Australia's multicultural population is to thank for the fantastic cuisine which has developed over the past few decades. The food here is fresh and the chefs are innovative. Whether it is seasonal produce from local growers or seafood straight from the ocean, you'll find your taste buds rewarded more often than not. Once a land of British-style "meat and three veg," Australia is now a place where you can get top-class food in any cuisine -- Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, and other immigrants have seen to that.
The fusion of flavors and styles has melded into what's now commonly referred to as "Contemporary" or "Modern Australian" -- a distinctive cuisine blending the spices of the East with the flavors of the West.
Make sure you take time to check out the many "farmer's markets" in major cities, where fresh produce from the surrounding countryside is brought in for sale direct to consumers. It might mean getting up early, but it will be worth it.
Tipping is not essential in Australia, but it is usual to leave something. In a casual place it's enough to round the bill up to the nearest A$10 (US$8/UK£4) or so, and in a good restaurant it is usual to tip around 10% to 15%.
With the maturing of Australian palates came the need for good wines to go with the food. Winemaking has come a long way since the first grape vines were brought to Australia on the First Fleet in 1788. These days, more than 550 major companies and small winemakers produce wine commercially in Australia. Vintages from Down Under consistently beat competitors from other wine-producing nations in major international shows. The demand for Australian wine overseas has increased so dramatically in the past few years that domestic prices have risen, and new vineyards are being planted at a frantic pace.
Australian wines are generally named after the grape varieties from which they are made. Of the white wines, big favorites include the fruity chardonnay and Riesling varieties, the "herbaceous" or "grassy" sauvignon blanc, and the dry semillon. Of the reds, the dry cabernet sauvignon, the fruity merlot, the burgundy-type pinot noir, and the big and bold Shiraz come out tops.
But there's nothing an Aussie likes better on a hot day than a cold "tinnie" or can of beer. Barbecues would not be the same without a case of tinnies, or "stubbies" (small bottles). In hotter climes, you may be offered a polystyrene container or "stubby holder" in which to place your beer to keep it cool.
Among the most popular Aussie beers are Victoria Bitter (known as "VB"), XXXX (pronounced "four ex"), Fosters, and various brews produced by the Tooheys company. All are popular in cans, bottles, or on tap (draft). Another popular choice is Cascade, a German-style beer that you'll usually find only in a bottle. It's light in color, strong in taste, and made from Tasmanian water straight off a mountain. If you want to get plastered, try Coopers -- it's rather cloudy in looks, very strong, and can cause a terrific hangover. Most Australian beers range from 4.8% to 5.2% alcohol.
In New South Wales, bars serve beer by the glass in a "schooner" or a smaller "midi" -- though in a few places it's also served in British measurements, by pints and half pints. In Victoria you should ask for a "pot," or the less copious "glass." In South Australia a schooner is the size of a NSW midi, and in Western Australia a midi is the same size as a New South Wales midi, but a glass about half its size is called a "pony." Confused? The easiest way is to point out the size you want.
Alcohol is only sold to those 18 years old or over.
Witchetty Grubs, Lilli-Pillies & Other Good Eats
In the past decade or so, Europeans have woken up 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 wattle seed, lemon myrtle, or some other native taste has a place in one or two dishes on the menu. Below is a list of those foods you may encounter in trendy restaurants:
Bush Tucker Explanation
Bunya nut -- Crunchy nut of the bunya pine, about the size of macadamias.
Bush tomato -- Dry, small darkish fruit more like raisins in look and taste.
Cranberry (native) -- Small berry that tastes a bit like an apple.
Illawarra plums -- Dark berry with a rich, strong, tangy taste.
Kakadu plum -- Wonderfully sharp tangy green fruit that boasts the highest recorded vitamin C level of any food.
Kangaroo -- A red meat with a strong 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 lemony tang; often used to flavor white meat.
Lilli-pillies -- Delicious juicy, sweet pink berry; also called a riberry.
Macadamia nut -- Sweet white nut. Macadamias come from Australia, not Hawaii as most of us think.
Quandong -- A tart, tangy native peach.
Rosella -- Spiky red petals of a flower with a rich berry flavor; traditionally used by Europeans to make rosella jam.
Wattle seed -- Roasted ground acacia seeds that taste a little like bitter coffee; commonly used by Europeans in pasta or desserts.
Wild lime -- Smaller and more sour than regular lime; good in salads.
One ingredient you will not see on menus is witchetty grubs; most people are too squeamish to eat these fat, slimy white critters. They live in the soil or in dead tree trunks and are a common protein source for Aboriginals. You eat them alive, not cooked. If you are offered one in the Outback, 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.