Potato scallops or potato cake? No one can decide — it's the circular argument dividing the nation. But we have a cracking yet comforting solution! Megan Jane de Paulo comes up with the goods.
THIS TOPIC never fails to stir up a heated debate – even leaving out the "potato fritter" moniker that Adelaideans insist on. Dividing our nation by state. Circular arguments ending in tears.
The stark fact is — scallop, cake and fritter are all terms which are ambiguous and WRONG. The entire nation is wrong. We need to unite once and for all and use one correct name.
The main argument for whether it should be cake or scallop is based on production.
Potato cakes by definition are savoury food formed by moulding them into flat round shapes which are then fried. Indeed, generally, items called potato cakes are mashed potato which is then flattened and fried – however, mostly, these are a mere cousin of the battered golden discs we are used to rooting through our pile of minimum chips to locate.
Most commercial producers of cakes/scallops do not use this method of production — they use "slices" of potato, which are then battered and fried. Most pro-cakers simply can’t believe these are slices due to their, often, sheer size, but the reality is that potatoes can grow considerably large.
Even the producers of such battered delights are not brave enough to decide on a name. Nearly all of them use the clumsy yet diplomatic “potato cake/scallop” descriptor, not willing to risk any loss of income from a disgruntled customer.
Only Macca’s (McDonald's Australia) has been bold enough to declare that they are potato scallops and are selling them as such, but it will be curious to see how sales down South go since most Victorians I know personally would rather starve than concede to ordering a potato scallop.
I say “bold”, however since McDonald's Australia's head office is based in NSW, it’s likely a case of an international company lacking the understanding of local customs yet again.
Before you decry the pro-cakers as deluded souls, the claim for potato scallops is just as flimsy. "Scalloped potatoes" is a specific dish in which slices of potato are layered and then covered in a béchamel sauce and then baked. Not at all resembling what we know in parts of the country as potato scallops.
But the shape! “Scallops” comes from their cut shape! No, my pro-scallop friend — that is merely the shape of sliced potato.
Most of us experience the phenomenon of the golden fried battered potato slice at our local fish and chip shop. Perhaps in the origins of such places lies the answer.
The first fish and chip shop is claimed to have been opened in Oxford St in Sydney in 1878 by Althanassio Comino who emigrated from the Greek island of Kythera. However it’s also claimed he pinched the idea from an unknown Welshman running a similar enterprise in Sydney and it seems only vaguely plausible that fish and chip shops did originate in England, although likely started by a Portuguese immigrant bringing the recipe for fried fish over there. Throw in some general xenophobia and ambiguity emerges.
What is certain is that the menu had fried fish and chips and the Comino family business expanded to dominate the oyster industry — however, there is no mention of potato scallops. So, one may claim that since the fish and chip shop did originate in scallop territory, we can’t confirm that was the origin of the potato cake/scallop in Australia.
In 2015, Dr Jill Vaughan, Dr Rosey Billington and Katie Jepson from the Linguistics Roadshow program illustrated that Queensland and NSW use potato scallops; Victoria and Tasmania potato cakes; Adelaide, potato fritter, and WA apparently uses whatever they feel like on an individual basis.
So everyone is right. But also everyone is wrong.
Potato scallops. Potato cakes. These aren’t Australian terms. For starters, we’ve never managed to make either shorter and whack an “o” on the end of it, as is our custom. Both are unwieldy names and lacking in description. These names keep us divided across the nation and frequently confused and embarrassed when travelling to other parts of it.
No one above the Victorian-NSW border will say cake — none below will say scallop. The main reason, I’ve been told, is “just because”.
However, we can move forward – together – towards a new united world fond of the battered fried slice of potato. Cast aside the old and dividing and embrace a new era together as one.
Future generations living in fat-coated, carb-loaded, salted unity will look back on these dark times with sadness and regret. They will hear the tales of their grandparents telling them about the time they went into a fish and chip shop in another state and were mortally embarrassed by using the wrong term.
So, I propose we change – together – and christen our national delight the "Potato Puck". After all, it’s roughly the right shape and if you let it cool down too much it frequently takes on a similar texture. Also, often, the feeling after eating one is that of being whacked in the guts!
Imagine the amusement of advertising slogans. “Pucker up!” “Pucking delicious!” And, presumably, “Get pucked!”
Now THAT is Australian.
Megan Jane de Paulo is a Melbourne-based, inner-city latte sipper and social media provocateur. You can follow Megan on Twitter @gomichild.
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