Prior to moving to Australia, my only experience with the food was a bloomin’ onion and giant cans of Fosters beer. That’s like saying, “I don’t need to research Mexican food before visiting the country — I’ve dined at Taco Bell.” I assumed there would be some British influences, given that the country started as a British prison colony. But when I arrived in Adelaide, South Australia, I was surprised to learn that their food is also influenced by variety of immigrant cuisines, namely European and Asian cuisines, along with bush tucker (native Australian foods).
1. Meat Pies
These portable, meat-stuffed pastries were definitely a leftover from the British, but the flaky,
savory pies have developed an entire life of their own down under. Whether they are mass-produced and kept on warming shelves at sporting events, sold from a pie cart or being served at a fine dining restaurant, they are almost always accompanied by tomato sauce (basically Australian ketchup). Beef is the most common flavor you can find, followed by meat (by law, Australian pie companies don’t have to disclose what kind of meat is in a pie). On the high end, you’ll find chicken curry, Moroccan lentil and Thai red curry lamb. A trip to the Outback will yield exotic pies made with local animals like camel, emu and kangaroo.
2. Pie Floater
I was introduced to the pie floater as post-pub food. It makes sense: it’s not the most attractive dish, essentially a meat pie floating in a bowl of green pea soup with a squirt of tomato sauce on top, a fusion of two popular British foods. But after a night out on the town, the combination of sweet, creamy pea soup with salty, flaky dough and greasy, meaty filling tastes like it should have a Michelin star. Look for it at pie carts (day or night) in cities like Adelaide and Sydney.
3. Snag on the Dag
All that good weather means Aussies love to cook outside. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll come across a true Australian barbecue: the sausage sizzle. It always involves grilled sausages served on a slice of white sandwich bread with tomato sauce, fried onions and beer. The type of sausage and condiments may vary (pork sausage is popular), and there could be other mains like prawns or lamb. Aussies have a nickname for everything, and this one’s called a snag on the dag (snag=sausage, dag=diagonal, how it’s laid on the bread). Find them at sporting events, on college campuses, or trade an Aussie a pint of beer for an invite.
Just like their British ancestors, Australian chips are basically fries. Chips are sold everywhere, from fish and chip shops to pubs and restaurants, and tend to come in one of three styles: salt and vinegar, chicken salt or with a dish of sour cream and Thai sweet chili sauce. Chicken salt is exactly what it sounds like: chicken-flavored salt that is a birthright for all Aussies. It gives chips this mysterious umami flavor that shouldn’t work, but does. Those served with sour cream and Thai sweet chili sauce are a little nod to Australia’s Asian immigrants, a welcome blend of tangy, sweet and heat.
This spicy noodle soup is as widespread in Australia as pizzas and tacos are in the U.S. It’s cheap, filling and offers a punch of strong flavors to the palate. It’s Peranakan, which is a blend of Chinese and Malay cuisine found in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. All laksa comes with rice noodles, a protein like chicken, seafood or tofu and is garnished with sambal (a chili paste) and laksa leaf (a Vietnamese mint). There are three styles popular in Australia: curry laksa (a spicy coconut curry soup), assam laksa (a sour tamarind soup made with fish) or a combination of both.
6. Salt and Pepper Squid
This Cantonese dish is another staple in Australia. Thin slices of squid are dipped in a flour
batter, fried until crispy, and tossed with spices, typically black or white pepper, salt and Chinese five spice. You can find this dish in many different types of Asian restaurants (I’ve had it at traditional and modern Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in Australia), but also at pubs. It’s ability to be salty, crisp and chewy is addictive.
If America is known for its apple pie, Australia is known for its lamingtons. No tea time is complete without this white sponge cake dipped in chocolate and rolled in desiccated coconut. You’ll find them everywhere, from cafes and coffee shops to bakeries and grocery stores. Sometimes the white sponge cake sandwiches a filling like jam or whipped cream, sometimes it’s swapped for chocolate sponge. Or sometimes a lamington puts on it’s fancy pants, like at Cocolat Dessert Cafe in South Australia and New South Wales: moist chocolate cake is filled with a champagne mousse, dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in giant flakes of fresh, lightly toasted coconut.
Australia and New Zealand have been fighting for years over which country invented the pavlova. Bring up the subject in an Aussie pub at your own risk. A pavlova is a meringue-based dessert, and there is one type of pav that Australians excel in: the wattleseed pavlova. This dessert comes in two styles: a crisp on the outside, soft on the inside cake topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit, or a fluffy, lightly baked meringue rolled around a whipped cream filling. Wattleseed is a native Australian ingredient typically used in bush tucker, but it’s been working its way into classic Australian food like pavlova for years. It tastes like coffee with a hint of chocolate and hazelnut, and whether it’s baked into a pav directly or infused into whipped cream to fill a roll or top a pav, this is a dessert to hunt down.
9. Alcoholic Ginger Beer
Yet another throw back to their British days, alcoholic ginger beer is a wonderful part of Australian pub culture, especially for those looking for an alternative to beer, wine and cider.
The flavor is indistinguishable from it’s nonalcoholic brethren, which is definitely part of it’s appeal. This is soda that gets you tipsy. Some brands to check out in Australia: Stone’s, Matso’s and Brookvale Union.