Australian cuisine refers to the food of Australians and its indigenous society. Often this conjures up a vision of “bush tucker” from when our indigenous developed a unique hunter gatherer diet consisting of witchetty grubs and bush berries. Australia was first colonized by the British and our culinary tastes were strongly influenced.
Today roast dinners of lamb or beef, the Australian meat pie and fish and chips remain hugely popular. Meat is the core food in our cuisine, with the good old Aussie barbecue an Australian tradition.
A long love affair with meat, our great weather and love of the outdoors puts the barbie among our favourite cooking methods. At the heart of any Aussie BBQ is the snagger, banger, the good old beef sausage. There’s something homely about a snag in a roll or a slice of bread, with tomato sauce and some fried onion on top. A sausage sizzle put on outside the local Bunning’s hardware store on Sundays makes a bit of DIY that much more appealing.
There is another icon we may not have invented, but we sure have taken to the next level and that’s the hamburger. When we ask for them with “the lot” we get a beef pattie in a bread roll, loaded with runny fried egg, bacon, cheese, tomato, lettuce, onions and tomato sauce and something not many cultures could have imagined, the addition of beetroot. Pickles are only added in ‘food chain’ burgers.
Then there’s the fusion of Chinese and easy to eat, the Chiko Roll. A deep fried, savoury roll encasing a blend of shredded cabbage, beef, barley, carrots and green beans. This is an ideal accompaniment to a feed of fish ‘n chips (see further) or a great footy snack.
Another iconic Aussie footy snack and well known take away, although British in origin, is the good old Meat pie, but we have commandeered it as our own. It is filled with minced beef in gravy, encased in a baked flaky pastry shell about 10cm across so it’s easy to eat. Eaten with a generous squirt of tomato sauce is a must do. Popular brands are Mrs Macs which started in Perth in the 1950’s and Four n Twenty an iconic brand for over 60 years. Well known to Australian expats, the meat pie is becoming popular in US when food chain Pie Face opened its first chain in New York in 2011.
Sausage rolls are another popular takeaway pastry item. A bona fide Australian pub classic, the Chicken Parmigiana is a chicken schnitzel topped with a tomato sauce and melted cheese. Usually comes with a beer on “parma night” at the local pub.
Vegemite on toast, us happy little vegemite’s enjoyed it breakfast, lunch and tea, or so the song goes. It’s been suggested that Australians know the lyrics of the Vegemite jingle written in 1954 better than our National Anthem. This is as Australian food as it gets. Launched in 1923, Vegemite is one of our most popular foods, with more than 22 million jars sold each year. In every culture there are foods adored by locals but outsiders recoil. Just as the French love their escargot or Scots’ their Haggis, we Aussies have a passion for Vegemite. Instructions are simple; spread on hot buttered toast as soon as possible and apply a very thin, even spread. Another serving suggestion is to spread onto Sao biscuits, (see further). This dark brown paste with its deep, bitter taste is quintessentially part of every Australian breakfast and no doubt an important victory for patriotic taste buds across the world, best described as “an acquired taste”.
If you are not a toast eater the iconic commercial breakfast cereal is Weet-Bix. Sao Biscuits, a product of Arnott’s are a savoury cracker biscuit launched in 1906. Sao, an acronym for Salvation Army Officer was named for Arthur, one of the Arnott brothers, who was an officer in the Salvation Army. Saos are a light texture, achieved by rolling the dough into thin layers and carefully layering it to give the distinctive bubbles and crumbs, best eaten as a light snack, topped with butter and Vegemite. For generations, the Sao sandwich has been squeezed to create “worms“ that pour out of the holes in the pastry, then eaten.
We have quite a sweet tooth too. A firm childhood favourite in Australia is the good old Vanilla Slice. Nothing beats the light crispy pastry sandwiching a velvety smooth vanilla custard and iced with passionfruit icing. Just the thought of these takes many back to their school days and only in Australia could we take such a delicate treat and call it ‘Snot Block’.
Children growing up were also served Fairy Bread, which despite the fancy name is merely buttered bread covered with sprinkles, known as hundreds and thousands. The bread is then cut, usually into triangles. We have Lamingtons which are an Australian dessert or a snack. This is a sponge cake cut into small squares, dipped in chocolate and then rolled in desiccated coconut. The serving suggestion is to cut in half fill with strawberry jam and cream and sandwich together. These wonders were named after Lord Lamington, the Governor of Queensland from 1895-1901, who wore a cake like homburg hat. To honour Anna Pavlova, the elegant Russian ballerina in 1930’s, we have the elegant creation, the Pavlova. This dessert is a crisply meringue shell, that when you break into the inside you find gooey, fluffy like marshmallow, served topped with loads of whipped cream and fresh fruit, affectionately referred to as the Pav.
Aeroplane Jelly has been around since 1927 when Bert Appleroth first made jelly crystals in his bathtub and began distributing them along his Sydney tram route. Aeroplane Jelly became a household name in the 40’s when a five year old Joy King sang famous jelly jingle, “I like Aeroplane jelly” and is still Australia’s favourite. We love this delicious wobbly jelly and buy more than twenty million packets a year. The Anzac biscuit was created as a nutritional boost for soldiers during World War I and designed to withstand long sea journeys.
