By: By Amy Brook-Partridge
Australian dining is all about slinging a prawn on the barbie, cracking open a tinnie and opening a bottle of Aussie chardy, right? Not according to our panel members, who give their own thoughts on what Australian cuisine is all about.
– Kylie Clarkin is from Manly Beach, Sydney, but has lived in Singapore on and off for 12 years and is currently studying health science and nutrition.
– Luke Mangan is a renowned chef, originally from Melbourne and now residing in Sydney. His Singapore restaurants include Salt Grill and Sky Bar, and Salt Tapas and Bar.
– Hugh Daniel is a British expat who has lived in Australia for nine years, more recently with his girlfriend Larissa in Sydney.
– Liz McCabe is from Bellingen, Australia, and has lived in Singapore for one year with her husband Craig and children Bonnie and Isaac.
– Mark Laming is a Melbournian chef living in Singapore. He works for Singapore Airport Terminal Services, which looks after in-flight catering at Changi Airport.
– Justine Gayer, originally from the Blue Mountains, has been living in Singapore for three years with her husband and son. She works as a scientific programmes (nutrition) communications manager at an NGO.
– Mel Cassidy is an Australian mum with a 16-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son, and runs the Singapore arm of Bloom n Fit fitness club.
– Juliet Keys is a British expat who lives in Singapore with her Australian husband and their daughter. She works in Human Resources.
What are your Aussie favourites when eating out and dining in?
LUKE: I love a piece of grilled fish like a snapper or barramundi with some simple sides such as green beans or steamed asparagus, along with a glass of chilled Australian chardonnay. At home, it would be anything on the barbecue: a nice piece of Australian beef or butterflied lamb with chargrilled veggies, or barbecue prawns and a mango salsa. Australia has the perfect climate for cooking and entertaining outdoors.
KYLIE: In a restaurant, it’s got to be fresh, fantastic seafood: bugs, prawns, lobster –Australia’s fresh seafood is the best. To cook at home, though, it would be a good old slow-roasted leg of lamb.
HUGH: I’d never had bugs until I moved to Australia; though they look prehistoric, they taste like crab or lobster and are well worth it. Kangaroo isn’t bad either.
LIZ: I love seafood in Australia, particularly oysters au natural from the mid-coast of New South Wales. I also like food with indigenous flavours like pepperberry and lemon myrtle. My favourite Australian dish to cook at home is not really a meal but a conserve, Davidson plum jam. And I don’t actually make it, Mum does!
MARK: If I’m in a restaurant, it’s not so much an Australian dish I would order, but rather fresh and in-season ingredients. Items such as King George whiting, West Australian marron (crayfish) and rabbit will always catch my eye, and I always bake a pavlova at home for special occasions.
JUSTINE: As good quality Australian beef and lamb is comparatively expensive here, I like ordering it at restaurants where a professional can cook it to perfection. At home, we love to have a traditional Aussie barbie with marinated steaks, sausages and sometimes seafood.
MEL: I’d order a barramundi grilled with mash, and I’d make an Aussie burger with beetroot, bacon, egg, cheese and caramelised onions.
What does Australian food mean to you?
LUKE: It’s all about fresh ingredients with fresh flavours that are cooked and prepared simply, showcasing the best of Australia’s produce and letting it be the star of the dish, not overcomplicating things. It’s about barbecues, dining outdoors, fresh seafood with Australian wines and also embracing and experimenting with different food cultures and flavours.
KYLIE: It’s a real blend – from fresh farm and sea produce straight to the plate, to a real fusion now of Australian flavours with great new cultural influences such as Asian, Greek, Italian and Lebanese.
HUGH: To me, it’s international cuisine made with very high quality local ingredients.
LIZ: I think Aussie food can either mean food using indigenous ingredients, or it could describe the fusion of Asian and European food that has become common in Australian households and eateries.
MEL: I would say it’s essentially British, but with a twist (and probably better!), like beef sausages rather than pork, and Vegemite rather than Marmite.
JUSTINE: I often use the term “nostalgia food”: the foods that remind me of growing up in Australia, such as Vegemite on toast, Weetbix, Arnotts biscuits, lamingtons, pavlova, sausage rolls and meat pies, fairy bread and pikelets.
What’s the best city in Australia for food?
LUKE: I think Sydney and Melbourne would have to be my favourite cities to eat in. Sydney for its climate and outdoor dining options and Melbourne for its eclectic dining scene and embracing so many different food cultures.
