This is a question without an easy answer. Australians are a mixture of the Indigenous Aborigines who have inhabited the land for the last 50,000 years, the descendants of the white settlers and the waves of immigrants that have chosen to settle and make a home here. This diversity in people has led to a diversity in food. Aussies are pretty adventurous with food because we are exposed to foods from different cultures on a regular basis and the geographic isolation of Australia, makes long overseas trips a rite of passage for most young Aussies. Travelling gives people a more open minded view to all kinds of things and food is no exception.
What does the average Aussie household eat for dinner? This obviously depends a lot on their particular individual heritage. Generalizing however, it can be safe to say that these dishes are popular and would be on rotation in many households.
- Italian Lasagna
- Thai Green or Red Curry
- Mexican (Tex-Mex) Dishes e.g. nachos, tacos
- Indian Curries e.g. butter chicken, beef vindaloo
- Asian style stir fries
- Italian(ish) Spag Bol (i.e. Spaghetti Bolognese)
- BBQ (sausages, lamb/pork chops, steak, chicken skewers) and salad (green salad, potato salad)
- Fish and Chips
And for the kids, it seems like chicken nuggets are very popular!
Popular things for breakfast are Weet-Bix and Vegemite on Toast. Weet-Bix is a whole grain cereal formed into blocks. It’s very economical to purchase at the supermarket and also healthy. Eat with milk, otherwise it will be chokingly dry!
A discussion of Australian cuisine has to address native foods that have been eaten in this country for thousands of years. There are lots of them (e.g. quandong, finger lime, lemon myrtle, etc.) however, I am not an expert and to be honest, except for the macadamia nut, they are mostly, not in wide circulation, in the general population. The awareness of native ingredients has really burgeoned in the last few years as some of these ingredients purport amazing nutritional benefits e.g. Davidson Plum. Some restaurants are starting to include these ingredients in their dishes and there are often markets stalls selling products made using these native ingredients. Nevertheless, these types of food generally haven’t managed to achieve wide appeal.
The macadamia nut is a must-try as it comes from a plant indigenous to Australia and has been commercially cultivated since the 1880s. It has a high fat content and a sweet, creamy, buttery flavour. It is a little softer than other nuts. It can also be pricey to purchase. Best to purchase with shell removed, because the spherical shell is very close to indestructible.
The following sections will cover foods that you can really only get in Australia. There are foods which are stocked in every Australian supermarket, savoury foods and sweet treats. There are also some foods which despite not being specific to Australia, have become part of the psyche of being an Australian or have attained some cultural significance.
Aussie Foods You Can Buy at the Supermarket
These are all commonly available at any Australian supermarket
No visitor to Australia can rightly say they have experienced the country without trying Vegemite. Firstly, a few words of warning. This is NOT Nutella. Vegemite is NOT SWEET. Do NOT spread it generously on your toast or eat it by the spoonful from the jar. You are CRAZY and will HATE IT! Vegemite has a salty, umami flavour. It is very high in Vitamin B’s and is made from a yeast extract. (The British equivalent is Marmite.) For those new to the country, it’s best not to buy a whole jar as it is certainly an acquired taste. This is a staple in most Australian households and they will be happy to allow you to try a little mostly because the reactions from first timers are usually hilarious.
Recommendation: Butter your toasted bread and take a little vegemite on the tip of your knife and spread it very thinly over your toast. It’s OK if you don’t like it at first. Most Aussies grew up eating Vegemite every day for breakfast. You can build up to it bit by bit.
Unlike Vegemite, it is absolutely impossible not to love Tim Tams! These are two biscuits which sandwich a cream filling and entirely covered in chocolate. These are Australia’s most loved chocolate biscuit. If you bring these for your overseas relatives or even to your work morning tea, everyone is your friend!!
Recommendation: Just eat them! They are yum! After you have demolished your first packet in the original flavour, you can try their other flavour variations or try the Tim Tam Slam. To do a Tim Tam Slam, you bite off opposite corners of a Tim and Tam and use it as a straw to suck a hot beverage through e.g. coffee or hot chocolate. The biscuit softens as the hot beverage channels through it into you mouth. Pop the whole lot in your mouth before it softens to the point of total disintegration!
