When I was in primary school, my dad was on the road each day as a sales rep (and in the surf on either side of it), and was always excited to share his latest finds with me. If I was home from school sick (or ‘chucking a sickie’) he’d bring me something from the milkbar or the pie shop, and sometimes fish and chips. Often on a Friday night we’d have burgers from the Greek milkbar down the road, but when the shop changed hands and the burgers weren’t up to scratch, dad went on the hunt for the best burger elsewhere in the area. He was relentless in his quest for the tastiest grub, the most pristine seafood in his fish and chips, the flakiest pie pastry, and he was rather demanding when it came to the exact amount of malt in his chocolate milkshake. Like father like daughter. On weekends, if we did our chores – and sometimes just because – we’d get 20 cents to walk up to the milkbar on the corner and buy a bag of mixed lollies. Boy, those bags seemed so full as we carefully carried our sugar bounty back down the hill; we’d have to share them with dad, of course, when we returned.
A true milkbar is a rarity these days. Believe me, I’ve been looking for them. It seems that many of those that did somehow limp into this decade have only recently been pulled down to make way for progress. The handful of dinky-di milkbars that do remain tend to be in country towns or quieter suburbs, and even those just don’t feel the same anymore – with much competition, they tend to be a shell of their former selves, and should be given an authentic makeover and heritage listed as far as I’m concerned!
The milkbar had everything a child could wish for. We didn’t want much – it was the simple things. A visit for takeaway burgers and chips on a Friday night after mum and dad finished work and were too tired to cook was an adventure! Milkbars were pretty much the only shop you could guarantee would throw open the doors on the weekend when trading was permitted, and for a kid growing up in those times that was pretty exciting – and terribly important too. In the searing heat of a Sydney summer, when my brother and I could barely walk up the steep hill to our local shops, we did so, dragging our little bodies under a scorching sun, knowing we’d find sweet relief at the milkbar. Then we’d burn off the sugar high with a run under the sprinkler.
While this book might at first appear particularly ‘naughty’ health wise, it is less so than it could be… and I’ve given lots of alternative ingredients and variations along the way. Besides, I’m not suggesting you cook everything in this book at once, or eat this food on a daily basis – these are the recipes you want around for when you do feel like a little trip down memory lane.
Cook the book
This is an edited extract from Milkbar Memories by Jane Lawson (Murdoch Books, $39.99, hbk,). Photography by Brett Stevens and Maree Homer.
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