KYLIE: I think Adelaide, or actually the Barossa, for the fresh organic food, the wine (oh the wine!), and the great restaurants.
HUGH: I’d have to say Sydney because I live here and don’t really know enough about the others to give judgement. I will say, however, that having a bad meal anywhere in Australia is such a rarity that it tends to stand out.
LIZ: Melbourne, especially for breakfasts and great coffee. Bellingen is pretty good too for a small country town, because of the abundance of locally grown, organic produce.
What Australian food can’t you go a week without?
LUKE: Fresh figs when they’re in season. They’re so versatile. You can eat them on their own, toss them through a salad with blue cheese and prosciutto, grill them with ice cream or serve them on a cheese platter. For cooking, it would be the Murray River pink salt and fresh Australian herbs that go into all my meals.
KYLIE: Definitely Vegemite, lamb, Aussie sausages and bacon.
LIZ: I hate to be unoriginal, but it’s got to be Vegemite toast for breakfast.
MARK: Maybe not quite every week, but a good Aussie hamburger. The bun should be toasted and buttered. Apart from the beef it must include iceberg lettuce, tomato, onion, fried egg, bacon, a ring of pineapple and beetroot. For authenticity, the pineapple and beetroot are the canned variety. To achieve the best results, the beetroot should be Australian.
JUSTINE: I can’t go a week without Weetbix; it’s a family staple. My seven-year-old could happily eat it every day, just like I used to when I was his age.
JULIET: None for me, but my daughter insists on roast lamb every Sunday.
Which Australian restaurants, bars or cafés do you rate here?
LUKE: I recently dined at Australian chef David Pynt’s Burnt Ends restaurant, which was a great experience and is a new concept for Singapore’s dining scene. David has perfected the art of barbecuing with his custom-built four-ton ovens; it’s all counter-top dining with an open kitchen, so you can watch the chefs smoking and grilling right in front of you.
KYLIE: Salt is great, and there’s Boomarang, which is best when there’s a game on that draws a crowd and an atmosphere.
JUSTINE: Boomarang for its delicious “big brekkie”, family-friendly atmosphere and live telecast Aussie sport; Toby’s Estate, Cafe Brunetti and Common Man Coffee Roasters for truly understanding the concept of a “strong flat white”; Jones the Grocer for drool-worthy gourmet big breakfasts and fabulous coffee.
MEL: Jones the Grocer for the best coffee and a good breakfast.
JULIET: I like South Coast at Marina Bay. It’s a very casual, 70s-inspired deco bar, which is good for a casual brunch at the weekend after a bike ride from the East Coast. They have a good breakfast menu and some great hangover juice blends such as the liver cleanse. Also, the kids can scoot up and down outside.
Any other Aussie food quirks we should know about?
LUKE: There are Aussie food icons like the Chiko Roll, made predominately from cabbage and very popular at milk bars and fish shops back in the 1980s. Then there are “scrolls” – cheese and Vegemite sandwiches.
KYLIE: The Jaffle; it’s basically a toasted sandwich that is sealed by the Jaffle (or Breville) maker. We usually fill the sandwiches with baked beans and cheese, creamed corn, ham and cheese or leftover spaghetti bolognaise; they were our easy dinner nights. Christmas in Australia is more focused on seafood, ham, chicken, salads and pavs (pavlovas); roast turkey is not Australian.
MEL: A damper is bread cooked in a fire pit and traditionally eaten with butter and golden syrup, but these days people make a hole in the middle and fill it with cheesy dip. Every movie theatre sells Choc Tops, an ice cream in a cone with a hard chocolate top.
An Aussie love affair: burgers with beetroot
Warren Fahey writes in his book Tucker Track: the Curious History of Food in Australia: “For some reason the idea of hamburger wrapping stained by beetroot juice was accepted as the sign of a great hamburger. People get quite emotional over the subject of Australian hamburgers. Some say a real hamburger must have slices of canned beetroot and others still declare its inclusion as a travesty.” Purists insist on tinned beetroot for its earthy, briny flavour, but whatever way it’s prepped (shredded, grated, sliced) an Aussie burger isn’t an Aussie burger without beetroot, apparently.
What’s that, mate? Our Aussie glossary
Chicken Parmigiana: Chicken parmy
Food: Tucker or grub
Fries: Hot chips
Ketchup: Dead horse
Sausage sandwich: Sausage sanger
Sweets and candies: Lollies