Fantales are an iconic Australia lolly. Lolly is the Australian way of saying sweets or candy. Fantales are chocolate covered chewy caramels. The wrapper of the lolly is literally a “fan tale” i.e. a brief biography of movie stars.
Recommendation: These are a chewy delight! Best not to pop one in your mouth if you want to say something in the next few minutes because your mouth will be glued shut dealing with all this deliciously chewy, chocolatey, caramel-ley yumminess!
Onwards from Australia’s most iconic lolly to Australia’s most iconic chocolate bar. The honour goes to the Cherry Ripe. This is a bar of cherries and coconut wrapped in dark chocolate. This is Australia’s oldest chocolate bar dating back to 1924.
Recommendation: These are lovely, especially with the dark chocolate exterior.
These are a line of very popular savoury biscuits. Flavours include BBQ, Pizza, Savoury, Chicken Crimpy and many others. These come in boxes which are great for a snack during a long road trip or to stash in your luggage if you fear starving in a foreign country. They are also sold in small packets which are usually used for kids lunchboxes. These are very common at Australian parties, served up in a bowl to nibble on. New and/or limited edition flavours are regularly released.
Recommendation: My guess would be that the most loved Shapes flavour was a toss up between BBQ and Pizza but the internet tells me that, based on a poll, Chicken Crimpy has been officially voted the best flavour!
Savoury Aussie Foods
There are many jokes about being the only population that will eat our coat of arms. The Australian coat of arms features the emu and the kangaroo. Whilst the consumption of kangaroo meat is commonplace, it is much harder to find emu meat.
Kangaroo meat is highly nutritious. It’s very lean and is high in protein and iron. Kangaroos are plentiful in Australia so they can be harvested for meat in a sustainable way (although that doesn’t stop some people around the world from being concerned with eating them). Due to the low fat content, it is easy for kangaroo meat to be tough and chewy once cooked. It is much more suited to being slow cooked or in very fast stir fry. Kangaroo meat and meat products are sold in Australian supermarkets. It is easy to get kangaroo sausages, burger patties, steaks etc. These are healthier than their beef counterparts and much cheaper too! The only issue is their bold flavour which is stronger than either beef or lamb and can sometimes be too much! If you like the flavour, kangaroo meat is a very healthy choice for the frugal environmentalist!
Emu meat has yet to take off in Australia. It is purported to be tender, lean and high in protein and iron, making it a very healthy choice. It would be worth trying if you see a specialty butcher selling it!
Crocodile meat is quite hard to buy. I’ve only seen it sold at a crocodile park or at a few restaurants. It tastes and looks like a cross between chicken and fish. There are no shortage of crocodiles in the Northern parts of the country, but crocodile meat and leather products are only obtained from crocodile farms.
Feral camels are a pest in outback Australia. There is a large population of them roaming wild in the outback. As they are not indigenous, they damage the land and can foul waterholes. Unfortunately, despite this, camel meat is not widely consumed in Australia. It is generally only consumed amongst people of Middle Eastern and African heritage who have come from a culture of eating camel meat. This is hopefully changing as evidence by the Lakemba Ramadan Night Markets in Sydney where the queue for camel burgers snaked a great distance down the street.
Barramundi is a salt and freshwater fish which is native to Australia. It is a tasty eating fish as it has a mild flavour and lovely white flesh. You can buy fillets from Australian supermarkets and it is often on the menu at Australian restaurants. I find barramundi a little hit and miss. It is easy to overcook and can be dry. When cooked perfectly, it is a really beautiful eating fish.
Barramundi are also prized by the fishing community. In the Northern Territory, there is an annual competition held every year called “Million Dollar Fish” where people fish for “barra” in the hopes of reeling in the tagged fish that will win them 1 million dollars! No one has yet caught the million dollar fish and there are currently 8 of them swimming in the Northern Territory waterways, waiting to be caught (or possibly having already been caught by a big croc). There are smaller prizes with some people having caught barramundi fish tagged to win them $10,000.
Meat pie with Tomato Sauce
The first thing that came to mind when someone asked me what is Australian food recently was Meat Pie with Tomato Sauce. It is somewhat embarrassing to say because it isn’t a high class culinary delight and is often subjected to a lot of derision about being filled with “snouts and arses.” There are often rumours that the low quality meat pies are filled with mystery parts and waste meat. Nevertheless, the humble meat pie is an Australian food icon, and in fact with the growing sophistication of the Australian food scene, there are some really great pies now available.
