My Uncle Art liked a bet on the ponies. He lived in a flat near Randwick Racecourse and I remember thinking he was the coolest because his name was Art, but also being scared of him because he was really old. My Aunt in Canada changed her name from Charity to Cherry. I don’t know why and I’ve never met her to ask, but it strikes me as a curious, delicious, choice. My Uncle John had a fight with my mum a few years ago and now I refuse to talk to him. No one likes to be patronised, John. My Aunty Mavis lived in Sawtell and used to bring out a massive tray of lollies every time Mum took us to visit. I miss Aunty Mavis most.
My Aunty Carla and Uncle Roger aren’t really my aunt and uncle, but as good as. I remember them coming over to our place when I was small; I remember being too shy to look either of them in the eye, but staring at Carla’s red high heels. They’re Mum’s best mates, the two people I’d call for help if she was dodging my calls. We’ve spent Christmas’ together, milling in the kitchen then crammed around the table of their snuggly house in Blackheath; they’ve cooked for us, cared for us and raised a fist in the air for us.
As an adult I can look both of them in the eye and I’m lucky to call Mum’s besties my friends, too. On a workday Thursday we sit down to dinner at Moonpark in Redfern. In the quiet, spare space their three big personalities – and my feeble fourth – fill the room. The banter is caustic as ever, the elders riffing on injustice, trains, family, dickheads and food, my mind and mouth skipping to keep up.
The ‘modern Korean’ menu is split into small plates, main plates and dessert, with line after line of interesting combinations and intriguing Korean words. We go for cucumber kimchi with fresh nashi ($5), bindaedduk: fried chickpea cake with pork mince and cabbage kimchi ($3 each), ssam: bulgogi short rib, sweet cabbage, pine nut and anchovy ($7 each) and zucchini pancake with mussel and squid ($12) to get started.
The cucumber crudités are crunchy and coated in a beery-fermented sauce, the chickpea cakes nutty, mealy batons with a thick golden-fried crust, and filled with mild mince. Excellent alone, they’re more fun scoffed together. The ssam is Moonpark’s cleverer, Koreaner version of the now ubiquitous pork bun: soft meat in a sticky, salty slick of dark sauce and taco-wrapped in a round of cabbage leaf. You should order two each, at least. But it’s the green-tinged pancake that kills it. The mussel and zucchini batter tastes of spring and the salty sea, with a strangely wonderful slimy feel. Topped with squeaky curls of squid, it’s a triumph. Our satisfaction peaks, our laughter is loud, our politics left and the cracks wise.
We polish off the small plates then plough through shrimp brined fried chicken with soy and syrup ($18, and basically the ultimate breaded buffalo wings), bibim mixed rice with spanner crab, walnuts, broccolini and burnt butter ($22, and basically the ultimate Korean mum food), john dory in pollock broth with bean sprout barley and radish ($26, and basically the ultimate mellow, palatable dish for those wary of Korean food) and eggplant, egg custard, pickled garlic scapes and lotus root jorim ($16, and basically the ultimate decorative display of lacework lotus root and soft eggplant).
Digging our greedy way through three marvellous, milky, faintly sweet desserts ($13-$14) the idea of monthly, or bi-monthly, or semi-regular-at-least meals is floated. Better than that, I’m to pick and they’re all to pay. Carla and Roger have been there for as long as I can remember and are locking in dinners as far in advance as they can. I’ve got plenty of Aunts and Uncles, but I count these two in my family.