Rebutting Hate #3: Best Australian Foods to Try
After the lastÂ
lot ofÂ serious and controversial entr iesy of last time, I thought maybe I will take a sabbatical and do some not-quite serious entries now,Â multiple times the number of these entries. Since it is the national holiday of my country, I thought maybe dedicate a perspective for outsiders on what makes us tick.
Okay, I will first get this out of the way; I am not sayingÂ that chant! Now that that is clear, let’s begin.
Most people in the country use Australia Day as an excuse for relaxing – essentially hanging out with people, cooking things on the barbeque, listening to the Triple J Hottest 100. This year it falls on a Saturday, so it seems the following weekday is made as a holiday; Australians in general really like to use any excuse to not go to work on a day if they can (hell, for several weeks after Christmas many businesses are still closed; I have heard this referred to as “the great Australian bludge”). Instead, I will be doing my homework for German language class.
I digress. Over the following days I will do a few top 10s specifically related to Australia: the 10 best unique & iconic foods, the top 10 movies for an international audience to see,
the 10 best Prime Ministers etc. Let us begin.
The food of Australia. Most of the well in-grained food in Australian cuisine is descended and influenced by the food of Great Britain (and we all know the jokes there). For years and years there was the bland meat-and-three-vegetables dish and not much else from there as the choice of dish; many times have I talked with my mom and she says that she has no fond childhood memories of food.
Throughout the past few decades though, change emerged and accelerated in what many Australians eat. Without boring anyone with a long-winded recount, immigration increased and spread further throughout the world to Australia, Italians (to what I have been told) were amongst some of the first then came other Mediterranean populations then more and more came creating a multi-cultural makeup of people in the country.
On one hand, some of the basic choices in Australia’s food are dishes from other countries that are just as much associated here and they are over in the concerned origin. Examples are schnitzel from Germany, chicken parmigiana and spaghetti Bolognese from Italy, lamb roast from Wales and the list can go on.
This leads to what is referred to as”Modern Australian” cuisine, which when boiled down to the basics a conglomerate of dishes from around the place made in the now more nuanced and further developed palate of most Australians. These are really common in any city that you may come across.
On the other hand, in one of the big cities almost any cuisine that you can think of will likely be available – be it Thai, Japanese,Greek, Indian, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, Indonesian, French or whatever. Some are more elusive and specialised than others which makes it all more worth the while. You could be eating a croissant for breakfast, a Greek slovakli for lunch and in the evening be tucking into a beef rendang without going out of your way. But I digress, I digress. That is just a bit of a background to eating in Australia.
You guys might think the idea of seeing how another country does your cuisine as something to check out, and that I can understand. While you can enjoy the cornucopia of an array of cuisine options, there are also what foods that are distinct to Australia and hard to find elsewhere. Sometimes, they are so usual and expected after sometime living here that it may either astound you when foreigners do not know what they are or upon hearing that it is an Australian idea your response is, really? Well, without much further ado here is what I will say are
The Top 10 Iconic Australian Foods to Try
10. Fairy Bread
Personally, I never liked this food to begin with. Then why would I include it on such a list? Well, it is pretty ingrained here. Go to any kid’s party (themed aside) or gathering where they have to cater for kids and you will be guaranteed to see fairy bread as an option. I have tried fairy bread and I did not like it; it was too sweet and the ingredients did not go together along with the entire entity not having a lot of substance in texture. Throughout life I mentioned dislike of fairy bread much to people’s shock; a lot of people really like fairy bread especially when they were younger. Fairy bread is essentially where you get white sliced bread, spread it with butter (or margarine or whatever butter substitute you have on hand) and then layer multi-coloured sprinkles on top. Not my cup of tea, but a lot of people like it and it is a party staple for the juniors thus it is low on the list.
9. Choc Top
It will vary depending on whom you ask, but to most people a trip to the movies would be incomplete without some sort of snack. This may vary from popcorn to a soda (Frozen Coke if the weather is really hot) or some kind of candy. Even nowadays at some cinemas I have gone to there have been options such as hot dogs and slices of pizza. However, one characteristic snack at the movies that is hard to pass by is the Choc Top. A small cone of ice cream (often vanilla, but there are usually a couple of more flavours available) dipped in chocolate and frozen. It is not only available at the cinema but that is the best place to have one.
So simple, so cute.