It is available in every fuel station as it is a great favourite of truck drivers, trades people and road-trippers. It is also available at sporting events to be consumed with a pint of icy cold beer whilst cheering on your favourite team. Australian bakeries often enter competitions to be bestowed the coveted prize of having the best meat pie. The basic version is pie of flaky pastry in a portion for one filled with diced or mince meat with a rich brown gravy. Many variations exist but for newbies, you should always try the original first. Variations include curry chicken pies, steak pies, pepper steak pies, steak and mushroom pies, steak and kidney pies, lamb pies, bacon and egg pies, scallop pies etc. The list of variations is only limited by the imagination of the baker.
Plenty of parties and morning teas would be incomplete in Australia without some party pies and sausage rolls. Party pies are small, two bite version of the standard size meat pie.
Recommendation: Support a small town bakery by buying a good quality pie. Don’t forget to pay extra for tomato sauce. The tangy bite of the tomato sauce cuts through the richness of the meat gravy and is absolutely essential.
BurgerS with Beetroot
One final thing to end this savoury section. Australia must be the only place that puts a piece of canned, sliced beetroot into their burgers. This is not found in all burgers but when you see a burger called an Aussie burger or similar, the “Aussie” part is the addition of the beetroot.
Recommendation: Don’t knock it till you try it, then you can quickly try and forget about the whole embarrassing experience. You might not be able to if you have stained your clothes with beetroot juice! The addition of beetroot adds a nice tang to the burger to balance out the richness of the meat.
ANZAC stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The Anzac biscuit is a sweet biscuit made with golden syrup, oats, flour, sugar, baking soda and butter. There is an ongoing debate as to whether they should be crispy or chewy but they are delicious either way.
The story is that these biscuits were sent by wives and women’s groups to soldiers abroad in World War 1 because they do not spoil during the long journey. Another story is that these biscuits were baked and sold to raise money for the war effort which led to them being called Anzac biscuits.
Recommendation: Make your own at home or buy them from a bakery or the bakery section at Coles or Woolies (Woolworths). These bikkies (biscuits) smell of oats, butter and golden syrup and are the perfect accompaniment to your morning “cuppa”, cup of tea. They are not a flashy biscuit but the simple ingredients shine in this humble sweet treat.
Damper is a bread made in a cast iron pot with a lid, called a camp oven. The pot would be covered with hot coals from the campfire. It is usually made with flour, salt, water and soda as the leavening agent. It was traditionally prepared by early European settlers to Australia.
Recommendation: Damper is quite easy to make and should be attempted whilst camping. If you don’t have a camp oven, you can wrap some of the dough around a stick and hold it over the fire. It is most delicious fresh and warm from the fire and with some golden syrup as the traditional topping. Variations can be made with the addition of sultanas to the dough or savoury ingredients to make it a savoury bread. Share it warm with your new-found camping friends because the next day, it will likely be hard as rock!
No Australian kid’s party would be complete without fairy bread. This is white bread spread with margarine and sprinkled with multicoloured sprinkles called “hundreds and thousands”. This colourful creation dates back to the 1920s in Australia. It’s inexpensive to make and kids love it, but has almost no nutritional value!
Recommendation: There is probably no need to try this one unless it is in front of you. You can imagine what is would taste like with the white bread and the slightly crunchy, sweet sprinkles. It taste like childhood when life was just simple and sweet!
A vanilla slice is a sweet treat where vanilla custard is sandwiched between two layers of puff pastry. The vanilla slice is sometimes called a “snot block” but that’s not very nice considering how decadent a simple vanilla slice can taste. It has been compared to the French mille-feuille but the Australian vanilla slice is a much more humble treat.
Recommendation: This is a must try because you will love it! Support a small town country bakery and buy a vanilla slice to try! Extra points are awarded if you manage to avoid spilling squirts of custard on yourself when you bite into it.
And now, for the most famous Australian sweet treat, the pavlova! Yes, the debate still rages about whether pavlova originates from Australia or New Zealand. In this post, it is a much, beloved Australian dessert. Pavlova is a dessert made from whipped egg whites and sugar. It is topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit. It was named after the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova as this delightful confection is as light as a ballerina.
