Modern Australia was settled by Great Britain in 1788. With modern New Zealand being settled several decades later. Back then, the food was as imported as the settlers who prepared it. In the short years since then, both countries have developed a range of food items which are quintessentially Australian and/or New Zealander. Sometimes they fight over who invented what and when. What follows, is a sample of these icons.
A squarish piece of sponge cake dipped in chocolate icing and rolled in desiccated coconut. There are many variations of Lamingtons; one calls for the cake to be cut in half and then filled with strawberry jam and whipped cream. Despite its small size, the cake has a large reputation, so much so that in 2006, the little Lamington was inducted into the National Trust of Queensland’s list of Heritage Icons. Since then each year on July 21, Australians celebrate "National Lamington Day."
The Pavlova is New Zealand's national dessert. This delicate cake is part of a great debate between Australians and New Zealanders who both lay claim to its invention. The Pavlova is a meringue shell with a marshmallowy center topped with whipped cream and fruit. It was aptly named after Russian prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova, who visited New Zealand in 1926 and Australia in 1929. Australian chef Bert Sachse was credited with inventing the Pavolva at the Esplanade Hotel in Perth in 1935. However, a recipe similar to that of the Pavolva appears in the 1933 Rangiora Mothers' Union Cookery Book. An even earlier version was found by Dr. Helen Leach, Food Historian at the University of Otago, in rural New Zealand magazine printed in 1929.
Damper is real camping fare. It's a type of bread made without yeast and is typically cooked in the "bush" (wild country) over hot coals and often wrapped around a stick. It is eaten with hot, sweet, black tea and sometimes drizzled with honey if there's any handy. These days damper is eaten with jam and butter or baked with nuts or dried fruit to make it a little more tasty.
ANZAC Biscuits are crunchy cookies that usually consist of rolled oats, golden syrup and desiccated coconut. The biscuits were named after the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The hardy cookies were made by women during World War I and sent to the ANZACs serving overseas. ANZAC Day is commemorated each year on April 25. It is the day the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed in Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I. Thousands of Australians and New Zealanders lost their lives in the Gallipoli campaign. Their spirit and bravery has been honored ever since and in many senses marked both nations' coming of age.
Vegemite is a dark brown, savory spread. It was invented in 1922 by Dr. Cyril Callister, a chemist employed by the Fred Walker Company (later bought by Kraft). Its taste can best be described as salty with a subtle bitterness (although honestly this is one product that defies description). It is lightly spread on toast or crackers with some butter. It can also be spread on toast with peanut butter or cheese slices and sometimes used to flavor soup stocks. New Zealanders, while many like Vegemite, tend to prefer Marmite. Marmite has quite a similar taste to Vegemite, but it's slightly sweeter.
The Meat Pie is very common (and very self-explanatory). It's a small pie (usually about 4" (9cm) in diameter) filled with ground beef, gravy and covered with "tomato sauce" (which is very similar to ketchup, but not quite as sweet). It is served at "tuckshops" (school canteens) or eaten mainly as a takeaway food. Meat Pies can also be served on a bed of "mushy" peas or mashed potatoes. This is called a "pie floater." Meat Pies are very popular at sporting events and on construction sites. Generally speaking, it would be very difficult to find an Australian male who disagreed with the sentiment that Meat Pies are about as Australian as you can get.
Another popular tuckshop favorite is the Sausage Roll. It is puff pastry filled with sausage meat that has been spiced with onions and various herbs. Like the meat pie, it is also served with tomato sauce on top. These days the sausage roll is becoming more adventurous with the addition of international flavors such as Moroccan spices or Thai herbs and sauces.
The phrase "slip a shrimp on the barbie" was made famous by a television advertisement developed by the Australian Tourism Commission in the mid-1980s. The ad starred Crocodile Dundee actor Paul Hogan and was aimed at increasing American tourism to Australia, which it did very successfully. The ad is somewhat misleading. While the word "barbie" is short for "barbecue" and commonly used in the Australian vernacular, the word "shrimp" is never used. Australians call it a "prawn."
Fish & Chips down at the beach is a perennial favorite. The fish (often shark) is usually coated in a light, golden batter (often made with beer) with a side of hot chips or potato scallops covered in salt and vinegar. These days, it's quite the norm for fish & chips to be served with Thai sweet chili sauce instead of the more old fashioned tartare sauce.
When we say "the lot", we mean it. A hamburger with "the lot" consists of a beef patty, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, a fried egg, a slice of canned pineapple, bacon rashers and a slice of canned beetroot. The additions of egg, pineapple and beetroot seem particularly amusing to tourists. Be warned, unless you have really big hands (and the ability to dislocate your jaw), it can often be a real effort to hold on to and bite.
The nutritious kumara, also known as the sweet potato, has been cultivated in New Zealand for thousands of years. It is believed that the kumara was introduced to New Zealand by early Maori settlers in the mid 1200s. Today the kumara is mainly grown on the semi-tropical North Island of New Zealand. It comes in white, gold and red varieties with red usually being the sweetest. Methods of cooking kumara are endless, they can be used in soups, salads, sweet or savory pies or even eaten raw.