Even the most patriotic bloke in the world will concede that Aussie cuisine can’t match that of France, China or Italy. Still, you can eat extraordinarily well in Australia, thanks to the freshness and quality of the produce, and the influences of the country’s multicultural population. And then there are the “icons” – those items that immediately spring to mind when the topic of Aussie food comes up. We profile a few of them here.
MEAT & MORE
The closest thing Australia has to a national dish, the meat pie is a single-portion savoury pie that can be held in the hands and eaten; Kiwis love meat pies, too – in fact, they eat more of them per capita than Australians do. The meat pie was invented in 1947, and while you’ll find a growing variety of fillings in Aussie pies (from Thai chicken to cauliflower and cheese), a “plain meat pie” contains minced beef and gravy, and is usually doused liberally with tomato sauce (colloquially “blood” or “tom sauce” – never “ketchup”). A “floater” is a meat pie served in a plate of mushy peas.
Where to try it: The Gourmet Pie Company (thegourmetpiecompany.com) has three stores and a delivery service.
The Coat of Arms
There’s an old saying that Australia is the only nation that eats all the animals on its coat of arms – namely, the kangaroo and the emu. And why not? Kangaroos aren’t endangered – quite the opposite, in fact – and eating a portion of medium-rare ’roo can be a pleasure, especially with peppery, fruity accompaniments. Emu, meanwhile, is an iron-high, fat-free and low-cholesterol meat that tastes particularly good when it’s smoked.
Where to try it: Boomarang (boomarang.com.sg) serves peppered kangaroo loin on its own, in a burger and on a pizza.
Seafood features heavily in the Australian diet – no surprise when you consider that almost 90 percent of Aussies live within 50km of the coast. Popular menu items include fish and chips, raw oysters, crabs, lobsters, and cooked or raw prawns (never “shrimp”). Arguably the most quintessentially Australian fish to eat is the barramundi (“barra”), whose name comes from the Aboriginal word for “large-scaled river fish”.
Where to try it: Salt Grill (saltgrill.com) does a roasted barramundi dish that gets great reviews.
If there’s one Aussie food that leaves plenty of people from overseas scratching their heads, it’s Vegemite. This thick, black, salty spread used on sandwiches and toast is found in just about every kitchen cupboard in the country. Extremely high in vitamin B, Vegemite is made from yeast extract, which is a by-product of the beer manufacturing process. Almost as famous as the spread itself is the “Happy Little Vegemites” advertising jingle from the 1950s.
Where to try it: Most supermarkets in Singapore stock Vegemite. Occasionally there is a shortage, and Aussie expats are forced to ask visiting family and friends to bring a few jars in their luggage.
Food that is native to Australia and traditionally part of the diet of Australia’s indigenous communities is commonly referred to as “bush tucker”. The ingredients – for example, quandong (a fruit), lemon myrtle, kutjera (or desert raisin) and macadamia nuts – are appearing on more and more restaurant menus around the country and overseas.
The pavlova (pav-low-vah) is undoubtedly the most well-known dessert associated with Australia, and if truth be told, probably the only one. But the claim is contested, though food historians have argued that it probably first appeared in a New Zealand cookbook. The debate centres on a visit by Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who toured both countries in 1926 and 1929 whose name was bestowed on the baked meringue topped with cream and fruit.
It is relatively simple to make, but the secret to success is in the timing. The meringue must be cooked in a slow oven until the outer layer is crisp and crunchy, but the centre is soft, and then and left to cool. It should be topped with freshly whipped cream and fruit just before serving, so that the meringue does not soften. One of the most common topping combinations is passionfruit, strawberries and kiwifruit.
Where to try it: Cedele outlets across the island and Boomarang at Robertson Quay.
This traditional cake is made by dipping large cubes of sponge cake in chocolate sauce, then rolling them in desiccated coconut. Sometimes the cake can be split in half and jam or cream spread between the two halves.
The history of this dessert is also contested, but the most popular story attributes the name to Lord Lamington, Governor of Queensland at the turn of the 19th century. Lord Lamington was believed to have hated them, referring to them as “those bloody poofy woolly biscuits”. While this claim on Wikipedia is impossible to verify, it is amusing, especially if you imagine it said with an Australian accent.
Where to try it: Dong Po Colonial Café, 56 Kandahar Street and Jones The Grocer at ION, Dempsey and Mandarin Gallery.
Aussie biscuits (“biccies”)
Tim Tams are probably Australia’s best-known biscuits, launched in 1964 and named after a horse that won the Kentucky Derby. This chocolate biscuit has garnered a loyal following all over the world, but have you heard of the Tim Tam slam? Nibble the diagonal corners of the biscuit and dip the bottom corner in hot tea; then suck it up, whereupon the tea and filling erupt through the hole in the corner in one explosive mess of chocolatey, gooey flavour.
There are dozens of biscuits unique to Australia. Many, dating back to the early 1900s, the heyday of biscuit manufacturers, are still produced today. The Iced VoVo, trademarked in 1906, is topped with two strips of pink fondant and a strip of strawberry jam, sprinkled with coconut. The Sao is a savoury cracker best served with butter and lashings of Vegemite.
Anzac biscuits are synonymous with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) established during the First World War. Baked without eggs, and using commonly available ingredients, they were sent to troops on the front line. They remain a popular homemade afternoon tea snack.