Be aware not to mix up a pavlova with meringue. Whilst both are a combination of whipped egg whites and sugar, meringues are baked until they are crispy and airy throughout. The beauty of the pavlova is the crisp exterior and the soft marshmallow-like interior.
It is traditional to have pavlova at Christmas time. They are a perfect light dessert to have on a hot summer Christmas day after a big main meal. They can be made ahead of time and stored in an air tight container. Cream and fruit should always be applied at the last minute so the pavlova stays crunchy on the outside. Traditional pavlova is topped with kiwifruit, strawberries and passionfruit although variations are unlimited. Homemade pavlovas almost always crack or sag during or after baking . They will never look as good as store bought pavlova’s. Nevertheless lashings of whipped cream and fresh fruit will hide every sin and your homemade pavlova will still taste awesome and be the hit of the party.
Recommendation: Trying a pavlova is an absolute must in Australia. It tastes of sweetness and fresh fruit, with the irresistible contrast of the crunchy exterior and soft interior. It is mostly air so it’s very light and easy to eat even after a rich, heavy meal.
You could purchase one from a bakery. It is reasonably easy to make one. It may not be beautiful but it will be tasty. An electric beater is highly recommended although it is possible to whip those egg whites by hand if you are willing to take on the challenge. The key thing is to ensure all your bowls and beaters etc. are spotlessly clean otherwise your egg whites won’t firm up. The alternative is to buy a pre-made pavlova from the supermarket. Whip up some cream and cut up some seasonal fruits to decorate.
Foods With a Cultural Significance
There are some food in Australia which we cannot claim to “own” but has a cultural significance and is part of the psyche of being an Australian.
The Bunnings Sausage Sizzle
The weekend has come! Finally! Time to get on with some chores around the garden and the house. Then you find that you’re missing an essential tool – this calls for a Bunnings Run! Bunnings is a nation-wide chain of stores (practically a monopoly) selling hardware, plants and other household items. It’s massive and it is a common joke that most people go into Bunnings to buy one thing and come out with ten things! Nevertheless, a weekend trip to Bunnings in the morning is usually accompanied by the smell of barbecuing snags (sausages) and onions. For a few dollars, you can get a slice of bread, a snag, some cooked onions and a squirt of sauce. Just perfect to keep you from being “hangry” and to help you stay focus on your weekend job list! The sausage sizzle stall will usually be run by a charity organisation and the profits from your sausage sizzle will go to a good cause (better buy two of them then).
Never underestimate the power of a sausage sizzle! At the last Australian election, a contender for prime minister made the news by being photographed eating his sausage sizzle from the side of the sausage instead of the end! This confused the Australian public and may have hurt his chances in the election as it made him look totally out of touch with the humble, working class.
Recommendation: It’s not fancy, high class food but it is only a few dollars and it’s an Australian tradition. So try one!
Smashed “avo” or avocado hit the news in a big way in 2017 when a demographer commented in an opinion piece that young people should not be ordering smashed avo in cafes at $22 a pop but be putting that money towards a house deposit instead. This started a furious debate about housing affordability in Australia as millennials took great offence. Regardless of the housing affordability debate, smashed avo is a tasty dish with a multitude of variations. The only common thread is bread of some kind and smooshed up avocado. There could be an egg on top or fetta mixed through, or chilli flakes etc.
Recommendations: Avocado is an expensive fruit. Buy it at the supermarket when the price is good, anything around $1 per fruit is OK, and smash it into some good bread. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper and et voila, homemade smashed avo.
Australians are very proud of their coffee. It is a known fact that Australian cafe’s make the best coffees in the world (or so some would say.) This is the reason that the American coffee behemoth, Starbucks just cannot get a decent foothold in the Australian market. Australians are much too discerning with their coffee. No café will survive in Australia if it cannot make a decent coffee. Australians seem unable to start the day without their caffeine injection and it cannot just be any rubbish. White collar workers are often seen in the mornings, lining the sidewalk at their favourite hole-in the-wall cafe. They have spurned the free coffee they can have in their office kitchens to walk out, rain or shine, to spend $4 to $6 on a barista made coffee.