8. Blue Heaven Milkshake
Ah, the milkshake! A familiar drink and an icon for hot days; it is a perfect snack and the more retro partner to the hamburger…… I digress. What is there not to know about the milkshake? There are all the usual milkshake flavours: chocolate, vanilla, caramel, banana, lime. There are also less usual flavours: coffee, maple, coconut, mango. Sometimes you can come across even less usual flavours, but if we were to persistently list the array of flavours available that would take all day and next. One flavour that does not appear to be available anywhere else in the world is that of Blue Heaven. It can even elusive over here but when you can find it, it is akin to stumbling upon Eldorado. It is hard to describe what kind of flavour it is, most of the time people say it is vanilla with something else; that does not matter though. If you can find it, I recommend wholeheartedly ordering one and seeing what the fuss is about.
7. Chiko Roll
This is available at most Australian greasy spoon takeaways and fish n chip shops. Upon hearing and/or knowing what one is, most people either fall into finding them disgusting thus hating them or loving them (sometimes more secretly than others); I find myself in the latter. Chiko Rolls are modeled after spring rolls and egg rolls from China; they were made as a competition to Chop Suey Rolls which were being sold outside of a cricket grounds. The creator of the Chiko Roll though the chop suey rolls were too messy for such an informal setting thus making this robust concoction; he was probably not aware how much it would catch on. Take what a spring roll filling usually is and wrap it in dough then deep fry it and that is a Chiko Roll in essence.
6. Flat White
One of the most notable events in Australia’s gastronomical history is the rise in the now ubiquitous “coffee culture”. You could be in a major city such as Melbourne (where it is really serious business) or Sydney, or a smaller, regional town and there will be at least one coffee house where people go to drink coffee and socialise or for on the go for busy workers.
Most of the coffee drunk is espresso-based; Turkish coffee and other such kinds are available and they are also widely drunk – these are often brewed instead. Within the coffee-houses, espresso bars, cafes and basically anywhere really there is the usual selection of coffee drinks (e.g. cappuccino, latte, short/long black, mocha: these are the usual suspects but other varieties are often available with a simple polite asking), and some with specialties including Chemex and cold drip. A specialty over here (and in New Zealand) is the flat white. A flat white is done where you pour espresso into a cup then top it with steamed milk. It is similar to the latte which the main distinguishing difference is that the latte is topped with foam and the flat white is not. Flat white are served in a cappuccino mug when ordered in. I can attain that in spending two months last year in England (Oxford), that I only saw one place do a flat white and it was a coffee cart owned by a New Zealander. This coffee place was popular with many Australian students and visitors and when the barista made a “double shot” coffee (sorry, I ordered cappuccino and mochaccino here) these shots were huge; a stark difference to the comparably weak excuses the other places around town did. There is also a place in London somewhere, made as a haven to homesick Australians and New Zealanders called Flat White.
At my work(s) I am self-designated as the “caffeine mule” and this is frequently a request. Also, it is only taking up in the United States now:Â New York of course!
5. Tim Tam
Segueing from the previous entry, what better to accompany a flat white than with a Tim Tam? Like a lot of people, a cup of coffee can be enjoyed on its own but I find having some sort of sweet with it makes it a whole lot better. Tim Tams are a duo of chocolate-malted biscuits sandwiching a light chocolate cream filling coated in a thin layer of textured chocolate. Many varieties of this exist and it is a fantastic little snack; a lot of jokes exist about how they always package these suckers in prime numbers. I can attest to how popular these are; often when one of my family members is going overseas or someone from overseas is going back home that they know, a whole lot Tim Tam packs are bought to go into the luggage. This is so they either do not become homesick and/or they can show their fellow peers and family what the fuss is about.
4. Bush Foods
First, a bit of humour.
Australia must be the only country in the world to eat its coat of arms. Yep, both kangaroo and emu meat are now widespread and often eaten.
In all serious business though, in over 200 years of colonisation it is pretty recent that people outside of the Australian Aborigines have been attuned to what has always been there: bush food (or bush tucker). This variety of meats, fruits, nuts and seeds are a whole other quarter of eating. I could discuss it at length as it can warrant its own whole article alone with the variety available. There are trips that can be done to experience this mode of eating, restaurants dedicated to serving native cuisine and even indigenous health programs beginning to ingrain the old style of food into their diet for better nutrition.
Some of the most notable examples of bush food include: kangaroo, macadamia nuts, witchetty grubs, lemon myrtle, quandong, Davidson’s plum and crocodile. I have barely touched on what is available, which indicates just how different the many parts of Australia are.
