. It's going to be my first time there. Now I haven't done much research in terms of tourist spots and such, but I am looking forward to being in a completely different environment and, of course, the food.
So as for the podcast, what I'll try to do is record some episodes in advance so that I can post them while I'm there or.. I don't know. Can u schedule an episode? I'll have to look into it.
So since we're talking about food today. The Mooncake Festival is also coming up on the 24th of September. This is also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, which corresponds to the Chinese or lunisolar calendar which I explained in episode 3 - talking about the Lunar New Year. So this means that there will be a full moon on this night.
Associated with this festival, people eat mooncakes, which is a kind of confection or a sweet pastry. The filling is usually made of lotus paste or red bean paste and they also come with different crusts. Also you can get them with whole salted duck egg yolks inside. So when you bite into it, you get both salty and sweet flavours. My personal favourite is the lotus paste filling with 2 yolks and the traditional crust. So yea, I had some last week, so I'm looking forward to getting more soon.
Alright! Moving along.
Vocabulary about fast food
So today's episode is about fast food. So I'll be giving you some vocabulary as well as talk about some of the fast food you might find in Australia as well as in South East Asia.
So when we talk about fast food, fast food joints like McDonald's, KFC, comes to mind. The basic definition of "fast food" is anything that is mass-produced. Typically prepared and served at a pretty fast pace - according to Wikipedia.
It's also associated with low nutrition and also linked to a variety of health problems like obesity, cancer and depression.
And fast food is also quite often referred to as "junk food." So the term "junk food" is actually a term of disapproval for anything that is high in sugar, fat, high in calories, so it can include things like donuts, pizza, fried foods, chocolates, soft drinks and so on. Yup, and fast food.
And there are different places where you can get fast food.
So a "fast food restaurant" is a type of restaurant that serves fast food. So you can either "eat in" or "takeaway."
And if you "eat in," there's usually little to no table service. So usually you have to order at the counter and then pick up your order when it's ready.
"Takeaway" just simply means that you order the food to eat elsewhere - so usually at home or the office. Sometimes people eat fast food in their car.
Now often these fast food restaurants has a "drive through" where you can drive your car up to a window to make your order for takeaway and then pick up the food in the next window.
Famous fast food companies like McDonald's or KFC, are usually part of a restaurant "chain" or "franchise," which are 2 different things.
A "chain" restaurant is when it's the same company over different locations. So there's a central management and a set business practice. In this case, there's one parent company that owns all.
A "franchise" is when there are different business owners that operate under one company's brand or name. So the individual business owners have bought the rights to sell a company's products and use the brand name. So although there is no central ownership, the individual business owner has to perform to a certain standard or else it reflects badly on the overall brand.
Now personally, I don't eat a lot of fast food, and I don't eat it regularly. Cooking at home, particularly in Melbourne, is actually still cheaper than eating fast food even if it takes a bit of time. So, you know... but of course, I have had, at least, my fair share of fast food here.
Most popular fast food in Australia
Now some of the most popular fast food companies of 2018 that you'll find in Australia include:
McDonald's, which are known for their burgers, happy meals, Big Mac's, chicken nuggets, McFlurries - which is a dessert with soft serve and crushed stuff, like Oreos or M&M's.
When I used to live in Singapore, my mother used to bring me to McDonald's on weekly basis after my piano lessons. And I would usually get a small burger meal with a hamburger, fries and a soft drink.
And in South East Asia, you can also get chilli sauce packets, and I can still remember squeezing a packet of chilli sauce onto the beef patty and I did that every time. And there was this, you know, this small slice of pickle with a slice of cheese that was slightly melted from the heat. Good times.
And in Australia, they're called "Maccas" for short. And it is by far the most popular fast food company here in Australia.
And what Maccas offers here is quite different from what you might find overseas. So, there's a McCafe where they sell coffee, frappes, baked goods that you would typically find at a cafe. Which is a smart move, I mean they've embraced the coffee culture here and incorporated it into their business.
Also, this is about 14 years ago now, but there was an American documentary called Supersize Me, where the filmmaker spent 30 days eating only McDonald's. And there were some drastic effects on his health and psychological well-being. He gained 11kg. He experienced mood swings. His cholesterol increased.
The documentary was a pretty big deal and was actually a box office success here - even though I've never watched it myself.
And Maccas actually created an advertising campaign in response to this. And shortly after, they actually introduced healthier options and even sold fresh fruit for a while. It was kind of weird. And they also put up nutritional values of each food item in McDonald's.
