Armed with food

Armed with foodBy Jane

This blog is dedicated to our friend Trooper Joel O’Brien and his family.


Most army personnel change postings every two to three years. This can be a challenging experience on many levels. Spouses who are not army personnel need to re-establish new jobs, friendships, find schools, play-groups and so on. Couples who have young families must find it very difficult to replace their friends and family for support.

The defence community do provide ‘Welcome packs’ which includes the defence magazine, information about the local area such as shopping centres, schools, play groups, clubs, public libraries, restaurants and pet information and much more in order to assist the transition.
For those who work, finding satisfying jobs can be difficult due to always starting at a lower rank and having to ‘prove yourself’ each time they start a new job. But working also provides friendships, a social network, some independence and a connection with the town/city you are living in.
On arrival to a place the family needs to shop for everything so the nearest supermarket is the obvious option. I spoke to Mary, Joel’s mother, about some of her experiences.

Mary: I tend to hit the ground running. My husband starts his job pretty much immediately so I am left to fend for myself. I am lucky because I am a fairly open confident person but it can be quite hard for some people. It was easier when the boys were younger. You get to meet teachers, other parents and start relationships straight away.

Once the kids leave home it can be harder therefore getting a job is important in order to make friends and develop a social circle.

My husband and I usually invite his co-workers and their partners over for dinner within the first couple of weeks and I ensure that I introduce myself to the neighbours. That way we can get the opportunity to network and find out ‘what’s coming up’ on the arts/music scene, what places to avoid, the good places to go, for example restaurants and cinemas. Mary laughed and shared how they went to a cinema once and it stank of human urine and suddenly remembered, too late, that it was on the ‘don’t go there’ list.

To locate local Farmer’s markets, whole-food places and such like mainly came from word of mouth either from locals or from established defence people. After a few years of ‘defence living’ you would run into people you had met at previous postings.

Mary and Dean are self-confessed ‘foodies’ so finding out about local markets, whole-food and organic food shops are a must for them in order to have their cook ups at home.

The O’Brien’s had a two year posting in Malaysia and enjoyed their experience.

Mary: We had an Indian amah (maid) who had forty years experience working with defence families. She would assist with the cooking but we did tend to eat out a lot. . I do remember going with her to the wet markets in Penang. She wanted to show me the market where she shopped and it was great fun. The Georgetown wet markets were a central meeting place in Penang. Most Westerners ended up at the wet markets on the weekends to by meat, fish and vegetables. This was the best spot to get BBQ roast pork for fried rice, etc. Nearly all the amahs in the district shopped there for the expats. It was also the only place where they bought their shopping as it was really cheap.

In the mornings people would drive by to get their freshly fried curry puffs and have Vietnamese beef soup known as Pho.

You could get everything there even clothes, shoes, ornaments and medicines including Chinese herbal remedies.

The smell was pretty bad and stray dogs and cats sat under the chopping tables of the butchers waiting for bits to fall off. I often wondered if some of them ended up on the block themselves. The food was fresh and the vegetables were always cheap and in season.

The worst smell encountered was the delicacy known as Durian. Bloody horrible smelling stuff, it smelt like rotten feet. It was a taste refined for the Chinese, not many Westerners tasted it. Some of the rich locals paid up to $800 dollars or more for one at the start of the season. Travelling in Asia one would often find signs in hotels specifically banning durian being brought onto the premises.

Amah would cook mostly Indian food but she would cook western food as well and would cook anything we requested. She would cook for our sons if we were away. Our son’s attended the International school and they provided food at the school. It was mainly western food served. We enjoyed eating out and tasting a variety of Malaysian specialty dishes. My husband especially loved the seafood dishes and there was no shortage of them.
Mary said that Joel would eat pretty much anything but he did like paw-paw salad and Deans Nasi Kandar (Malay beef curry) Dean makes it up so we have included a recipe from the ABC ‘Poh’s Kitchen’ but have replaced the beef with Kangaroo. After perusing the recipe Mary stated that this is pretty much how Dean makes it.

Please enjoy cooking and eating from a couple of recipes that Joel used to love eating. (Recipes coming soon)

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