The coffee language in Australia is also quite complex. Types of coffees include the flat white, latte, double espresso and the long mac which has a different meaning in different states. Errors with a person’s coffee order can result in even the most mild mannered Australian to turn into a ranting cranky-pants. This is not to mention the multitudes of different milks there are.
Recommendations: If you are coffee drinker, cafes are everywhere and many are lovely small businesses. Support them and enjoy your coffee!
After 14 months of road-tripping around Australia, what is the dish that is served in the pub of every small town, right across this massive country? It’s the chicken parmigiana! Chicken Parmigiana or Parmi or Parma or Parmy is served up with a side of chips and salad is a pub stable around Australia. It is a chicken breast pounded flat, crumbed and fried into a schnitzel. This is then topped with tomato sauce and melted cheese. Sometimes there is a slice of ham under the cheese as well. It’s a delicious and filling dish with the crunchy chicken schnitzel, tangy tomato sauce and rich, melty cheese. There is also a “wow!” factor when receiving a good pub parmi. Sometimes the chef will beat a large chicken breast so flat and wide that the resulting schnitzel is as big as a large dinner plate!
Even though Chicken Parmigiana sounds like an Italian dish, it is not a dish traditionally made in Italy. This is similar to why spaghetti bolognaise can’t be found in Italy and why butter chicken is not actually from India. Chicken Parmi may have originated from a breaded eggplant or breaded veal dish in Italy. Chicken Parm was originated in the US from Italian immigrants before coming to Australia in the 1950s. These days, Chicken Parmi is a staple on all Australian pub menus and there is fierce competition between pubs to be crowned as the one serving the best parmi!
Whilst researching this section, to my surprise, there is a debate about whether the chips for a parmi should be served on the side or underneath the crumbed chicken! I had no idea! I think the chips are best on the side so they stay crisp but sometimes the parmi is so large that there is no choice but to put them underneath!
Recommendation: When ordering food in a small country pub, steer away from exotic sounding dishes and veer towards the pub staples of a chicken parmi and chips or steak and chips. The pub likely serves many servings of these in a day and they will usually be good. The chicken parmi is so ubiquitous, good value, filing and damn tasty, there is no reason not to partake in a few accompanied with some cold beers when visiting Australia.
The Aussie BBQ
Having a BBQ is synonymous with the laid back Australian lifestyle. Do not mistake the Australia BBQ with the American style BBQs. American BBQs are all about cooking low and slow with complex rubs and marinades. They are much more long winded. Aussie BBQs are more about speed and slapping some dinner on the table quickly. Often times, a quick dinner would be to chuck some protein on the BBQ and whip up a quick salad. Most households would have their own BBQ. If you go to a friend’s house for a meal, it is quite likely to be a barbie (BBQ) as it is a very easy way to feed a crowd. It’s easy to cook a heap of meat on the barbie and put out some bread, salads and sauces on the table. Job done, dinner served, let’s get into the beers!
Common items cooked on the BBQ include sausages, steaks, pork chops, lamb chops and chicken skewers. More adventurous foodies may cook a whole fish wrapped in foil, corn, haloumi, beer-can chicken, vegetarian skewers and prawns. It is not uncommon to smell BBQ at dinner time wherever there are people in Australia. There are likely to be beers there too!
For some strange reason, cooking on the barbie in Australia is the domain of men whilst the women make the salads. In an Australian barbie, it is not uncommon to see a group of men clustered around the BBQ, with beers in hand, engaging in some banter, usually speculating about whether the sausages are cooked enough. In contrast, the women will be grouped together with wine glasses in hand having a chat. This is a generalisation of course, but have a look next time you are at a barbie. Am I right?
Recommendations: Free gas powered BBQs are available in many parks and caravan parks around Australia. So chuck some snags or chops on the barbie, get your friends together, crack open a beer and enjoy the laid back Aussie lifestyle.
Australians and Beer go hand in hand. Australians drink a lot of beer and beer drinking is quite an integral part of being Australian. Beers lubricate plenty of social events e.g. sporting matches, house parties etc. A BBQ in a friend’s home is almost certainly to have an esky filled with ice to keep the beers cool. If you are invited to a BBQ in Australia, it’s usually polite to turn up with some beers (or other drinks) and maybe some nibbles e.g. a pack of chips, dips, cheese etc. This reduces the load and cost on the host and it’s just nice to turn up with something to share.
