By Abbey Jane
“If you could only eat parmi’s for the rest of your life, or never have a parmi again, what would you choose?” This heavy existential question, overheard at a local Geelong hotel, stumped the man mid-bite. He stared down at his half-eaten parmigiana for several seconds before offering this only and final answer:
Don’t pretend it’s a question you could answer easily. Think about that golden-crumbed juicy chicken breast schnitzel, salted with a layer of smoky ham, smothered with rich napoli sauce and baked to perfection with blistering, melting mozzarella. Complete the picture with a generous stack of thick-cut chips, optional garden salad and a frosty pot of amber ale. As a matter of fact you could go one now.
As a nation, we’ve claimed the traditional Italian recipe and Australianised it, with bistros boasting many tempting and experimental variations. But, the correct abbreviated pronunciation of our most popular pub meal has become a piping hot topic and the raging parmi vs parma debate continues to bubble. Some argue it is a location-based dialect, while others maintain it is a personal preference.
Either way, the ‘incorrect’ pronunciation can result in fierce opposition, thick insults and even profanity-laden tirades. One unfortunate gentleman at the Yardz Hotel in Geelong West was informed he was ‘tripping balls’ at a table full of his contemporaries after using alternate phrasing.
So what is correct? It’s spelled parmigiana, so the logical conclusion would be parmi. However, our broad Australian palates pronounce it parm-ah-jana with the phonetic emphasis on the ɑː sound. Surely that means it should be pronounced as parma? Clearly, this is one hard-hitting debate that needs expert opinions.
Stuart Atchison, Head Chef, Edge Geelong
Surely someone that actually cooks the damn things would know the correct way to say it? Stuart Atchison is Head Chef at Geelong’s popular Edge restaurant and bar on the waterfront. While hospitality has taken a dive over the past year, the popularity of the parmigiana is showing no signs of slowing.
“Pre-COVID we were doing around 15,000 a year, and we don’t even do a parmi night,” Stuart reveals. “We might do 30 at lunch, but often around 40-60 at dinner time. We have an extensive menu and people see other things, but they go back to the old fave. As for parmi or parma, I’ve always said parmi. It just comes out easier.” But what’s the secret to a golden tasty parmigiana cooked to perfection? Is there a winning method?
“Some pubs butterfly the chicken to make it seem bigger, and some pubs deep fry their parmi’s. These methods can leave it dry. The best way is to start with the grill and finish it off in the oven, and always use a whole breast that hasn’t been cut. That keeps it juicier. That’s how we do it at Edge,” Stuart explains. Needless to say, we’ll all be seeing Stu down at Edge as soon as lockdown is lifted.
Ben Flynn, Geelong Chamber of Commerce
The head of the local chamber is a pillar of the community in a position of note who has worked around the globe, but he enjoys a good pub parmigiana as much as the next bloke. When we asked Ben to tell us his favoured pronunciation, his answer needed little consideration or explanation.
“Parma for sure.”
Paul Collins, Roofer
Still lamenting the old-school vibes of the Valley Inn when it was owned by Billy Brownless, Paul Collins trusts the consistency of the dish no matter which pub he’s in.
“I’ve just always known it as parmi, and you can just order it and trust it to be the same each time,” he nods. “The best I’ve ever tried was actually from Echuca. It was a Ned Kelly parmi and it had salami on it. Amazing. The worst? While the Sir Charles Darling is my favourite local for a bite, one year they decided to do a meat-pie parmi for Australia Day. It was a traditional parmi topped with pie mince and baked in pastry. Pretty wrong. I still ate it though.”
Lisa Pitfield, Sacred Heart College
After a trying day wrangling databases, classes, websites, students, parents and last but not least, teachers, a parmigiana with friends and family hits the spot for Lisa Pitfield.
“It’s something you can’t really recreate at home, not the way pubs do it. It’s also a dish that is pretty hard to f*** up. I’ve only had a burnt parmi once. Most unpleasant. I was rightfully staging my own parmi protest by refusing to eat it after the first bite, but then Dad grabbed my plate and finished it off anyway so the kitchen didn’t even get the message. But yeah, it’s parmi.”
Marjory Palmer, Retired Teacher, Jeweller and Artist
When it comes to a classic counter meal, Marjory cites Kilgour Street’s Commun Na Feine or ‘The Commo’ as it is known to locals as her nearby parma haunt.
“I’ve always said parma. It’s definitely parma. Maybe I tend to favour that because it’s also my namesake, but I’ve just always said it that way. They are just so yummy. I’m never even tempted to try anything else. If I know I’m going to enjoy a pub parma, I don’t even bother looking at the rest of the menu.”
Billy Brownless, Local Legend and Former Publican
The man needs no introduction. If anyone can weigh in on this debate with absolute authority, it is local AFL legend and former publican Billy Brownless. His very own term for beers – frothies – has become part of Victoria’s vernacular. Billy was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to submit this very important response.
“I call it a parmi, but do cop a bit of flak from Melbourne people! I reckon it sounds better, so it’s a parmi from me.”
The correct abbreviation of parmigiana in Geelong is parmi.
Or is it? Cast your vote for parmi or parma with our online poll below. As for whether the chips go under or next to the parmi, watch this space.
If you have a crazy parmigiana story, feel free to share it with us here.