Monday, July 16, 2007

Mama's Bistro, Ballan

Small towns scattered around the goldfields of Victoria offer a certain charm thanks to their architecture, their memorials, Mechanics Institute Halls, old churches, and just all round rural charm. Other towns offer none of that, especially those which have lost their way after freeways have diverted traffic around them. Ballan, squeezed between the railway and the freeway but generally lost to view and mind is one of those bleak places you try and avoid actually. The local cafes offer rubbery sausage rolls, the local pub has paper table clothes, stained from previous meals, and the sub zero chill factor keeps you from wanting to stop too long.

Thankfully we stopped on this bleak day for a quick look at Mama’s Bistro to see if we could get a hot lunch. It turns out Mama came out from Italy after the war (1945) and soon had the locals coming in and ordering “Mama’s pyjamas” (parmigiana). She still cooks there. A sprightly little lady, with a headscarf catching up her hair. Her cackling laugh is infectious and she had us feeling at home straight away. Her daughter helps out. They made us laugh by warning as we placed our orders that “they had not very much of anything”! In the end they served us nine home cooked meals, piping hot and delivered with good humour and a cheeriness in stark contrast to the bleak conditions outside. The human story that we discovered here, along with the hospitality and family table atmosphere Mama created were worth the effort to stop and brave the cold to see what the town offered.

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