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Feb 25, 2008 12:09 PM

Unique Australian Foods

I will be taking my first trip to Australia in May and wanted to know what food experiences to expect. I live in California in the United States, so I have experienced many different cultures and excellent food. What I am really looking for are unique foods not typically found in my area.

My trip will be Sydney, Uluru, Cairns, and Melbourne, mainly doing all the "tourist" stuff. I will have a car in Melbourne, but I will be limited to downtown/tourist areas in the other places. I would really like to eat what normal Australians eat, even fast food, junk food, and boring stuff - which is usually not boring to us foreigners.

Ideally, I prefer to avoid fancy restaurants focusing more on local stuff. It looks like I will have many options for kangaroo, emu, ostrich, and alligator, but are there any unique food and drink to look out for?

Thanks for any help you can offer.

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  1. Check out a list of unique Australian Native Products which you may be able to find if you can get to a restaurant specializing in "Bush Tucker" & in some that may use just a few native ingredients. As well as the animals you have listed , you may find Tasmanian possum & wallaby on menus. Look out for the local fish and shell fish like Moreton Bay Bugs. Have fun.

    11 Replies
    1. re: legume

      Even though I will not be in Brisbane, do you know of any good "Bush Tucker" restaurants in Sydney or Melbourne? I am leery of finding real authentic stuff in the tourist meccas of Uluru and Cairns. My guides show some Aboriginal restaurants, but I trust the Chowhounds more.

      1. re: Sacto_Damkier

        About an hour after I posted this, I found a "Bush Tucker" place in Cairns! It looks awesome - Ochre Restaurant & Catering.

        1. re: Sacto_Damkier

          "I would really like to eat what normal Australians eat, even fast food, junk food, and boring stuff - which is usually not boring to us foreigners."

          In all earnestness, real live Australians do not eat like this. We are not an exotic species, just homo sapiens.

          We live in a wonderful country with wonderful produce and it's best eaten with little frippery - stick to fresh produce - seafood by the coastline, get off the beaten track when you can and read these boards for some excellent tips.

          The most prolific commercially grown native plant in Australia is the Macadamia, grown primarily in Nth NSW where you aren't going, but you will have plenty of opportunity to sample.

          1. re: kmh

            kmh is right (in most recent post, won't mention the taipans). You don't have to go Ocker - give the pies a miss, mate! Try the Ochre place in Cairns for the bush tucker experience. Elsewhere, you will find some very good eating places serving world class produce in a range of 'styles'. look for farmed seafood produce like oysters, soft-shelled crabs, mud crab,prawns, barramundi, tuna, salmon (& salmon roe) plus varieties of wild fish. If you eat red meat you will be well catered for... have fun.

            1. re: kmh

              While I am sure that many Australians eat fresh produce and healthy seafood, I am looking for iconic foods or those remembered from childhood. Basically, what is in a suburban kitchen? This is usually not answered well on the Board since posters have much better taste. Thanks for your help anyway.

              I guess I will just have to check out the supermarket to do some investigating. I have learned more about world cultures by going to a supermarket than many museums.

              1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                Also remember Australia is a melting pot of cultures and thus a melting pot of food culture. An Italian families iconic food is going to be very different from a Vietnamese family.

                The strength of Australian food culture is the combination of this very fresh (recent) and vibrant set of influences combined with great natural (food) resources.

                Iconic Australian food is found in the broad range of restaurants across the country where innovative chefs are taking the cuisine's that ate at their own homes, or their friends houses, and reinterpreting them in new ways, yet staying true to the base values (unlike the US version of Italian food). A good book that illustrates this is "Secrets of the red lantern" by Pauline Nguyen.

                Australian food culture is modern, fast paced and innovative. It would be a shame to only look for icons in the past rather than explore the present day.

                1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                  with 160+ ethnic ancestries in this country what do you think is in a suburban kitchen.

                  1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                    If you're going to the supermarket to find the "true Australia" you will be sorely dissapointed - you will find Velveeta, Philadelphia, (Kraft have a huge plant down here) Paul Newman dressings, Heinz ketchup, Old El Paso, Cheerios, ramens galore, sauce packets, Barilla, and dependingon the area, a little Manischevitz section, or polish section, etc...

