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A Matter of Scallops by Emma Lee

A Matter of Scallops by Emma Lee

I am Tasmanian born and bred - a trawlwulwuy woman from tebrakunna country with generational connections to the north-west coast. I did not realise that the world viewed fish and chips differently from Tasmanians until I lived in Canberra in my late teens.

The closest chippie to me was on the corner of a dingy, pedestrian mall in Lyneham, situated on the same block as the much-loved Tilley's cafe. I ordered scallops and what I received instead was potato cakes.

Now, don't get me wrong, potato cakes are some of the finest deep fried foods that have ever been concocted. The agony of the wait while that circle of sunshine yellow crunchy goodness sits in the angled, wired cage draining off the excess oil, is truly excruciating. Salty and greasy, the potato cake sits in its small, white bag, like a good luck charm. Potato cakes do not require weird jaw mechanics like hamburgers do, you can discretely gorge them, with the bag as a shield against the public viewing of your gluttony. I usually have mine eaten by the time I hit the pavement.

But even so, I was aghast to be rooting amongst the straight cut chips* to find not a scallop but a potato cake. A potato cake does not a scallop make.

Scallops are orange-collared gems of plump, yet firm white flesh. The first bite is alip-burning hot combo of seafoody water and oil. Scallops come in a shell, shucked, crumbed, battered, grilled, deep-fried and in a myriad of other desiring ways.

Potato cakes are a thin cake, that you can transport in a backpack for a day's fieldwork, eat cold and not get sick. You cannot do this with a scallop. A potato cake stands for a ruggedness and hardiness that early Antarctic explorers would have appreciated for its portability. Eaten hot out of the bag, it's an appetiser to remind you that the real goodies are on the way - fish, scallops, calamari, whatever.

That Lyneham chippie shattered my illusions that the fish and chip eating populace understood the etiquette of naming. The comfort in sameness that had previously greeted me everywhere was shattered and the world became an unsettling place. Almost 25 years later, I'm still jolted and outraged that a potato cake can be known as a scallop, that a scallop is disrespectfully treated, dual-purposed across the two world’s of vegetable and seafood.


* Straight cut narrow chips inhibit the vinegar from settling with an evenness along the chip. Crinkle cut chips, in my experience, are the best at holding the vinegar taste and tang, but without the sogginess that narrow chips rush to adopt. I think there may be some sort of volume area to surface ratio thing happening under crinkle cut chip engineering, but they are certainly the Rolls Royce of an outstanding chippie.

About the author: For the past two decades, Emma Lee has worked in land management, caring for country as an archaeologist, policy maker and joint management expert. She is currently working on an FRDC funded study ‘Wave to plate’ - establishing a market for Tasmanian cultural, to investigate the economic potential Tasmania’s Indigenous commercial fisheries.