We had a wonderful conversation on air last week about the massive changes to Australia’s culinary landscape in the last 40 years. These are changes that are strikingly obvious in Canberra.

The discussion was inspired by my mate Mike Crowther who was chatting on facebook about the distinct lack of international food outlets in western Sydney when he was growing up there in the 60’s and 70’s.

Mike recalls that he didn’t eat garlic bread till he was 18 and didn’t sample Chinese food till he was 19.

“There were no ethnic restaurants in the western suburbs. Wogs ate with their families, not in restaurants and it wasn’t till the late 70’s that Australians from my part of the continent started to get game enough to try.”

Mike’s experience is similar to mine.

Ours was a ‘meat and 3 veg’ household. My mother’s kitchen repertoire had about 12 main meals in it. She did them all very well, but variety was not on the agenda.

She did make a dish that she described as a curry….but in hindsight, it clearly wasn’t.  She also served something that she referred to as Spaghetti Bolognaise which we would smother in tomato sauce.

I can recall the very first time that we ate as a family at dingy little Chinese Restaurant in Northam in Western Australia in the 70’s.  I can’t remember the name of the restaurant but it would have had ‘palace’, ‘lantern’ or  ‘dragon’ somewhere in it.

I marvelled at the new exotic flavours. The strips of  beef had a velvety texture that wasn’t like anything that came out of my Mum’s kitchen.  I would have been 12 years old and it was the first time I’d ever laid eyes on a snow pea.  And I can recall that one of these dishes featured thin slices of ginger.  The flavour blast blew my mind.

Lyn Mills tells me that the first genuine Chinese restaurant to open in Canberra was Happys back in the early 60’s. Happy’s is still trading in Garema Place, which I gather is the original location.

They did do takeaway back in the 60’s but you had to bring your own  pot.  How quaint.

Former Duntroon cadet Rod called the radio program with his memories of Happy’s.

“We’d go and have a big feed every few weeks,” he said. “It really was the place to be.”

Rod couldn’t remember what  his favourite dish was back then because, as he explained it, he and his mates usually arrived quite late on Friday night with a few beers under the belt.

It could have been lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork or Mongolian lamb.

He recalled a night when he and his friends were particularly rowdy  and they were told to leave.

As he was ordering them from the premises, the owner of Happy’s reportedly told Rod and his crew, “Me not happy no more.”

Aren’t we spoilt for international cuisine in Canberra now ?

What was your first international food experience either in or out of Canberra 6911?