                    So using your logic, you will find that Australia is surprisingly similar to the USA in terms of food in the supermarkets, even down to the strip malls the supermarkets are in...

                    Why not just focus on eating good food that may or may not be available in the US, but with a different spin...

                    It's not like Mexico where the cuisine is totally different with many different ingredients -

                    1. re: sandra in australia

                      I intend to pursue the good food. My post was not to dismiss the bounty of good food in Australia, but when I travel, I immerse myself in the local population - good and bad - to take back a better sense of the world.

                      In my opinion, supermarkets give a true sense of a country's society since eating is vital to life, and what a country eats - and what a company stocks for people to eat - is very telling. I have found this to be the case from London to Germany to South Korea, even to Texas!

                      Several previous comments were deleted since some people may have read too much into my comments. I did not intend to say, "Australians only eat junk food" or "I do not want to eat good food in a country rich with good food" - but the Internet is notorious for miscommunication. I can get excellent food all over the place, but I prefer to experience the true culture of a new place by seeing what the average person buys in a supermarket.

                      This is significantly different than most posters who are just looking for the best restaurants. I have already found topics that discuss the good restaurants on the board, which is why I did not ask for them.

                      1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                        Another couple of points to think about.

                        First, Australia still has quite a vibrant specialist shopping sector. I found the supermarkets are not as dominant in the marketplace as they are in other countries. As a result you need to look at a broader range of shops to get a feeling for how society operates, and intersestingly this will vary by area depending on the demographics of immigration in that area. Leichart in Sydney's inner west is very cosmopolitan but with an Italian foundation - thus the local supermarket is well stocked with basics but has a poor meat and fresh vegtable selection. This is because of the proximity of AC Butchery and Norton Street Grocers two very old established shops that are now expanding into chains (and modern premisis). Other suburbs will have similar variation.

                        The second point to be consider is how targeted Australian supermarkets are to their demographic. I find that they are much more tightly targetted than equivilant shops in other countries. Therefore the range you will see on he shelves will reflect the ethnicity of the community, their spending power and the local competition (see above).

                        So to get a good perspective will require more than simply checking out the local Coles - if anthropology was that simply anyone could do it.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          I plan on going to the Queen Victoria Market and Sydney Fish Market in addition to the supermarkets. Here in California, we are spoiled rotten with fresh food, and it looks like you guys are blessed as well.

          2. The original comment has been removed
            1. Just get the Tim Tams and skip all the rest.

              3 Replies
              1. re: mlgb

                Looks tasty. I would imagine that Australia still has a lot of ties to Great Britain, especially in the food world. Any other unique brands, especially what Australians eat regularly.

                1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                  Be sure to ask for a demo of the "Tim Tam Slam."

                2. re: mlgb

                  Yeah.... you will find walls of Tim Tams at the airport. perfect way to spend your remaining AUD.

                  For chocolate, I would also add the berry chocos at Haight's.

                  In the supermarket, Arnott's Apricot fruit slice biscuit is first pick. Arnott's pretty much occupy the entire snack isle. My second choice is the various chicken flavor chips. it is an acquired taste, though.

                3. can't speak too much for other cities, but meat pies are pretty aussie - just grab a four n' twenty at any old 7-11 or corner store (or buy a pack at the supermarket and pop it in the oven). the beauty of 'meat' pies is that you never really know what kind of 'meat' is in them...

                  for a less fast-foody experience, go to dinkum pies, block place, city. (Between Lt collins and collins)

                  melburnians are coffee snobs too - we're talking italian espresso-based drinks, not starbucks, brews, or drips. get one at the cellar bar at grossi florentino, bourke st, city; lygon st food store, lygon st, carlton etc. i'm sure plenty of melb folk would be happy to recommend, it's like one of the most hotly contested topics in the city. search this board for the cities you're visiting too.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: e_ting

                    Thanks for the info; sounds like meat pies are on my list. I did not know Melbourne was a coffee town, which is good since I will be staying there for several days. Do you know if there are coffees grown in Australia available in these stores?

