The last 10 Do's and Don'ts was London by Ms Marmite Lover. I thought that with winter gripping Europe and part of the US of A, some of you might like to taste a little sunshine from the Southern Hemisphere.
With that in mind I asked long distance penpal, Australian food writer Carli Ratcliff for suggestions. She shares her 10 Dos and Donts of a summer Christmas holiday in Sydney. She was actually very generous and came up with twenty, 10 of each.
Here they come.
- Embrace the season, and by that I mean high summer. The sun is shining, the beaches are full and there is no use channeling the white Christmases of your childhood. Throw on your bikini or your speedos and head for the sand. Lie in the sun and swim in the ocean on Christmas Day, something you can’t do comfortably in the Northern Hemisphere this time of year. 1A Do wear sunscreen at all times. That hole in the ozone layer is directly above us, so when people say you'll burn, they ain't kidding! Apply 30+SPF, nothing less, you will go home with a tan without even trying, I guarantee it.
- Eat Australian on the big day. Most Australian’s celebrate the season with a family lunch on Christmas Day. From mangoes and cherries to cherax destuctor aka yabbies (baby Australian crayfish) seasonal wonders abound. Kangaroo and emu are also available, most Aussies skip these meats (in favour of turkey, ham and pork) and they don’t know what they are missing, the local’s reluctance is due, in part, to the fact that both animals are on the nation’s coat of arms. However oysters, scallops and rock lobsters are not, and all make for a magnificent meal come lunchtime on December 25.
- Eat a traditional dessert with a twist. Our links with Britain and the Empire’s traditional Christmas fare have not waned in the dessert department in more than 200 years. Christmas pudding is what you’ll find on most Australian tables for dessert. You’d think necessity would be the master of invention in this heat, but no, a slight tweak at best in most homes, where you might come across an ice cream Christmas pudding, which is exactly as it sounds, vanilla ice cream moulded into the shape of a pudding dotted with dried fruits and nuts and more than a splash of brandy. If you are really lucky you might be the guest of an inventive Australian host (like Rebecca Varidel at Inside Cuisine) who comes up with something suitably celebratory and acclimatized.
- Buy local. If you are visiting, and a keen gift giver, buy something unique that the recipient can enjoy here, a surfing lesson on Manly Beach, tickets to Sydney Theatre Company’s Uncle Vanya (Cate Blanchett is the Artistic Director and stars alongside Hugo Weaving and Golden Globe nominee Jacki Weaver) or a gift certificate for dinner at Guillaume at Bennelong inside one of Jørn Utzon’s famous sails of the Sydney Opera House, arrive in time for sunset around 7pm.
- Play cricket, if you must. Two things tend to happen once the lunch feast is over on Christmas Day, either people nod off, usually upright in an air-conditioned living room, or they head into the backyard with bat and ball for a game of cricket, beer in hand.
- Take a ferry ride, across Pittwater, past bushland and private beaches to Sydney’s Central Coast for a long lazy lunch at Bells Killcare. They’ll collect you from the ferry wharf and drive you to the property where chef Stefano Manfredi will treat you to the best seasonal produce Sydney and its surrounds has to offer, some of it straight out of Bells kitchen garden.
- Eat leftovers. December 26 is a public holiday known as Boxing Day (also observed in some European and African countries) a name that came about for any number of reasons, some say it refers to the metal boxes the Romans placed outside churches to collect money for the needy, others believe it harks back to Victorian England when wealthy landowners gave their servants the day off and a box of leftovers to go with it. Whatever the etymology, in recent years lobby group Planet Ark has dubbed December 26 ‘National Leftovers Day,’ in response to the amount of food Australian’s waste (more than 3.3 million tonnes each year) and it's only sensible to follow suit, refashion leftovers into a pie, a pasta dish or a soup Chef Frank Cammora, of Melbourne’s acclaimed MoVida restaurant suggests this pastry recipe.
- Watch cricket, if you must. It's not for me, but if I said that out loud, I'd be dragged out and shot. Cricket is a national obsession and it doesn't get much bigger than the Boxing Day Test even the national broadcaster ABC (our equivalent on the BBC) airs only cricket coverage! Hell on wheels for sporting philistines like me, especially if you're on a road trip. And most of Australia are.
