If you want to eat like an Australian, you may find yourself content with the British, Italian and American dishes that have made their way Down Under — but don’t stop there. Australia is also home to many dishes that are unique to the continent, often drawn from indigenous cuisine or using ingredients that you just won’t find anywhere else in the world (grilled kangaroo, anyone?).
Take a look at some of the popular foods that Australia calls its own. Once you’ve checked these Australian delicacies off your list, you can truly say you’re eating like an Aussie.
Pies don’t have to be filled with apples or cherries or any other fruit. Meat pies may have originally come from England, but these handheld savory treats with their flaky crusts are one of the Australian foods everyone can agree on. You can still buy them from street vendors, the same way they were sold in the early colonial period, but you can also find upmarket versions at specialty pie shops.
The basic meat pie is filled with mincemeat (think ground beef cooked loose with spices) and gravy. Common variations include mushrooms, mashed potatoes, mushy peas, onions, cheese or tomato sauce.
You can find them everywhere from a service station convenience mart to an upscale bakery. Meat pies are a great late-night snack and perfect fodder when watching a rugby game. Let’s face it —it’s always a good time for a meat pie.
Non-Australians tend to dislike Vegemite, which is a food paste made from yeast extract. Think of it as a vegetarian version of Great Britain’s similar yeast-based paste, Marmite (which non-Brits also tend to turn their noses up at). Vegemite is so popular in Australia that when a rumor spread that the United States was going to ban its import, Australians living in America protested all the way to the White House.
Vegemite was invited in 1922 as a way to reuse brewer’s yeast and take advantage of its high levels of vitamin B. Despite its name, which was chosen as the result of a national naming competition, it actually has nothing to do with vegetables.
Australians eat Vegemite for breakfast, lunch, tea and snacks, most often spread on toast along with butter. Sometimes Vegemite fans mix the spread with cheese or avocado, and there are even Vegemite pizzas. You know you’re truly an Australian when you not only eat Vegemite happily but can also sing along with the “Happy Little Vegemites” ad jingle that everyone in the country knows by heart.
Barbecued Snags and More
If you ever saw a TV ad urging people to visit Australia by promising to “put another shrimp on the barbie” — well, they weren’t wrong, because Australians do love their barbecue. Don’t expect shrimp (which Australians actually call prawns). Instead, you’ll probably be served snags: pork or beef sausages popped into a roll or rolled up inside a slice of bread. You might find fried onions on top and a whole array of sauces to spice things up.
Love of barbecue means that Aussies break out the grill for any occasion, and you’ll find sausage sizzles advertised for civic celebrations, grand openings for stores and other events. You can count on at least one barbecue per week in Australia, and the availability of portable barbecue grills and built-in barbecues at beaches and parks means you can snag a sizzled snag anywhere.
Where did the Lamington come from? Lore has it that the personal chef of Queensland’s Lord Lamington created it for him in 1900. Some claim it was invented as a way to use up stale sponge cake. While it’s certainly true that the sweet treat is named for Lord Lamington, it’s not clear that the legend is factual. (In fact, some people even claim the Lamington was invented in New Zealand!)
But where can you find the it now? Everywhere. The National Trust of Queensland has named the Lamington an Australian icon, and it’s often called the national cake of the country. You’ll see Lamingtons at every bakery, cafe and fundraiser in the country, and recipes pop up in most Australian cookbooks.
The Lamington is a square piece of sponge cake with two layers separated by a layer of jam or cream (or both). It’s coated in chocolate icing all over and then dusted with dried coconut. Sometimes you’ll find it drenched in raspberry sauce. Lamingtons are the ideal accompaniment to an afternoon cup of tea or coffee.
Australia and New Zealand both lay claim to this elegant dessert. According to the Australians, chef Herbert Sachse at the Hotel Esplanade in Perth invented the pavlova as a tribute to famed Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova when she toured the country in 1926 and 1929. The idea was that the dessert was as light and airy as the ballerina herself.
This after-dinner delight consists of a crispy baked meringue that’s soft and filled with air inside. The meringue is typically decorated festively with whipped cream and fresh fruit — often passion fruit. The sweetness of the whipped cream and meringue and the tanginess of the fruit combine to create a dessert that literally melts in your mouth. Because it’s such a beautiful dish as well, it’s a popular choice when celebrating special occasions.
Meringues are surprisingly easy to bake, but if you feel a little intimidated at the thought of creating a pavlova from scratch, you can easily find one in a bakery or cake shop.
Does it seem odd to eat the national animal? Maybe you’ll change your mind once you taste grilled kangaroo and realize how delicious it is — very similar to the taste of beef. You’d better like your meat rare, though, since this low-fat meat is difficult to cook well and dries out quickly if overcooked.
Kangaroo meat is actually quite healthy. It’s a lean red meat that’s also high in iron and omega-3 fatty acids. You’ll find it in almost any form you might find beef — as steaks, in sausages and as burgers. Many people cook it with fruity sauces featuring oranges, plums and currants. Don’t worry about eating an endangered animal, because the kangaroo is actually overpopulating parts of the country in some areas (so, really, you’re doing the Australians a favor).
Once you’ve tried all these Australian delicacies, you can start to consider yourself a true Aussie at heart — and in the kitchen.