And also, random fact about me. I've never really ordered a Big Mac, not that I can remember anyway. So it's one of their most, I guess, popular burgers that you can get from McDonald's.
KFC is known for its fried chicken and is the second most popular in Australia.
And honestly speaking, the KFC here, compared to KFC overseas is not good at all. So it baffles me that KFC is still around here in Melbourne or that they haven't changed their recipe. It's soggy. It's oily.
And the last time i had it because I was craving something fried and oily, and it was really salty as well. So, I definitely don't recommend eating KFC here. And I don't understand why it's the second most popular fast food brand in Australia.
KFC in Malaysia however is really good. And when I was there, I was ordering it pretty regularly. Like they have really good crunch. They also offered delivery. And it was just such a stark difference in quality and flavour, you know, between Malaysia and Australia. Yup, big difference.
Subway is known for their submarine sandwiches and salads and is actually the third most popular in Australia. And while it's a fast food franchise, it's not considered junk food and is promoted to be a healthy alternative.
So Subway was featured on the Biggest Loser, which is an American competition reality show, but they had an Australian version here as well. And it features obese or overweight contestants competing to win a cash prize by losing the highest percentage of weight relative to their initial weight.
Of course this was a marketing strategy, but the fitness trainers were suggesting Subway as a healthy alternative for takeaway or eating out.
And apparently the company tripled in size in the 12-13 years when he was their spokesman. And unfortunately Subway has since cut ties with him due to child pornography and molestation charges in 2015. And he's been sentenced to more than 15 years in federal prison.
Now back to Subway food. Now the sandwiches themselves are pretty good. I used to go there from time to time before until I changed my diet and started eating less bread. Their meals usually come with a soft drink and cookie - you can also get the... water as well of course.
The cookies are pretty good too, which are soft rather than crunchy, but I remember one time when I went to eat at my local Subway restaurant and noticed that the cookies were much thinner. I think there was some cut backs happening in that place.
Hungry Jack's is actually the same company as Burger King in America. And the reason for the name change is because there was already another independent business named Burger King in Adelaide I think. So the name had to be changed.
And Hungry Jack's is known for their burgers which they call "whopper."
And they definitely haven't diversified the business the way that McDonald's has. But I have to say, you know, in my opinion, burgers are better at Hungry Jack's.
And again, you know, I don't eat a lot of fast food in general, but I did have a burger from Hungry Jack's a few weeks ago, which I thought was pretty good. There was a problem though, and I should explain what I ordered first.
So they've been promoting a burger which is available for a limited time, and I think it's called the Western BBQ or something. And it has this smokey bbq sauce in it.
So yea, so I ate it, and thought it was pretty good until I finished it and then the aftertaste I had in my mouth made me feel that I had smoked a cigarette or something. So I'm not sure what they put in their smokey bbq sauce, but yea, I think that will be last time having that burger. I think I'll stick to their normal menu.
And I used to order from Domino's but the Domino's where I used to live wasn't that great, so I switched to a different takeaway pizza place.
And also, you know I don't remember the last time I've had Pizza Hut here. And for me, there are many really good pizza places in most suburbs. And there's at least 1 local pizza place that serves pretty decent pizza. So these days I don't really go out of my way for Domino's or Pizza Hut.
Now with Domino's, when I used to eat it quite regularly, they used to have this puff pastry base for a while. So the base was like biting into a curry puff or something. It was really good. Now they don't have it anymore, but it's a pretty good idea for a home-made pizza base I guess.
And nowadays, you know, at Domino's, you can choose the kind of base or crust you want. So you can choose the deep pan for a thick base. There's one where they put cheese in the crust - never tried it. And they even a gluten free base.
Now a "gluten-free base" means that the flours used to make the base are free of gluten, so that people who are sensitive to it or get allergic reactions can consume it. And it's an option that a lot of pizza places now have and they actually charge a bit extra for it as well.
Now gluten-free bases can be a bit hit and miss. Some places are really good and they taste almost like the normal traditional bases. And then some just taste awful.
So talking about pizza, my favourite pizza is capricciosa - if I pronounced that right, that's obviously an Italian word. And I think there are variants of this pizza, but I like it because it usually contains olives, anchovies and ham as toppings. And the local pizza place where I used to live had a really good gluten-free base as well. So yea, a lot of food memories today.