                    1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                      There are several coffee farms in northern NSW (where the macadamias are!). These are still very much organic and boutique industries and so it's unlikely that the supermarket chains will have picked these up but you never know. a google search of "australian grown coffee" might steer you in the right direction. There are other local coffees independently owned or ground in australia.
                      grinders is now owned by coca cola if anyone tries to convince you it's a boutique coffee.

                      1. re: kmh

                        I think you'll find most of the actual coffee grown in Australia comes from up in Queensland, usually around the Atherton table lands area. We will always struggle to grow good coffee in Australia as the coffee trees prefer elevation. You could try Skybury. There are also several local roasters.


                        1. re: brawlster

                          that may be so, but there are several coffee farms in northern nsw - ewingsdale coffee, black cockatoo for example.

                      2. re: Sacto_Damkier

                        you got me on that one - i know Vittoria (coffee brand) is roaasted in Australia, but I've no idea whether the beans were grown here, and Grossi Cellar Bar uses Vittoria.
                        icoco in south melbourne roasts their coffee in-house
                        coffea at victoria market (prob the most convenient if you're only visiting) also roasts its own.
                        sorry i know i haven't really answered your question - but you've certainly started me on a hunt!

                        1. re: e_ting

                          That would be handy to know. I always try to eat local on trips, and my favorite coffees are from the Pacific areas (Sumatra, Sulawesi, New Guinea). Since I am traveling, coffee beans are not an easy option; I would prefer a brewed local coffee.

                    2. I just did my Melbourne, Uluru, Cairns and Sydney trips in Oct. To me, the australian foods is seafood. so fresh and "cheap" <- relatively. I could not believe my eyes that a fresh seafood entree costs only a dollar more than poultry. I practically had barramundi every day.

                      You gotta check out the sushi roll from convenient stores. It is uniquely aussie. I bought a box (2 roll) and headed to see the penguins at the phillips island. wish there is sth like in the states. dirt cheap and super convenient.

                      Many restaurants count potatoes as greens. I remember ordering a over rice dish and it came with french fries. The rockets salad seems to be quite popular down there. it is virtually THE salad.

                      If you have time in Melbourne, take the streetcar to St Kilda. There is a funky street sorta like the Haights street in SF. but, there is at least four really old style bakeries and some gelato places. I was walking up and down the street at least three times to decide where to take my tea break.

                      Are you going to the Great Ocean Road? There is an aussie bakery with yummy bargain meat pasties and sweets. I was too excited with the food and forgot to take pictures or the store... it was very ordinary looking with some old fashion blue decorations. The counter was on the back side with drinks fridge on the right. There were four tables for customers. It was across from the parking lot of the town. I had breakfast and pack lunch. Hope it is enough info in case you are going. Highly recommend to stay at the Sandpiper Motel at Apollo Bay. It is brand new and better than a hotel.

                      Uluru, I joined the AT King sunset tour with bbq dinner. the only thing i did not enjoy was the kangaroo meat.

                      Carins is extremely touristy. It feels very much like waikiki. For better food variety, Port Douglas is the place to go. For non-seafood theme, I enjoyed the pizza at Mango Tango. The variety and ingredient combination is very different from the typical pizza. I was being told that it is not unique. Aussie are very generous with toppings and their cooking is extremely fusion (in a good way).

                      Are you going to Daintree? To try local tropical fruits, there is fruit tasting (you have to pay) and Daintree ice cream company (only 4 ice cream flavors daily + mango ice).

                      Don't forget to check out the food market at the Sydney fishmarket. both raw and cooked seafood. you can load up with mud crab, sashimi, oysters.... the ginger scallion crab was just heavenly.

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: maoliu

                        > Don't forget to check out the food market at the Sydney fishmarket.

                        An amazing experience is the twice-a-week tour of the Sydney fish market. You have to get up pretty early, but it's an unforgettable experience to see the "reverse auction" action and get up close and personal with enormous tunas and the like! (A photo of me wearing one of those ubiquitous fluorescent safety vests for the tour conjures up some of the best memories of my Australia trip.) Follow that up with a market breakfast of just-off-the-boat fresh fish and your day is set. :-)


                        I also found a fantastic variety of Asian food that is just not available here (Montreal). Look for hearty Malaysian and Singaporean soups like laksa as well as incredibly fresh, inexpensive sushi seemingly everywhere. In Sydney's Chinatown there are also some amazing Hong Kong-style bakeries with cheap, delicious sweets.

