It’s official. Melbourne’s favourite dish has been named as the humble parma this year.
The fried bird was voted for by Time Out’s readers in a survey conducted in 2020, and has proudly claimed its metaphorical crown as Melbourne’s entry in our essential guide to the world’s most iconic dishes.
Before we get into it though, it’s important to note the correct spelling and pronunciation: it’s parma with an ‘a’, not parmi with an ‘i’ - here’s looking at you Geelong, and the rest of the country. You know you’re all wrong.
So what is a parma? The pub staple features a crisp chicken schnitty coated in a layer of napoli sauce, slices of smoky ham, topped with a horde of melted cheese and grilled to perfection. It's vegetarian counterpart often substitutes the chicken with meaty eggplant or mock meat, and it's usually served with a side of chips or a salad for the “health-conscious”, or both.
Its origins lie in 17th century Italy where its namesake, parmigiana or parmigiana di melanzane, came from. Deep-fried slices of eggplant replaced the chicken, and it was topped with layers of napoli sauce and mozzarella cheese. The dish was then baked and cut into slices when served, similar to a lasagne.
It later voyaged to the United States of America and was adapted by Italian Americans, who introduced chicken to the mix in the 1940s and said “ciao” to the eggplant. We’re not sure what’s worse, though, calling it “chicken parmesan” or pairing it with pasta - we’ll let you decide.
The verdict’s out on when the parmigiana settled on Australia’s sunkissed shores, but it’s reported to have occurred in the ‘80s. When the auspicious event occurred someone bastardised the dish by adding a layer of ham, incorporated one giant schnitty instead of multiple smaller ones and got to work with the cheese grater, making it a feast for one.
We at Time Out are glad the parma met its fate here because we get to reap the delicious rewards. Not only is Melbourne now so parma-obsessed that it features on the menus of most pubs, but it’s also home to dedicated parma festivals and awards, not to mention Mrs Parmas: a venue that dishes up ten different variations of the chicken lover’s dream.