2/231 Smith Street, Fitzroy - aka one floor below Panama (map)
Open for dinner Thursday to Sunday
I knew what the phrase meant, but wanted a bit more context: is it used as a term of affection or does it further marginalise individuals in an already marginalised group? So last week I posed a gay culture pop quiz question to the Sisters in a group email:
Broadly speaking, on a scale of 1 to 10, how offensive is the term rice queen in gay circles?
To which S replied in his inimitable, fabulous manner:
When used by some white gay men, I think it is used as a pretty objectionable term to imply that sexually desiring Asian men is something to be ridiculed or pitied.
However, to solely fetishise wo/men of a particular race is also problematic.
And that's why living the post-progressive life is for me...
And my housemate DJ subsequently replied:
Transcript of in-person briefing to housemate at midnight last night:
D: "As with everything, context is king. Was the term used as an insult? Or an attempt at 'humourous' self-description? Either way, it necessarily involves a (real or imputed) fetishisation of the ethnic other."
C: "Orientalism, anyone?"
D: "Exactly. And it also buys into the problematic practice of racist sexual stereotyping."
Except when being used by post-progressive types amongst themselves after a vodka cranberry or three...
After a bit more email back and forth in a similar vein and further pseudo-academic banter with DJ, I decided it would probably be acceptable to visit a restaurant (sorry, an "Oriental diner and bar") named Rice Queen. I went along on Saturday night with best-friend-K, Miss G and Willski, stopping off first of all with b-f-K for a pre-meal drink upstairs at Panama Dining Room.
Ooooh. Campari and grapefruit, and Pimms and lemonade.
Panama habitués will recall that the floor below PDR used to be a latin dance studio. What is now the Rice Queen front room used to be the backstage area, and the RQ owners have retained the unvarnished floorboards and made it the bar area. It's a lovely space, I just wish they'd replace the chairs with less hideous/uncomfortable ones.
It's a diner, so once the waiter has brought you a menu it's up to you to walk up to the bar, order food and drinks, pay cash and take a number. The dishes are cheap ($7-$15) but I did start to have some misgivings when I saw just how pan-Asian the menu is: Japanese and Chinese and Indian and Thai and Vietnamese and Malay and Sri Lankan...
...and yeah, turns out my misgivings were well-founded. Jack of all trades, master of none and all that. The food wasn't BAD, just not terribly interesting or authentic.
We started with a couple of silky bean curd san choi bow ($7 each) and masala dosa ($9 each). The dosa had nice coconut chutney and curried potato, but was a little chewy for my liking.
The $12 Thai fried rice cakes (basically Thai arancini with jasmine rice, beef and Thai herbs) were unsophisticated but quite tasty. The grilled lemon chicken with a coriander spiced paste and served with a half-hearted coleslaw ($15) was disappointingly bland.
I did however quite like the shredded green pawpaw salad pounded with chilli, fish sauce, tomato and snake beans ($13) and the Sri Lankan vegetable curry with cashews, sambal and chutney ($12), but both dishes were crying out for a bit more kick to them. What's wrong with a good whack of fiery spice, I ask you?
When Brian reviewed Rice Queen he mentioned the slow service. On Saturday night our food also took ages to arrive (over 25 minutes before the san choi bow and dosa came out), despite there being only six occupied tables in the whole place.
It's got potential, but I really hope Rice Queen lifts its game by (a) speeding up the service, (b) getting some decent chairs in the bar area, and (c) taking a few more risks with the food, specialising in a cuisine and doing it well. Can someone let me know if it does?