The rise and fall of…. Semi-Dried Tomatoes

Brisbane is a funny place. It’s coming out of a prolonged and ungainly adolescence to become something of a late bloomer in the cool cities arena.

This journey has often been mirrored by the popularity of particular ingredients or dishes. They come from no-where, gather a cult following and are then suddenly and gloriously ubiquitous. Only to crash and burn soon after because they have been forced down our necks so often.

No better example of this phenomenon exists than the semi-dried tomato. It’s rise to the dizzy heights and subsequent fall from grace can be plotted like the points on a graph.

So I did…

Semi-Dried Tomatoes: The rise and fall

Semi-Dried Graph

As you can see the semi-dried tomato only arrived in Brisbane in the early to mid 90’s. While I have no doubt that their popularity had long been established in Melbourne and Sydney, things were different up here.

In those days you couldn’t get a cappuccino after 4.00 pm in the afternoon because the very few cafes that served them were shut. Perhaps even more distressing is the fact that these beverages were often self-consciously ordered by asking…

Could I ploise have a Cup-of-chino?”.

Prior to 1990 tomatoes had one use, and one use only.

They were cut into wedges for use in the traditional 80’s green salad – where they nestled innocently next to their illustrious neighbours diced tasty cheese, sliced hard-boiled eggs and possibly tinned Golden Circle pineapple…

Tomato cut into wedges? Check! Diced tasty cheese? Check! Puke-worthy hard-boiled egg? Double-check!

Tomato cut into wedges? Check! Diced tasty cheese? Check! Puke-worthy hard-boiled egg? Double-check!

Then in the mid 90’s we started the develop a cafe culture.

Now don’t ge me wrong – the coffee was still almost universally shite, but the food had definitely started to improve.

There’s a distinct Mediterranean influence, as Brisbanites are introduced to items like pesto, ciabatta and prosciutto. And of course, our friend the semi-dried tomato.

We start off slowly, sprinkling a few on “safe” options like salads and open grills (a fancy way of saying cheese on toast)…

Baby steps - semi-dried tomatoes on an Open Grill (AKA cheese on toast)

Baby steps – sundried tomatoes on an Open Grill (AKA cheese on toast)

By the late 90’s and early 00’s things are getting wild.

We’re well on our way to becoming foodies and we finally have a few decent restaurants to go to (thanks to cheap house prices that have seen refugees from the southern states pour into Brisbane like the rats into Hamelin).

Semi-dried tomatoes are at the forefront of this brave new culinary world. We enjoy them stuffed them into chicken breasts, and select them daintily from antipasto platters…

Ooh la la! Very sexy antipasto - with semi-dried tomatoes of course daaaarling xx

Ooh la la! Very sexy antipasto – with semi-dried tomatoes of course daaaarling xx

Ironically, it was the sheer popularity of the semi-dried tomato that was to be its undoing.

By the mid 00’s we’re starting to get bored.

The supermarkets sell semi-dried tomatoes now in huge slurry-filled trays. More often than not you’ll get your little plastic tub home only to find that they’re at least partially fermented – and you really haven’t lived until you’ve tasted a sei-dried tomato that’s on the turn….

Are these on the turn? You won't know until you get home...

Are these on the turn? You won’t know until you get home…

A few chefs try resurrect its former popularity by creating things like semi-dried tomato ice-cream. Needless to say this only hastens it’s decline.

By 2010 it’s over.

Semi-dried tomatoes can’t get arrested in this town let alone scrape a place on a menu.

And, up until recently, if you’d asked me whether I thought they’d ever make a comeback I would have laughed in your face!

Except that the other day – out of nowhere – I got a craving for them. Call it nostalgia, call it dementia, I just really wanted some.

So when I happened to see some glistening in the display window of a local deli I thought to myself “Why not?”.

They were absolutely delicious, and what’s more they brought back all the memories of my taste-journey over the last 20 years.

So in my final analysis? I think semi-dried tomatoes may just be ready to make a triumphant come-back. Like me, they’ve seen a few things in their time and they know how to roll with the punches.

They’re survivors goddammit!