Little Saigon

I have found a new way to shop. It doesn’t leave me feeling drained and exhausted by the time I’ve got the trolley past the check out, and it doesn’t leave my wallet looking like the check out was manned by Ned Kelly and Captain Midnight. I don’t feel ripped off. It’s actually fun. It’s a South East Asian market and it’s about 20 kilometres up the highway. No passports required.

When you pull into the car park at Inala Shopping Centre, it looks like any other shopping centre anywhere in Australia. There’s a big Woolworth’s sign and a Reject Shop sign. Over to the right are a couple of Asian grocery shops and a cafe. The cafe’s great – best Vietnamese coffee and Pork Rolls I’ve ever tasted. I love Vietnamese coffee, it taste like the coffee my dad used to make…and the pork rolls…I hadn’t had a pork roll since I left western Sydney. I died and went to Heaven with the the first bite.

It looks at first as though that’s all there is – a couple of shops and a cafe – but head down the walkway…and wow!

You’re in Little Saigon, a busy, bustling South East Asian market. The range of fruit and vegetables is incredible, way beyond anything the Big Two Supermarkets offer, and it is all fresh, mostly local, and cheap.

When I can drag myself away from the pork rolls and bubble tea, the cramped, grocery shops beckon. No, they don’t have the wide aisles and today shelves of the Big Two, but the funny thing is in those big supermarkets I always seem to be in someone’s way. At Inala, natural Asian politeness and simple human common sense rule – we cheerfully squeeze past each other and the shelf stockers, and everyone leaves their shopping baskets at the front of the shop, taking purchases from the shelves to the basket. No one touches the baskets, no one complains about the extra time it takes, and no one glares at anyone. In the wide aisles of a western supermarket, I get glared at if I stop to look at an item on the shelf – all those busy people desperate to get on with their busy days have to fume impatiently while I check a price.

Outside the shops, it’s even more relaxed. Shoppers sit in the sunshine with their children, wander away from their trolleys and prams to get a drink or something to eat, and no one touches anything. There is an air of friendliness and welcome that is palpable to the newcomer, especially after doing the regular shopping at our local shopping centre. Fresh produce, happy smiles, and helpful shop owners who don’t mind that you have your kids with you and don’t act like you are disrupting their busy day at work – it is very different.

But it isn’t just the atmosphere of Little Saigon that is so attractive, it is the shops as well. The grocery shops are stocked with the kind of foods we like to eat, and it’s a great source of Filipino ingredients. There’s a video shop, a CD shop, variety stores crammed with things like Japanese rice cookers (expensive but we are sooo getting one) and the most divine cake shop in the universe, selling the most delicate and gorgeous pastries and cakes, flavored with taro, ube and mango.

I think that’s what I love most, the flavors. There are delicious canned drinks flavored with lychee, coconut, melon and so many more options than cola and orange, and so cheap. I can stock up on food and drink that I love, and still have change.

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