                        I second the rec. for St-Kilda, a funky suburb of Melbourne. I think that street an earlier poster was referring to is called Acland. I couldn't believe my eyes - it's lined with an incredible array of cake shops unlike any I've seen elsewhere! Definitely worth a trip.


                        One more thing I just remembered in Melbourne is the *gigantic* Queen Victoria market. They also have a tour, which helps get your bearings - this thing is enormous! One highlight was a stand selling delicious fresh fruit juices of all kinds.

                        In the Cairns area, I recommend picking up some "Daintree tea" - a delightful black tea grown in the area that I wish I'd brought home more of.

                        Have a fantastic trip!

                        1. re: maoliu

                          'Many restaurants count potatoes as greens' = this really upsets me. I can't imagine where you were eating.
                          Bush Tucker is a made up concept by white people to try and understadn the way indigenous australians used to live off the bush - shame this board doesn't have more Australians contributing

                          1. re: katea

                            Tis true. Bush tucker denotes food that *could* be eaten if you had to. In other words, survival food, not cuisine one would choose to consume. I recently had the great pleasure of being involved in the production of a cooking show called outback cafe and the Chef Mark Olive hated the phrase bush food because of the bush tucker baggage. He preffered indigenous Australian cuisine.


                            1. re: brawlster

                              John - not certain you are entirely correct. I had understood that a lot of aboriginal people actually enjoy eating their traditional food. Their knowledge of the land and how to live off what at first seems very inhospitable enabled them to live, and thrive, for thousands and thousands of years. Roast Goananna may not be to everyones taste but I don't believe you would call it survival food.

                              1. re: PhilD


                                I think you misunderstand. That was the point I was trying to make. Popular Australian knowledge of bush tucker is that you WOULDN'T eat it unless you had to *live off the land*. I'm saying it can be much more than that and the show I was working on was trying to show just that !

                                1. re: PhilD

                                  My indigenous neighbours seem to favour roast lamb.

                                  1. re: kmh

                                    I think the point is to actually simply *consider* indigenous Australian produce. I don't mean specifically traditionally aboriginal food, prepared in a traditional way, but simply considering even native grown herbs and spices. We have a native pepper that's sweeter than Chinese / Indian pepper and yet very few of us use it. I've been using roast wattle seed in my pastry for a few years to great effect ! I know of a grower who has been developing a way of using native salt bush as a snack food substitute for crisps.

                                    Like the rest of Australian cuisine, we are great at taking influences from other cuisines and re-interpreting them to make something uniquely Australian. It dawned on me when spending months on the road visiting indigenous communities that I had no idea how many of our native plants and animals can be eaten. Instead we grow predominantly European crops which take far more water than their native equivalents. Of course there needs to be a commercialisation of the crops before they can be used in a sustainable way. But there's is a bounty of native cuisine that is only just starting to work it's way into mainstream Australian consciousness.

                                    1. re: brawlster

                                      Is it easy enough to find indigenous Australian produce? If you knew what to look for, could you simply drive out beyond the suburbs and fill your baskets with wattle seed and native pepper? I love the idea of being able to do that.

                                      1. re: sue zookie

                                        Indeed. I notice the various plants all the time now that I know what they are. It's always going to be of limited interest though because wild harvesting isn't sustainable. IN fact anyone buying native products should looking into the the way the product is sourced. What needs to happen is for the crops to be commercialised. This means selecting the best strains of a given species and then cultivating them. But we're such a small market that it's always going to be a struggle to make production economically sustainable. Especially when the market isn't educated as to the native alternatives out there. There are a few places like Reedy Creek Nursery that are attempting to create the markets that would sustain this kind of cultivation but it's a long road. This is where I've been sourcing some of my native ingredients.


                                        1. re: kmh

                                          I guess the hard part is knowing what to look for.