There's also Red Rooster, which is actually an Australian company that specialises in roast chicken. And I see them around a lot but I think I've only ever eaten them twice to be honest.
Same thing with Domino's Pizza and Pizza Hut, there's always a local chicken takeaway shop that's already pretty good. So... I just don't go to Red Rooster.
And speaking of local competition, supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths, which are 2 major supermarkets here in Australia, both sell roast chicken. Not frozen or something, like freshly roasted and kept warm for sale.
So yea, these are just a handful of the most popular fast food companies in Australia, there are more of course.
At all of these places, with the exception of Subway and Pizza Hut, they also serve "fries" or "chips", which are cut potatoes that are then fried.
Now at McDonald's, it is called "french fries." Everywhere else in Australia though, most probably it is called "chips." "Fries" is American English. And "chips" is British, which Australia will... is more likely to follow.
Fast food in SE Asia
So most of these fast food restaurants operate in South East Asia as well, except for maybe Red Rooster - I don't recall seeing it there.
Now if you've listened to the 5th episode about meals, you might recall that I talked about Jollibee, which is a fast food restaurant from the Philippines. And you'll also find them in other places in South East Asia as well.
Another fast food restaurant that, you know, that we... that actually I had growing up was A&W, which is known for its root beer, root beer floats and curly fries.
Now a "root beer float" is a beverage with root beer and ice cream. Other places might use Coca-cola or some other carbonated drink.
And it's funny because I remember going to A&W as a kid, but I've never really seen it here in Australia. And I don't recall seeing it again since I've been back to Brunei or Singapore.
You can get the soft drink sold in cans though. Sometimes I find them in asian grocery shops here.
Now comparing fast food restaurants between South East Asia and Australia, the main products or the base menu are almost the same with some minor differences due to the local culture and tastes.
So, for example, in Brunei, because it's a muslim country, "hamburgers" are not called "hamburgers," they're called "beef burgers." Which kind of makes sense, the patty is made of beef, not ham. And I haven't been to a fast food restaurant in Brunei for years, but I guess any bacon options would not be available in Brunei as well.
And I remember I went to McDonald's in high school one time, and I went up to order a hamburger - I don't know, just maybe a slip or something. And the cashier just looked at me funny and quite politely corrected me. So yea... so silly me back then, it still didn't quite register why there were no hamburgers on the menu. Anyway.
And with KFC, you have a choice between Original and Hot and Spicy chicken in Malaysia. But in Australia, they usually only offer Original, and the Hot and Spicy is sometimes available for a limited time.
Another difference is the kind of condiments you get. "Condiments" are things like salt, pepper, tomato sauce, chilli sauce, mustard sauce, that is used to add flavour to food.
Most burgers would already have tomato sauce or ketchup when they're prepared.
By the way, the difference between tomato sauce and ketchup is that "ketchup" is a bit sweet and sour because it contains sugar and vinegar. Otherwise, they're almost the same. And I also suspect that the terms are interchangeable, maybe the terms are differentiated in Western or European countries. I don't know.
In South East Asia, chilli is a big thing. When I ordered KFC, they would give me both tomato sauce and chilli sauce packets. And if you order from Domino's, they would give you... in Malaysia of course, they would give you chilli flake packets.
Now over here in Australia, I don't recall ever receiving any condiments along with my Domino's orders. Also, no chilli sauce from McDonald's.
And I remember this time... this one time, and this would've been the early years of moving to Melbourne. I went to McDonald's and asked for chilli sauce, and the cashier told me that they didn't have any. And I was a little stunned at the time because I thought it'd be the same as back home, but of course it's not.
More Australian fast food
Now when we talk about fast food in English, we usually think of and refer to famous fast food companies like McDonald's or KFC, but fast food can include any local foods where you don't have to wait a long from the time you placed your order. And you can think of any local street foods or different types of food stalls at the food court or any kind of local takeaway restaurants.
So for example, fish and chips or roast chicken. So usually these are local takeaway shops where you call beforehand to make an order and then pick it up later.
Chinese food and Indian food, particularly at food courts, can also be considered fast food depending on how they're served.
So some places have a... something called a "bain-marie," which is a type of heated bath. So there's hot water at the bottom and then you put the food in containers which are kept warm above the hot water.
So usually you choose which dishes you want added to your rice or noodles. The foods are usually prepared beforehand and presented in the bain-marie, but yea... so but when you order it, it's served pretty much immediately.