But what has to be the favourite of most is the Tim Tam. Made by Arnott’s, a Tim Tam is composed of two layers of chocolate malted biscuit sandwiched together with a light chocolate cream filling and coated in a thin layer of textured chocolate. One in every two households contains a packet of Tim Tams and around 35 million packs are sold each year, that’s nearly 400 million biscuits. In February the Tim Tam celebrated its 50th birthday, that’s 50 years of putting smiles on our faces, of muddying our cups of tea, or causing family arguments when only one remains. The Tim Tam inspired the Tim Tam slam, where you bite opposite corners off the biscuit, and use as a straw, drinking up hot tea or a shot of port. Now that’s delicious, the bickie goes all gooey and tastes even better, if that’s possible. Want to know more about Tim-Tams?
Other unique Aussie treats include the Violet Crumble, a honeycomb chocolate bar, Jaffa’s, chocolate with orange flavoured confectionery and Cherry Ripe, a coconut and cherry bar smothered in rich dark chocolate. Another favourite since 1930 is Freddo Frog, who originally was going to be a mouse but the creator convinced the confectioner that women and children are scared of mice, so created the chocolate frog. The Caramello Koala is a delicious chocolate snack filled with flowing caramel centre. Musk sticks, a popular confection, consisting of a pink semi-soft stick, usually extruded with a ridged cross section. Their flavour and aroma is quite floral, reminiscent of musk perfume.
Billy tea may have been prepared by boiling water over a camp fire and adding a gum leaf or two by the ill-fated swagman but today our tastes have changed. Although many Australians drink tea at home, today tea only accounts for 2.5% of total sales with coffee the largest seller. Our coffee culture is cited as being one of the most developed and vibrant in the world and coffee chains like Starbucks have very little share market in Australia. This is due to our already developed culture having been introduced by our early Greek and Italian migrants who locally roasted coffees in 1910 and opened Italian coffee houses and espresso bars here in 1950’s. The ever popular Flat White was developed here in 1980’s and is one of the most popular espresso beverages. Whilst in Italy, the cappuccino coffee is traditionally a breakfast drink, here in Australia we like to drink it at any time.
Next we have Milo, a chocolate and malt powder that is mixed in hot or cold milk to produce a popular beverage. Milo is made from malted barley and just one glass gives children 50% of their daily iron, calcium, vitamin B1 and vitamin C. Milo will be 80 years in production this year, having been first launched at the Sydney’s Royal Easter show in 1934. Whether you like your Milo hot, cold, with breakfast, after sport, stirred in or sprinkled on top of a glass of milk or just sneak an extra spoonful straight from the can, Milo has become somewhat of a rite of passage for kids in Australia.
Another European inspired beverage, wine, is now a large market with approx $5.5 billion per year to the nation’s economy. The Australian Wine Industry is now the fourth largest exporter of wine around the world from Hunter Valley Region, Margaret River and Barossa Valley. Australia is one of the world’s major wine and beer producing nations, producing high volumes of light lager style beers, mostly for domestic and export consumption.
Since the 1990’s we have been producing many quality boutique and artisan beers and the standard of public tastes have improved. Beer is served chilled in Australia, unlike other parts of the world.
The nation has a high consumption of dairy and virtually since colonisation had a long standing dairy industry with milk, cream, cheese, butter and yoghurt being produced.
Australia has the world’s third largest fishing zone and seafood plays a big part of our diet. We have high quality seafood for domestic consumption and export from lobster, prawn, tuna, salmon and abalone from clean ocean waters and oysters, salmon, tuna, mussels, prawns, barramundi harvested from aquaculture. Australian seafood cuisine features Southern Bluefin Tuna, King Trout, King George Whiting, Moreton Bay Bugs, Mud Crab, Dhufish, Yabbies and Marron as well as Abalone and Rock Lobster. The Prawn Cocktail a traditional seafood starter, is made up of shelled prawns in mayonnaise and tomato dressing, served in a glass with shredded lettuce. It’s famous the world over, but Australia really embraced the Prawn Cocktail as its own in 1970’s, the beginning of fine dining, Aussie style.
Whilst fish and chips may have originated in UK it remains popular here in Australia and consists of deep fried battered fish with deep fried slab cut chips, salt, vinegar and lemon wedges. This is a popular dish eaten at the beach in the paper with a Dim Sim, pineapple fritter and beer or can of coke. A popular dessert to accompany this is the deep fried Mars Bar.
Asian food was introduced back in the gold rush days when Chinese prospectors yearned for the tastes of home and opened restaurants as a more financially attractive option to gold panning. Best known favourite would be the Chinese inspired meat dumpling style snack, the Dim Sim a.k.a. the dimmie. The dimmie normally consists of a large ball of pork or other meat, cabbage and flavourings, encased in a wrapper similar to that of a more traditional dumping. They are usually deep fried or steamed. Steamed Dim Sims are typically served with soy sauce and considered by many locals as an Australian food.
After the World War II Australia opened its’ gates to the Europeans and the inception of cultural melting pot of nationalities brought a dazzling wealth of cuisines. A favourite takeaway would be the pizza.
Food is a perfect example of the reality we are a multicultural melting pot and not only have we learnt to accept differences and understand other cultures, we also benefit from the variety of specialty foods we have here. We are not renowned for our cuisine and art of the table, but if you are a gourmet you will find good value for money and tasty cuisine in French, Italian, Lebanese, Brazilian, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Korean, Indonesian or Vietnamese restaurants in all our major cities.
So there you go. Which of these would you most like to try? Or which of these have you tried and despised? Please comment if there are any great Australian delights I left out. And yes, New Zealand, we know you claim to have invented one of these foods on your own, but that is still in contention.
Which of these foods have you tried? And which ones did you like or dislike? Please leave a comment below and let us know below.
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Sorry about all the food pictures, hope you don’t get too distracted and head off to the pantry without leaving a comment…
* Photos were sourced by Pixabay