- Leave early, very early if you are driving up or down the coast or to any beach on December 26. It's the unofficial first day of Australia's summer holidays, schools aren't in until January 31 so coast roads around the country are crammed with frustrated parents, hot whinging children and eskys filled with food, surfboards are strapped to the roof and bikes are clinging to the back, and we sit, bumper to bumper until we get to 'our' beach, on Boxing Day the journey always takes two to three times longer than it would any other day of the year.
- Stay for the fireworks. On Boxing Day, the Sydney to Hobart super yacht race begins in the harbour, the Sydney Festival fills the city with exciting events and come New Year’s Eve there's not a patch of grass spare on the harbour foreshore, as picnickers and revelers spread their rugs and flip open their eskys for a night by the harbour. Arrive early, and by early I mean before midday, the very keen camp out the night before to secure the best vantage point for the fireworks that are spread along the harbour on five barges, so everyone gets a squiz, while the grand finale is always focused on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
- Feel you need to stand on ceremony. Despite our reputation Australian’s tend to be polite, so if you are invited to someone’s home for Christmas lunch, they’ll more than likely work to make you feel comfortable, which means they’ll try and cook ‘your’ food. If you accept an invitation ask if you can have an ‘Australian’ Christmas, every family is different so I am not sure what you’ll get, but you will, at the very least, leave with an insight into how one family deals (or not) with tradition and heat.
- Adorn your car with antlers and a red nose. This is the first year Australian’s have decorated their vehicles with furry antlers and plush-toy red noses. It has caused considerable scratching of heads, ‘why would anyone do this?’
- Head to Bondi Beach on Christmas Day unless you want to be crushed. Bondi Beach is the venue for ‘Backpackers Christmas’ where every visiting backpacker descends on the country’s most famous beach. The scene once included lots of beer, more than a few arrests and plenty of overworked lifeguards fishing drunk backpackers ‘out of the drink’ (sea). However the local council and police have declared the area an alcohol free zone in recent years so it’s now a dry party.
- Ask the cab driver to turn the cricket off the radio. You will likely be thrown out of the taxi.
- Drink and swim, drive or sail a boat. Random breath testing is taken very seriously in Sydney, particularly at this time of year. Police units are set up beside the city’s roads to randomly test blood alcohol limits. If you are on the water you are not immune, Sydney’s water police also randomly breath test the skippers of pleasure craft across the harbour.
- Don't plan on catching a taxi home from the New Year’s Eve fireworks, take your walking shoes. As mentioned the harbour foreshore is packed and come 12.30am everyone wants to head home. Your chances of hailing a cab are less than slim, so best to wear your walking shoes.
- Show up at a restaurant on Christmas Day and expect to be able to eat. Best to book ahead. Like cities the world over, most Sydney restaurants have set menus on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve and some are closed Boxing Day, so reservations for lunch or dinner throughout Christmas week will ensure you don’t go hungry.
- Celebrate ‘Christmas in July’. This is an appalling recent phenomena best ignored by visitors. Each July when the mercury drops to a chilly, say 10 degrees Celsius, Christmas-fanatics use the excuse to have a second Christmas, complete with fake snow (there is real snow in Australia in July but you have to drive an awfully long way to get to it) and an un-seasonal Christmas tree, and sit down to a table groaning under the weight of roast meats which they wash down with mulled wine, usually beside a roaring fire.
- Forget your sunscreen (as mentioned in the ‘Do’s’) or your mosquito repellent. At dusk the mossies descend and they are often ferocious, prevention is better than cure, red dots, like red skin, are very unattractive.
- Visit in any time other than summer. The city is at its best at this time of year. In January everyone is on holidays so the CBD is a ghost town, which means public transport is less crowded, you can get a dinner reservation, theatre tickets or a cab without too much trouble, the sun is shining, the harbour’s sparkling and Sydneysiders are smiling, because they don’t have to go to work.
Christmas Holiday in the sun!
Want more, Carli Ratcliff serves weekly slices of the Australian food scene on Hunter Gatherer (SBS Food). That's how we connected.
(* All photos by Carli, from Posting Holiday Cards to Setting Table for Christmas Lunch, the Sydney Harbour, last Christmas Day in Sydney)