As a Chinese-Canadian, I’ve observed how different dishes are transformed from country to country and sometimes emerge as an interesting hybrid. A number of North American Chinese dishes are not known in China. In a similar way, Australia seems to have developed a number of food items that have taken on local identities. My pal, James, who’s been in Sydney about a year reminded me of the Chicken Parmiagiana phenomenon here.
Melanzane alla parmigiana from Southern Italy was the original dish, according to some sources: fried eggplant with a sprinkling of breadcrumbs and parmesan. Cooks applied this technique to other vegetables, but in Italy, not to meat. Home cooks in the USA in the 50s decided to amp up this dish, breading and deep-frying either chicken or veal, smashed into a thin patty, covered in tomato sauce and then with enough melted cheese on it to form a thick shiny layer.
And so to Australia. Veal isn’t so popular here, but chicken is. Pubs serve beer and food, and if you haven’t been to Australia, you might not know that the pubs here are huge. At one time, pubs were only allowed to serve drinks to travellers, so they added a few rooms on the floor above the bar, which usually takes up the entire ground floor, and many of the bars here still have the word ‘hotel’ in their name. The food served is often cheap, hearty, quick fare, best eaten with beer while watching sport on the TVs hanging from the ceiling or projected on the wall.
Thus the chicken parmiagiana (or parma, for short) is an Australian pub classic, and even pubs that have relatively modern menus bow to tradition and put chicken parma on the menu. There are blog sites dedicated to finding the best chicken parma in Australia. This fellow ate one chicken parma a week for an entire year.
I’ve had the dish many a time in my years in Australia (though often order the chicken schnitzel, or schnitty for short) but James seems to be making himself an expert, and said indeed, that the one at the Parkside Bar at the Bat & Ball in Redfern was one of the best he’s had, maybe in the top 3 out of around 20. That’s an impressive ranking.
Mine was delicious, and the serving of fried kale on the side I thought gave it a modern edge (rather than with fries!). The pub itself has a good vibe, fairly empty that Friday night though people were watching comedy in a back room, with 80s retro music a little loud.