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Lucky Imports is a fitting starting point
for a walking tour of culinary and cul-
tural discovery in Northbridge, Perth's
oft-maligned inner city restaurant
and night-clubbing area.
Set up by the first generation of "boat people"
fleeing Communist rule in Vietnam in the late
1970s, Lucky Imports is today a thriving third-
generation family business, crammed with all
manner of chattels and foods. It's testament to
the fortitude and work ethic of those Vietnamese
refugees and also to the huge boom in what was
once considered "exotic" ingredients and produce.
But knowing there's an Asian supermarket on
your doorstep and making sense of what's inside it
are two different things entirely -- which is where
Pauline Lynch comes in.
For the past nine years, the teacher-by-profes-
sion and Asian food fan has been leading groups
on walking tours through Northbridge; for most,
the two-hour jaunts (which culminate in a dim
sum lunch) are a real eye-opener.
"The most common comment I get from Perth
people is that they didn't know all this existed right
on their doorstep. People are truly surprised. And
of course, because you can't see into most of the
shops from the street, it is a fabulous surprise when
you take people inside," says Pauline. "Everyone is
always impressed by the range of goods available
and their freshness. It is always fun to point out
things like intestines and uteruses in the butchers!"
Today, like a mother hen guiding her chicks,
Pauline has 10 women from Merredin's Words and
Wine Book Club ("more wine than words", quips
one) up from the country for a "girls weekend away".
Merredin, about three hours' drive from Perth,
is not exactly the epicentre of world cuisine but,
say the women, thanks to trainee pilots from the
China Southern Airlines flying school being based
in the town, the local shops have a surprisingly
wide range of "Asian" goods.
But even so, knowing just what those goods are,
and how to cook them, is a challenge. We funnel
Northbridge is home to some of Perth's most fascinating Asian
food suppliers. You just need to know where to look, as Norman
Burns discovered. « images ross swanborough
slowly through the aisles at Lucky Imports, Pauline
grabbing the exotic and unusual off the shelves for
a show-and-tell session. Lucky Imports' throng of
regular customers look on in bemusement.
There's jars of coconut jam, myriad varieties
of dried mushrooms, bags of black sticky rice,
jackfruit chips (general consensus: we'll stick to the
potato chip); dried bean curd, packets of Chinese
sausage ("not for the barbecue", advises Pauline);
plastic wrapped "wheels" of seaweed.
A bank of fridge-freezers hides yet more good-
ies, frozen fresh lemon grass drawing a collective
murmur of approval; the Words and Wine Book
Club contingent isn't short on the shopping gene
either and by the time we head for the door, Lucky
Imports has done an even greater trade than usual.
Next stop is Prime Products, stocked with a
plethora of wild and wonderful treats from the
sub-continent; chillies, pickles, curry powders
ranging from volcanic to nuclear in
strength, pakora mix, bags of incred-
ible smelling spices.
The W&W party's bags bulge even
more; Merredin is soon going to be
cooking storm central. We move to a
shop most would probably not even
give a second glance; the windows
are painted out but inside the VHT
shop is a labyrinth of towering aisles
literally packed to the ceiling, with
seemingly a fair proportion of Perth's Asian com-
munity already shopping there.
VHT isn't for the claustrophobic but it is
fascinating; there's a dazzling array of noodles,
rice, spices, sauces and condiments; stacked high
are jars of "Salted Teeth Crocker in Oil", which
looks to be some kind of fish. Next door, the
Wing Hong butcher advertises pigeon, crocodile
bone and black lip abalone and you have to pinch
yourself this is little ol' Perth.
Down a non-descript alley is a tiny space
crammed with all manner of sub-continental fin-
ery, silk saris, scarves and the like. Across William
St is Emma's Seafood Yong Tau Foo (as in stuffed
tofu), a shop that seems to have been transported
straight from the streets of Singapore or Malaysia
and a roaring favourite with expats from those
countries. By now the W&W party (and myself )
have seen enough food and need to eat some, so
the finishing line is a satisfying dim
sum nosh-up. Around a giant lazy
susan, we tuck into plates of satay
squid, pork balls, shuo mai, roast
duck, and a whole lot more (no takers
for the jellyfish though.
And even if it were served, I
wouldn't have any room for Salted
Teeth Crocker. sm
Wandering Wok Tours, 0417 091
343. See wanderingwok.com.au.
Take a wok
on the wildside
A TASTE OF ASIA: Pauline Lynch, left,
leads her tour group (above) through the
fascinating Lucky Imports shop.
Below: The ecletic produce available in
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