Dinner in a billy can

Peter Leith is 90 and has seen a lot of the world and its wasteful ways. But when he was a lad, takeaway cafe owners could hold their heads high.


On occasional Friday evenings, mum would send us down to a Chinese cafe near the Como Jetty in Perth to get some food. We would set off on our bikes, each with an empty billy can slung over the upturned handlebars.

The cafe was, to say the least, ‘unpretentious’. There were four or five battered Laminex-topped tables in a small shopfront, a small counter and, through an archway, a simple kitchen.

A shapeless but smiling Chinese man of indeterminate age would great us with a, “Yes plizz.” In our still immaculate British accents, courtesy of an upbringing in India and not yet corrupted by the dinkum-Aussie dialect, we would order. “One serve each of fried rice and hun yin gai, please.”

The man would take our billy cans and shout something unintelligible through the open kitchen door, take our 10 shilling note and give us the change.

Jack and I would sit at one of the vintage tables and glance through the literature in antique magazines … and wait. But never for very long.

In due course, our billy cans would emerge from the kitchen and be handed over. I don’t think we ever remounted our bicycles without first lifting the lids to inhale the fragrances of the food before riding back home.

Do you have a story or an observation for Peter? Send it to [email protected] and put ‘Sunday’ in the subject line.

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