Click to enlargeAustralia - Favourite Food and Drinks

Not so long ago, the term “Australian cuisine” would just have conjured images of meat pies, boiled beef, Vegemite sandwiches and sausage rolls. Then came the “renaissance” as Australia transformed itself into a paradise for “New Age” food. Few places in the world have restaurants that can now compare with the variety, quality and sheer inventiveness of Australian ones. From formal dining rooms tiny beachside cafes, creations such as “seared kangaroo fillet with wilted beetroot greens and roasted onion” pop up on menus. Even the most basic corner diners, which once just served hamburger and chips, dish up focaccias with fresh King Island cheeses and exotic fruits.

Modern Australian Cuisine’s culinary renaissance is due to two factors: a) the wealth of superlative Australian produce and unique native food found no where else, and b) the plethora of international cuisines brought to Australia by immigrants – in particular those from Asia in recent times. But it wasn’t like this in the past.

AUSSIE FOOD IN THE PAST. In the early days of Australia, the early settlers struggled to maintain their stolid English diets, subsisiting on salted meats – either roasted or baked into pies. The unfamiliar harshness of the Australian bush bred tough bellies used to tinned beef and “damper” ( the most basic of bread made of flour, water and a pinch of salt). Very few native animal were eaten except the kangaroo whose tail makes a fine soup!

Even by the 1960s, the only things approaching an Australian cuisine were a couple of bizarre confectionaries and concoctions. There were the Pavlova (meringue pie shell filled with fruit and cream) and Lamingtons (sponge cubes covered with chocolate and coconut). Of course, there was always Vegemite – the black, salty yeast spread that most Aussies enjoyed with bread. Thanks to the climate, the “barbie” (barbecue) did become an Australian institution. English traditions remained strongly with roast dinners every Sunday, and roast turkeys every Christmas out on a hot summers day.

AUSTRALIA - GARDEN OF EDEN FOR FOOD INGREDIENTS. Today, the acknowledged basis of Australian cuisine is the quality of its ingredients. Aussies were slow to recognize the wealth of seafood in their water, but now seafood is everywhere in the menu. Small farms devote themselves to gourmet beef and poultry, while the quality of everyday vegetables tends to be better than anything grown on organic farms in Europe or the United States. And far from pining for imports of French cheese, Greek olives or Italian wine for example, Australians are producing their own – and often finding the results to be of superior standard.

Like Italy and France, Australia can be divided into regions that are well-known for particular produce. Here’s a guide:


Sydney rock oysters, Hunter Valley wines, Balmain Bugs, Illabo milk-fed lamb


Gippsland beef, Meredith lamb, Malle squab, cornfed chicken


Barossa Valley wine (e.g. Penfolds), Coffin Bay scallops, olive oil, tuna, cultivated native food


Salmon, trout, cheeses, oysters, raspberries, King Island cream


Bowen mangoes, papaya, succulent reef fish, mudcrabs, Moreton Bay Bugs (a shellfish, not insects!)


Barramundi fish, Mangrove Jack (fish), crocodile, buffalo

AUSTRALIA’S FOOD AND RESTAURANT REVOLUTION. The massive migration from the Mediterranean countries after World War 2 made the first real dent to Australia’s traditionally British palate. Italians in particular helped revolutionise cooking, introducing wary Aussies to the wonders of pasta, garlic and olive oil. Today, each capital city has its concentration of fine Italian restaurants – Melbourne’s Lygon Street and Sydney’s Leichardt being the most famous.

The further expansion of immigration in the 1970s further added into the food revolution. The great “melting pot” of Australian society meant that restaurants were suddenly opened by Lebanese, Turkish, Balkan, Hungarian and Spanish chefs. But the biggest impact by far of them all has been made by Asian migrants. Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and Indian restaurants are now Australia’s biggest success stories, with Korean, Sri Lankan and Indonesian cuisines waiting in the wings.

OF MODERN AUSTRALIAN CUISINE With the sudden wealth of new ingredients from all quarters – including “bush tucker”, enterprising chefs in the 1990s proceeded to defy traditional cooking rules by mixing flavours from completely different ethnic traditions. Thus Modern Australian Cuisine was born!

Potent Asian flavours such as chili, lemon grass, coriander and cardamon can be added to many essentially European dishes. By the same token, a modern Asian cuisine has emerged with Asian chefs substituting traditional ingredients for unusual local Australian ones: Cantonese stir-fried kangaroo meat, or barramundi fish in Thai green curry. Young Australian chefs are coming out with great new culinary creations like:

  • Angel-hair pasta with Blamain Bugs.
  • Ocean-trout tartare on potato rosti with wasabi.
  • Kangaroo tenderloin and emu fillet with bush-tomato chutney, yam (sweet potato) pancake and native pepperleaf glaze.
  • Tandoori marinated buffalo fillet with curried spinach and beetroot relish and a roasted pear and saffron polenta.
  • Schnapps and star anise-cured Mangrove Jack with basil aioli.
  • Pan-fried marlin with olive and caper ratatouille.

World's Best Red Wine...the Penfolds Grange Hermitage
World's Best Red Wine...the Penfolds Grange Hermitage

Malayan Orchid Restaurant - Bendigo, Victoria
Malayan Orchid Restaurant - Bendigo, Victoria


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