For a long time, the typical Aussie home-cooked meal consisted of English-style “meat and three veg,”and a Sunday roast. Spaghetti was something foreigners ate, and zucchini and eggplant (aubergine) were considered exotic. Then came mass immigration and all sorts of food that people read about only in National Geographic.
The first big wave of Italian immigrants in the 1950s caused a national scandal. The great Aussie dream was to have a quarter-acre block of land with a hills hoist (a circular revolving clothesline) in the backyard. When Italians started hanging freshly made pasta out to dry on this Aussie icon, it caused an uproar, and some clamored for the new arrivals to be shipped back. As Australia matured, southern European cuisine became increasingly popular, until olive oil was sizzling in frying pans the way only lard had previously done.
In the 1980s, waves of Asian immigrants hit Australia’s shores. Suddenly, everyone was cooking with woks. These days, a fusion of spices from the East and ingredients and styles from the Mediterranean make up what’s become known as Modern Australian cuisine.
Still, some of the old ways remain. Everyone knows that Aussies like a barbecue, usually referred to as a “barbie.”Most Aussies aren’t really that adventurous when it comes to throwing things on the hot plate and usually are content with some cheap sausages and a steak washed down by a few beers.
Seafood is popular, as you would expect, and a typical Christmas Day meal usually includes prawns and/or fish.
In the big cities, you’ll find every kind of cuisine, including Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Spanish, Middle Eastern, and Indian. Even the smallest country town usually has a Chinese restaurant (of varying quality). Melbourne is proud of its coffee culture, but American readers should note that the bottomless cup of coffee is rare.
Many restaurants allow you to bring your own wine (referred to simply as BYO) but some may charge a corkage fee of a few dollars (even when there’s a screw-cap and no cork).
While you might see kangaroo, crocodile, and emu on the menu at some restaurants, Australians tend not to indulge in their local wildlife that much, preferring to stick to introduced species instead.
Beer & Wine
If you order a beer in a pub or bar, you should be aware that the standard glass size differs from state to state. Thus, in Sydney you can order a schooner or a smaller midi. In trendy places you might be offered an English pint or a half-pint. In Melbourne and Brisbane a midi is called a pot, while in Darwin it’s called a handle, and in Hobart a ten. It can be confusing! You can get smaller glasses, too, though thankfully they’re becoming rare. These could either be called a pony, a seven, a butcher, a six, or a bobbie, depending on which city you’re in. If in doubt, just mime a big one or a small one, and you’ll get your meaning across.
As far as wine goes, Australia has come a long way since the first grape vines arrived on the First Fleet in 1788. Today, more than 550 major companies and small winemakers produce wine commercially in Australia. There are dozens of recognized wine-growing regions, but the most well-known include the Hunter Valley in New South Wales; the Barossa Valley, McClaren Vale, Coonawarra, Adelaide Hills, and the Clare Valley in South Australia; the Yarra Valley in Victoria; and Margaret River in Western Australia.
In the past couple of decades, many Australian chefs have woken to the variety and tastes of “bush tucker,”as native Aussie food is tagged. Now it’s all the rage in the most fashionable restaurants, where wattleseed, lemon myrtle, and other native tastes have a place in one or two dishes on the menu. Following is a list of some of those foods you may encounter.
* Bunya nut: Crunchy nut of the bunya pine, about the size of a macadamia.
* Bush tomato: Dry, small, darkish fruit; more like a raisin in look and taste.
* Native cranberry: Small berry that tastes a bit like an apple.
* Illawarra plum: Dark berry with a strong, rich, tangy taste.
* Kangaroo: A strong meat with a gamey flavor. Tender when correctly prepared, tough when not. Excellent smoked.
* Lemon aspen: Citrusy, light-yellow fruit with a sharp, tangy flavor.
* Lemon myrtle: Gum leaves with a fresh lemon tang; often used to flavor white meat.
* Lillipilli: Delicious juicy, sweet pink berry.
* Quandong: A tart, tangy native peach.
* Rosella: Spiky petals of a red flower with a rich berry flavor.
* Wattleseed: Roasted ground acacia seeds that taste a little like bitter coffee. Sometimes used in cakes.
* Wild lime: Smaller and more sour than regular lime.
One ingredient you will not see on menus is witchetty grubs; most people are too squeamish to eat these fat, juicy, slimy white creatures. They live in the soil or in dead tree trunks and are a common source of protein for some Aborigines. You eat them alive, not cooked. If you are offered one in the Outback, you can either freak out (as most locals would do)—or enjoy its pleasantly nutty taste as a reward for your bravery.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.