The face of Australian food is ever-changing. It is diverse and innovative. It incorporates native produce and produce introduced by the many cultures living in Australia today.
Australian food borrows flavors from Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, French, German, Lebanese, Vietnamese and Mediterranean cuisine, amongst others. These influences have permeated into all levels of eating, from first-class dining establishments to the local fish and chip shops where serving Thai sweet chilli sauce with everything is the now the norm.
With an abundance of incomparable fresh produce, Australian chefs are pushing the culinary boundaries and offering diners unique flavors infused with cultural diversity.
Modern Australia is a culinary force to be reckoned with. However, it has not always been so. Until relatively recently, Australian food was neither this diverse nor this glamorous. In fact, it has only been in the last twenty years that chefs have started fusing flavors to produce what is known as Modern Australian or “Mod-Oz” cuisine.
While beef, chicken and pork are widely consumed, the popularity of native meats such as Kangaroo is increasing. Kangaroo is a dark, gamey meat that is high in iron and low in fat and cholesterol. It is roughly comparable to venison.
As an island nation, Australia boasts an abundance of seafood such as oysters, abalone, lobster, prawns and crayfish.
Marine fisheries are helped by the rich cold currents from Antarctica. Having coastlines on both the Indian and Pacific oceans, as well as inland river systems and wetlands, Australia boasts a broad range of native fish species.
Some of the most famous freshwater species include Barramundi, Murray Cod and a wide variety of Perch. The Oceans meanwhile yield Yellowtail, Kingfish, Bream, Snapper, Red Emperor and Orange Roughy.
Traditional Australian fare naturally took its roots from the more modest and hearty English diet. British immigrants moved to the Colonies and brought their recipes with them. These comprised of roasted or stewed meats, breads, puddings and pies.
Up until about the 1970s, Australian families ate a “meat and three veg” diet which typically consisted of lamb, beef or chicken, and root vegetables.
In the 1940s, '50s and '60s Australia saw a new wave of immigration from Europe and the Mediterranean. The face Australian cuisine would never be the same. These immigrants brought with them strange and wonderful things… like garlic!
With the Italian, Greek and German migration, came pasta, espresso, olives and spicy, cured meats. New methods of baking breads were introduced along with cheese and winemaking for which Australia is now famous.
Since the 1980s, Asian Immigration has been far more prevalent, now making up almost 6% of the population. Australians’ appetite for Asian food has grown too. Australian chefs have been incorporating spices, coconut milk, ginger and lemongrass from India, China, Japan and Southeast Asia.
Back to the Future: Dreamtime fusion
Australia has come a long way, in quick time, on its culinary journey. Australian Chefs have travelled the world to develop their skills and have come home only to find inspiration in their own back yard.
This inspiration is coming from the rediscovery of the eons-old cuisine of the indigenous Australians. For thousands of years, Aboriginal people survived and flourished on the fruits of the land.
Meats included kangaroo, small marsupials, emus, crocodiles, dugongs (a large marine mammal closely related to the sea cow) and turtles. Fish and shellfish were available to tribes living mainly around the coastal areas. There were native fruits, some of which are making their way into restaurants for the first time, such as "Quandongs," also known as a "wild peach" or "dessert peach" and the "Riberry," a tart-cranberry-like fruit.