Japanese food can also be fast food because they usually sell sushi hand-rolls for takeaway.
Now a "food court" is usually a common area with multiple food vendors. A "vendor" just means a seller, offering or promoting something to sell like kitchen appliances or vacuums, but in this case, food.
And this is pretty common in malls or indoor plazas. Also you might see this at the airport.
So in Australia, most food courts will usually have the... you know, the popular fast food like McDonald's, Hungry Jack's and then, they would have Chinese, Indian, Japanese.
And there are a number of other franchises or chains that operate in food courts, rather than having their own restaurant. So most of them tend to specialise in a food type.
Muffin Break offers muffins and coffee. So I used to go there quite regularly for their coffee.
Sumo Salad offers salads. Not that I would pay that much for a salad, but it's a healthy option.
Rolld'd, which is a kind of reinvention of Vietnamese food. I really like Vietnamese food in general, but what Roll'd have done is that they've made ordering rice paper rolls as easy as ordering sushi hand rolls. So it's pretty smart.
Ali Baba, not the Chinese company. So Ali Baba is a food franchise I guess, that sells kebabs, which are really... actually really good.
And yea... it's kind of crazy just how many different types of fast food there are these days.
Street food in SE Asia
In South East Asia though, you might find outdoor food courts, which are also known as "hawker centres." And at these "hawker centres," instead of counters like indoor food courts, they're usually booths or stalls. And they're kind of more like a food court for street food.
Hawker centres are an integral part of local life in places like Singapore. People would go there for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
And of course, you know, what they serve is different from the kind of fast food I've mentioned so far. Because of the different vendors, you can get a pretty good variety of foods. Like they serve local coffees, toast, soup noodles, fried noodles, rice. Mostly local, sometimes international, sometimes western.
It's funny comparing the food culture as well because when you're in Melbourne, usually the best foods are restaurants or cafes, sometimes high-end, fine-dining. And in places like Singapore, you also get fine-dining, but some of the best foods are found in hawker centres.
And there are actually 2 street food locations that have been awarded a "Michelin star." And a "Michelin star" comes from these books called Michelin Guides, where they award a Michelin star to establishments.
And it's a pretty big deal in the foodie world. Like people will travel far and wide for a restaurant with a Michelin star. And yea, so now there are 2 street food places that have Michelin stars in Singapore.
Now when I was in Singapore the last time, I pretty much spent most of the trip going around looking for good street food. So yea, forget the gourmet stuff, like I wanted street food.
And one of the problems however is that most of these places only prepare a set amount for the day. So if it's a busy day and they run out... they run out early, then they pack up and they finish for the day.
So there was this stall that offered beef ball noodles that had really good reviews. Unfortunately we only managed to get there after lunch and they were already finished for the day.
The trip wasn't wasted though, because when I wandered around the hawker centre I managed to find another stall with a TripAdvisor sticker that sold "popiah."
Now "popiah" is a type of fresh spring roll, similar to a Vietnamese rice paper roll, but the wrapper is made of wheat instead of rice. The main ingredient of... the filling is cooked grated turnip. And depending on the stall, they might have other ingredients as well. And usually they will put chopped peanuts, and a kind of sweet bean sauce, and chilli sauce.
And if I remember correctly, we also managed to find another store that day that made "oyster omelettes," which is called hao jian in Mandarin in Singapore. This is a popular Taiwanese street food as well, but you can find this in South East Asia.
It's just an omelette with oysters, but they add a bit of starch into the egg batter to give it a thicker, sometimes gooey consistency and usually fried in lard. Now, by the way, "lard" just means pig fat.
Fast food breakfast in SE Asia
And the interesting thing in South East Asia is that when it comes to breakfast, anything goes. You can have anything from toast to dim sum to fried noodles.
And as you may have already noticed, most food stalls tend to specialise in something. So depending on what they specialise in, also determines their operating times. So hence why the beef noodle stall I tried to look for closed so early.
In Singapore, there are traditional breakfast and coffee shops called "kopitiam," where they specialise in breakfast. "Kopi" is the Malay word for coffee, and "tiam" is Hokkien for shop. Here they serve local coffee, with a few breakfast items like...
Other breakfast items are soft boiled eggs, usually you get 2 - really, really soft boiled. And they... yea, they half-boil the eggs and then crack it into a small bowl. You can then add soy sauce or pepper if you like. And usually you can get a set with coffee, soft boiled eggs and kaya toast.