It is just assumed that the list could not exclude this (in)famous delicacy. Similar to the British counterpart of Marmite, people use it as an analogy to something that is a love-it-or-hate-it scenario. I might buck the trend and say I could take it or leave it.
Because of how it is polarising and not really a substantial food on its own, it does not conquer the number one spot as a lot might expect and/or think it will. Particularly spread on toast (sometimesÂ really thickly – that is how you tell who likes Vegemite and who does not) Vegemite is frequently part of everyday Australian eating. Some people even eat it by itself. Foreigners come from around the world and do not understand the appeal that people find in it. I guess it is something you have to eat from childhood to really be able to like it.
When going overseas, lots of Australian tourists sneak this into their baggage which to me defies going to another country where there are lots of other things to try. I spent weeks overseas a couple of times and as to whether or not I missed Vegemite, again – I could take it or leave it.
2. Meat Pie
The individual-sized, pastry concoction that anyone in Australia and New Zealand could talk to you about. It is probably the most common snack around, bakeries stock them, a gas station has them on hand and for more of a sit-down meal, they can be served with fries and both are smothered in gravy.
When someone I knew went to the United States, one place she stopped off at was New York City. An Australian-owned chain called Pie Face had come to there and the line up was massive. Apparently, the whole meat pie thing had never caught on in the United States. This honestly comes as a really big surprise to me for a couple of reasons; the first being the meat pie is so engrained here it is basically like something that has always existed and exists ubiquitously. The lack of existence will be a huge shock to the senses.
The second reason, I will list some examples
- Hot Dog
- Hard-shelled Tacos
These five snacks all can be eaten by hand (singular) on the run or as a quick bite, not to mention the general meatiness of them (that is coincidental). Why an invention that is a lot of hot meat swimming in gravy that is encased in its own edible shell via pastry did not pick up sooner is a mystery. I swear in America, people would have been all over this idea.
To see its national popularity, have a walk around town and many construction workers will be having one for a meal break, often with a big squirt of tomato sauce on top. Almost anyone will give in and enjoy having one from time to time; even the yuppies who disdain “basic foods” are going to have a spruced up version. The basic option is usually some minced beef (quality varies) swimming in gravy with maybe a bit of onion.
Other common options include steak & onion, steak & mushroom, steak, bacon & cheese and pepper steak; yes, steak & kidney is common but that is British. One pie shop I went to in regional Queensland somewhere had a list of – literally – over 100 options. If you want to go a step beyond, there is the much talked about pie floater!
Dunk the pie in a bowl of pea soup, and then add gravy or tomato sauce (mashed potato optional). Mostly associated with the pie carts in Adelaide, it is one thing to try out to see if you like it or not (best results done when sober).
I will make one mention that has to be done, the sister snack to a meat pie is the sausage roll.
Sausage meat rolled into puff pastry then glazed with milk before being baked. Wherever meat pies are being sold, there is about a 99% chance that these guys will also be available to order and eat. At any Australian party, when party pies are being served as an option there will also be sausage rolls. Having one without the other in sight is going to be very rare.
A controversial choice? Perhaps a surprise? Well, opinions are going to differ. These have been one snack I have always had a little fondness for since childhood. They are essentially bits of sponge cake dipped in melted chocolate then coated in desiccated coconut. Lamingtons are staples of fundraisers, bakeries and can be easily found in supermarkets; though as usual fresh is the best as supermarket varieties often taste a little stale.If you have a sweet tooth and/or have never tried one, I wholeheartedly recommend it. All the ingredients are probably available at the nearest stores and they are a cinch to make.
So, do you want yours with a flat white or a blue heaven milkshake?
Well, there is my own personal list. To any fellow Australians on here, happy Australia day. To anyone else, hope your day goes well as well. Also, happy Anniversary Mr. Walsh. So what are people’s thoughts on this range of delicacies; which ones do you enjoy? How do they sound to you personally if you have not ever eaten them? Thoughts from people from overseas will be interesting to hear. Are there any omissions that are notable?
Regardless, good eating!
P.S. Happy Republic Day to India as well.
Edit: Since writing this article I have become more health conscious and would now honestly not want to touch a Chicko Roll if I could. Besides, there are plenty of more exciting options out there yet to have been tried; life is too short even living to 200 for mediocre food.
Edit: I have since revisited Oxford, and there are now more places that do decent coffee. The flat white from memory is available from those places. Also, not as many people seem to order the flat white at my work places; that is to do with rearranging of staff et al.