When I was a kid, pretty much the only restaurants we ever went to were Chinese. It wasn’t only because my Dad was born in China. Chinese chow was the celebratory default on Mum’s side too. I think in the seventies dining out at the Chinese was a bit of a signifier of cosmopolitan tastes in an Al Grassby kind of way. A marker of sophistication and open mindedness. Whether we were at the Red Leaf, the Phoenix Court, the Mandarin Kitchen or my favourite to this day, the South Hurstville Chinese, there were always some very sophisticated and cosmopolitan prawn crackers. We kids loved them. Even my brother who would never eat an actual prawn, and who thinks all seafood is creepy. It begs the question, are there any prawns in prawn crackers? The side of the box says they contain prawn extract (hmmm), as well as starch, sugar, salt, water and E621, E129 and E102.
How’s that for molecular gastronomy?
We had to have a go at home and I thoroughly recommend you do it too, if only for the theatre of it. Prawn crackers are such curious things. They blossom in hot oil like fast motion cinematography, like flower buds that open and fatten until they become overblown, taking on shapes like seashells, pink and pale and salty. They billow like stingrays or jellyfish. On your tongue they suck you back so that they seem somehow alive. Even though I know they are strange and wrong, they are oddly beautiful, and I have a sort of nostalgic attachment to them that I want to own. The box is a work of art that proclaims with an enviable confidence, ‘OSHA BRAND prawn crackers which have already own much favourable response from the buyers, are produced from fresh prawns, crisp and delicious, with a peculiar taste of their own as a favourite dish on all occasions and a treat for your friends.’ I’m not sure how much of that I believe, but I love how they say it.