In Issue 05 we asked our contributors what it's like to eat food on their work break.
On our work break, we head to Coburg Mall. Wrapped in a raincoat, a man who looks like Bill Murray sings karaoke into a crackling microphone. He approaches the tables afterwards, holding out a hat with one hand and dragging an ancient amp behind him with the other. I cringe as he gets closer to Half Moon Café and slip through the sticky plastic curtain.
I only discovered Half Moon last summer, after my friend said it’s the best in Melbourne and she once saw Courtney Barnett there but was too embarrassed to say anything to her. It was warm then and my mum was visiting and we sat outside under the shade cloth. We fed our crumbs to the pigeons, favouring the ones with knobbly broken feet and the scruffy feathers.
Today, it’s raining and the pigeons shelter under the aluminium tables and the plastic chairs. The busker picks up his amp and moves on down Sydney Road.
At eleven pm, after seven hours of work and a few shots of Jameson, there is nothing on God’s green earth more tantalising than a bowl of freshly fried chicken. No matter your dietary stance—of which I’ve taken many—there is no denying that smell. The oily, salty waft of heat; the glistening crumbs; the picture perfect bell of the drumstick; and the fleshy promise of a wing never flown. It’s a masterpiece. Both a delicacy and a food of the people at once. A beautiful sin.
Paired with a pot of the bitterest, hoppiest beer on tap, a chicken break can clear the mind and reset the switchboard. A protein powered slingshot into the close. A gift of energy from bird heaven, where birds per hectare is meaningless and chickens can fly.
I kind of hate spinach. I can do it cooked, but not straight out of those two dollar bags from Coles, or the big cardboard box from the IGA down the road that I used to pick up for the cafe every Wednesday. On a busy week we’d smash through the salads and grab another box to get through the weekend, so the leaves stayed perky and crisp. On slow weeks, that cardboard box had to last seven days. Tuesday lunch rush was always held up by the process of picking through slimy gunk at the bottom to fill out the side salads. Once three o’clock tolled, we’d have dug and scratched for every last fresh looking leaf caught in folds of the plastic bag liner.
There is no place less appealing than that fucking salad box. Yet there I was, staring through the fridge doors knowing full well that the black bean patty is too gluggy on its own, no matter how much tomato relish you slather on the top. The mixed salad was all used up on the last meal. Rescuing the slightly more edible greenery from the pungent spinach was my task. Washed and covered in balsamic vinaigrette, it looked quite appealing on my Instagram story— ‘the best work lunches I could ask for.’ Only I knew the truth.
Full but unsatisfied, the dusty taste of spinach lingered, even in the face of overpowering vinegar. Heading back into work, I assured myself that those few limp leaves will soon make my iron levels soar.
Jamie Marina Lau
1. Sweet and salty. If I’m really risking it, it’s when I’m at home though. Popcorn making so much noise. And I hate packing popcorn too, you can’t use paper bags ‘cos they get stale and we shouldn’t use plastic zip-locs. In high school Jack made fun of me, the way I ate popcorn, like one popcorn at a time. He’d be like, ‘pop!corn!’ They were just the salty ones though the ones in the clear plastic bags and blue logo, they were so shit.
2. If blackberries weren’t $7.90
3. But they are all the time so it’s mandarins or strawberries
4. Or cherries if I had my way. I must like little round foods
5. Actual fact, we prefer foods that make a louder crunching noise. I wonder if you get not only addicted to the sugar and the salt in popcorn but also to the way you create almost a rhythm with the crunches you make.
6. At work the receptionists ask what food I’m eating today and it’s something like kim-chi and I say to them, oh people usually think that smells bad.
7. ‘Young kim-chi crunches’
‘The Glen’ has a rooftop car park that’s usually empty, save for a few stray trolleys. Up there the Dandenong Ranges look right at you. There’s no sound from the cars down on Springvale Road, just Cardi B over the PA singing Bodak Yellow with all the swear words blanked out (I counted twenty six). It’s better when it’s sunny up there, makes getting out of the shopping center a little more satisfying, but even when it’s raining I try squeeze another ten minutes into half an hour just to get more time outside.
Some days I’ll get a $6 Banh Mi from the food court. They have this mushroom pâté that’s good but they’re usually out of it. They give me extra pickled carrots for free if I ask. Today though, I lugged a container of Vege Laksa all the way from Kensington. Last night’s leftovers. I crack open the plastic container and bits of oil and broth spit out at me. The oil, orange and delicious, has congealed on top of the broth. I stick in a fork and dig out soggy rice noodles, if I’m lucky there’ll be snow peas or a leaf of pak choy in there too. A tradie from the new wing of the center comes out of the building and sets up by the fire hydrant and pulls out a glad wrapped sandwich from his little esky. I’m imagining its devon and cheese and bbq sauce, a combo I’m embarrassed to say I loved as a kid. When all the noodles are gone from my laksa I take the corner of the container to my lips and slurp up the rest of the broth, somehow just as tasty cold and a day old. There’s a snow pea on the bottom, swollen from soaking in that creamy coconut soup. I lick my lips clean, give a nod to the tradie and head back inside.
I’ll be straightening books and dusting shelves for another four hours, dreaming of this car park all the while.