Fresh off several busy days immersed in the Ws – Wollongong, Wangaratta, and Wagga Wagga – and in the midst of some pretty chilly early Winter weather as well, the band mixes it up and rolls into Ballarat for an evening show. That pesky Celsius, always making it seem even colder than it is, hovers in the low single digits, so I set out in search of some down-home comfort food. Meat pie is on my mind, about as down-home down-under as it gets, but I'm quickly sidetracked by a different but no less righteous form of down-home Oz goodness. The almighty fish and chip.
The placard out front reads "Fish of the Day w/ chips – $7.50" (about $6 to you Yanks), and both the price and something about how the fishmonger is patiently chipping away at the painted lettering in the window draws me in. I figure he's probably got the heat on in there too.
It's my second tour down under, so I've made a bit of a study of the matter by now, and folks, this is how you do fish and chips right – the fresh stuff (i.e. not frozen), on display for all to see, you chat with the amiable owner while he breads and deep-fries the stuff as you watch, and most importantly, all for well under $10. I don't know why exactly, but like great Chinese or Mexican, the quality inversely correlates to the cost.
As I'm feasting, a couple of young boys decked out in natty school uniforms walk in and step up to the counter. "I'd loik three dawluhs wooth of chips, please." My friend behind the counter says he's got a fresh batch, having just made some for me. "Noyce! That's just PUH-fect!"
"Trust me kid, it's not really 'PUH-fect' unless you get the fish too," I say in between bites. He stares back at me quietly for a second or two, probably trying to figure out who the new guy is with the funny accent. "Haven't gawt enuff for that, mate," he finally shrugs, sticks a chip in his mouth, and bounds out of the place. Yet another refreshing thing about this country – you can still talk to kids in public without anyone thinking you must be some sort of deviant.
The halfway mark inched by a couple of days ago, and we're now set to return to the nether regions of Western Australia tomorrow. Only three weeks to go, and anticipation of returning to the boundless freedom of my humble van life mounts...