Another type of breakfast food is "dim sum" in Cantonese or "dianxin" in Mandarin, which you might have heard of. This is a type of Chinese cuisine, similar to Spanish tapas. And the dishes are bite-sized served in bamboo steamer baskets or small plates.
They have anything from buns to dumplings, chicken feet, rolls, and cakes. And traditionally, this is a breakfast, brunch meal, so some restaurants will serve dim sum in the mornings and then prepare the kitchen for lunch and dinner after. Some just specialises in it, so you can even get it for late night supper. And traditionally dim sum is served with Chinese tea.
Now dim sum is traditionally more about the dining experience even though the food is served almost immediately. And usually they are served at proper restaurants, which is what you'll find here in Australia.
But in South East Asia, you can sometimes find them at hawker centres or local open-air restaurants, where you can take away or you can just go in for a quick meal and leave. So eating at these types of local open-air establishments also usually means that it's much cheaper than going to a proper restaurant for dim sum.
I went to Malacca last year for a few days, and one of the recommended places to eat for breakfast was at a local dim sum place.
So I couldn't sleep that night. So when it got to about 5-6am, I got out of bed. It was raining pretty heavily so I braved the rain and just walked to the shop for a meal. So they had this huge steamer at the front of the store and they gave me a few suggestions and I just chose what I wanted to eat.
And I was... now, I wasn't the only one there. There was already another person there that was having breakfast. And while I was eating my very early breakfast, a few people came to get takeaway - while it was raining, at 6am in the morning.
One of the popular dishes at this place was something called "dai pao," which is Cantonese that just translates to Big bun. This is actually quite a big bun and usually one of these can be enough for one's meal. Sometimes it's shared if you go in a group.
It just contains minced meat and usually a whole egg. Yea, it's actually one of my favourites. I can't say this was the best one I've had, but yea, I did actually try it at this place.
So yea, if you've been to the airport at Singapore or Malaysia, you might've seen a few of these stalls at the food court that serves these types of breakfast menu items. So yea, if you've never had it before I do recommend you give them a go.
Now hawker centres are pretty much unheard of in Melbourne - maybe it's because of the weather.
Food trucks in Melbourne
There are food trucks which you might see closer to the city instead. Now a "food truck" is really a van that's been converted into a kitchen where you can serve food from as well. So usually I tend to see them during festivals. So there'll be an area where the food trucks can park and serve food from.
So when I went to the city for Chinese New Year earlier this year, there was a line of food trucks along the Yarra River at Crown Casino. The problem is that they're ridiculously overpriced most of the time and not always that great.
Now there is a movie called "Chef" directed and starring Jon Favreau from 2014. Highly recommended. It's about a chef who quits his job after a disagreement with his boss and then invests in a food truck business which ignites his passion for cooking and life.
Now there's a lot of food porn in the movie, and the one that he prepares... where he prepares a cheese sandwich for his son just looks awesome. So yea, it should be on... you should be able to find it on Netflix.
Now unfortunately, I don't think there's quite the food truck culture here as there might be in America. But, you do get food trucks that visit different companies in the suburbs and sell sandwiches, sushi hand rolls, snacks, meat pies, drinks. So these food trucks don't have a kitchen, but they are equipped to store food for sale.
And finally, the foods sold at convenience stores or petrol stations can be considered a type of fast food.
So at most petrol stations, they are attached to a supermarket company like Coles, or a convenience store like 7-11. And at these places, they sell sandwiches, meat pies, donuts, coffee for takeaway. And then of course, when you pay for petrol, you're confronted by chocolate bars and candy.
And at 7-11 here as well, they sell Krispy Kreme donuts, which are really good, loaded with calories and sugar, but really good.
So just to clarify, although the term "fast food" includes a variety of different types of foods, street foods, convenience foods and such, usually what comes to mind when we talk about fast food are the popular fast food franchises or chains like McDonald's, KFC's. and such. Now this might be because of how good their marketing is actually.
And also in South East Asia, although most street foods are considered fast food, they're just typically referred to as street food or hawker food. And usually, you know, if you use the term "fast food" in South East Asia, it would still conjure up Western fast food chains and franchises.
Yea. All right, well I think that's all for fast food. I hope you found this interesting. I'll be posting the vocabulary list on my website, as well as links to any references I've make on this episode.
You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook for updates, social media. And checkout my YouTube channel for bitesize english tips.
Well, have a good day and I'll catch you later! Bye!