Due to the hot climate, beers in Australia are served with a stubby holder. This is a cylinder made of flexible but dense foam which surrounds your beer bottle or can. It keeps the beer colder for longer and stops your hand from getting too cold.
Recommendation: When visiting Australia, go into a local country pub for a beer and parmi and soak in the atmosphere.
In recent years, the consumption of wine has exceeded the consumption of beer in Australia. This caused a great deal of consternation at the time until the nation gave a collective shrug and got on with getting wasted. Australia has become a large consumer and even larger producer of wine. Australian wine, without being burdened with a weight of tradition, has in many instances, turned out to be superior to some of the ancient wine growing regions of the world.
Recommendation: Drive around the countryside and take in the beauty of the wine regions of Australia e.g. Margaret River, Clare Valley. the Barossa Valley etc. Drop in to a winery for a sun drenched long lunch with matching wines, a wine tasting or just to look at their beautiful landscaping. Disappointingly, wine tasting at vineyards now often attracts a fee, but if you ask around you may be able to find one which still offers the service gratis. The wine tasting charge accrues twice, since once you’ve paid to sample the product, you then get the privilege of paying a premium price for your bottle(s) over and above what you would be charged if you went to one of the many liquor stores around the country.
It is not uncommon for families to get-together on a Sunday for a roast. Of the various meats that can be roasted, an Australian favourite would be roast lamb. A whole leg of lamb, pierced in places to stuff it with cloves of garlic and rosemary, rubbed with olive oil and slow roasted till it is falling off the bone. Served with gravy made with the lovely, meaty juices and all the usual vegetable sides.
A pork roast with crispy crackling is also very popular.
Recommendation: Craving a roast without the effort, most pubs will do a Sunday roast special.
For many Northern Hemisphere travelers to Australia, one of strangest things is to celebrate Christmas in the height of the Aussie summer. Australian Christmas foods and traditions are therefore a little different from the cold, winter Christmas celebrated in the northern hemisphere. Christmas in Australia might be celebrated with a luxurious picnic on the beach to cool off and enjoy the weather. Usual Christmas foods here are lighter and cooler to account for the extremely hot weather. No one wants to slave over a hot oven on a hot day and turn the house into a sauna on Christmas day. As a result, seafood such as prawns, oysters and salmon are very popular on Christmas day, as well as cooking outside on the BBQ so the house stays cool. This might be accompanied with salads which are more luxurious than normal perhaps including smoked salmon or stone fruit. The cherries are in top condition around Christmas time as are the mangoes, peaches, nectarines and apricots. Dessert will usually be a lovely, light, fruit topped pavlova.
Recommendation: What is not to love about summer in Australia? Blue skies, beach days and Christmas holidays! Enjoy it!
Conclusion – so what is Australian Cuisine?
It could be said that Australia is a cultural desert when it comes to it’s own distinctly, identifiable cuisine. I prefer to think of Australian cuisine as a reflection of its island geography and its diverse people. Here is the diversity and beauty of Australian cuisine wrapped up in a series of observations
- Smelling BBQ wafting in the evening air and friendly people waving to you with a beer in hand.
- Eating oysters in Coffin Bay right by the ocean where I can see them being grown.
- Crowding with the Australian Asian aunties in the humid Rapid Creek Markets in Darwin haggling over the best local produce the tropical climate can provide.
- Savouring plump, perfect, local, dark cherries in Tasmania at the Salamanca Markets in Hobart.
- Having a noisy discussion with your friends about whether to have Thai, Mexican, Malaysian, Seafood, Vietnamese, Tapas, Indian for dinner tonight! Too many delicious choices!
- Eating a whole trout in a riverside brewery caught just a little further downstream.
- Seeing some white Australian kids ordering Shanghai soup dumplings using their Mandarin name, “Xiao Long Bao” with a perfect accent and without a shred of awkwardness at a Chinatown Night Market stall in Sydney.
- Eating fresh fish and chips by the water whilst watching the sunset with friends.
- Going home to family and tasting the authentic dishes of my heritage.
This is Australia’s food culture – diverse, delicious and fresh. We are so lucky! Happy Eating my dear readers! Food is life and love and all things good so enjoy it!
Are there some aspect of Australian food that I have missed? Let me know!