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Mar 16, 2013 10:47 PM

US Expat in Sydney; hard time finding US foods in markets!

I'm originally from New Orleans, Louisiana via Dallas, Texas, and have found a hell of a time finding foods I am used to in markets around Sydney. Things like...

Yellow Wisconsin-style cheddar (NOT processed cheese-food...I will kiss any Aussie who knows the distinction, because I cannot find anyone who understands that cheddar is sometimes yellow and not because there's fake stuff in it! I'm a pretty cute lady too, so this is an incentive.)

Pepper jack cheese

Monterrey Jack cheese

Cotija cheese

Poblano, Serrano, jalapeño peppers, and even chipotle peppers


Latin spices such as Sazón and Adobo

Freshwater catfish, and other things.

I come from a Southern Louisiana background and am Puerto Rican in my ethnicity, and love to cook Southern US dishes in addition to Mexican and Latin (Puerto Rican and Cuban, primarily) dishes.

I have been able to find some odds and ends at Martelli's (things like plantain bananas) and some things at Asian markets in the CBD (black beans), but I thought perhaps I am missing a key market or two that a local or a fellow expat could clue me into.

Any help is much appreciated! I will happily travel where ever to find these things.

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  1. P.S. I know I can find some things online, but shipping is expensive and waiting is a pain in the butt. Being part of the tail end of Generation X, I like instant gratification. ;)

    1. Okra is used in India.

      Isn't there a Greek cheese that is dry and salty?

      3 Replies
      1. re: paulj

        Okra is also used in a lot of Southern US dishes; today I would have liked some to make a gumbo but am having to settle just for the "holy trinity" instead, which is green capsicum, celery, and onion. I also enjoy it fried and in a bunch of other dishes that have nothing to do with India. Knowing this, though, may make it easier to find. I'll scour some Indian markets and see what's available.

        Without knowing what Greek cheese this is, I don't know. Feta is crumbly and salty but does not impart the same flavor as Cotija, plus Cotija is much more mild and creamier than Feta.

        1. re: diaphainein

          Paul probably meant as Okra is a really common ingredient you can get plenty of fresh Okra in Indian food stores - I used to head out to Seven Hills but that is a long way from the CBD.

          Herbies Spices may carry the dried chillies - I think they are online as well a their shop. Essential Ingredient is good in Rozelle so maybe give them a call. Anticos in Northbridge used to have a good wide selection of fresh chillies including some scotch bonnets - not certain about how many Mexican ones though.

          As an expat who has lived in lots of countries I understand the craving but Sunshines advice is good. Try the local produce and go native. Lots of US produce simply won't get to Aus because of lack of demand and quarantine (so beware of mail order foods - you may get fined)

          1. re: PhilD

            For the chillies, you might do better at a chillie specialist like Fireworks Foods

      2. Bega cheeses are most similar to North American varieties, in my observation. I recall there was a smooth yellow cheddar.

        1. the essential ingredient in rozelle sells chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

          they have other mexican ingredients too, like masa harina

          1. You have hit on several things that I have found to be most difficult to get in Sydney. I make gumbo and jambalaya occasionally and have always substituted smoked chorizo and kransky sausage for andouille since I've never seen it here. One of these days I might get around to trying to make it myself.

            I've heard stories that US cheeses, including jack cheese, can be found at Costco, but I haven't made it out there myself yet to see for sure. You might have to make do with Cracker Barrel from the supermarkets until you can check it out. Cotija cheese is probably going to be hard to come by - I can't remember seeing it. Maybe try calling Agave restaurant on Crown St Surry Hills and see if they know where to source it - I haven't been in a while, but I remember them having some authentic ingredients on their dishes.

            Jalapenos are usually available at Woolworths - at least they are at the Surry Hills and CBD (George St) ones. Serranos and Poblanos are more of a problem. Harris Farm Markets (locations all over) often has something like bullhorn chilies or banana chilies, which might be a good enough substitute. For dried chilies and spices, Fiji Market in Newtown is a great place to look. They definitely have canned, and I think also dried, chipotles as well as a good selection of other dried chilies and canned Goya products. I've seen them selling plantains there too. Thomas Dux usually has canned chipotles, too (and canned black beans, I believe).

            Fireworks Foods also has lots of Mexican ingredients. I think they're mostly an online business, but I believe they have a warehouse that you can actually go to to pick stuff up. USA Foods is another good website if you decide that going that route is worth it. I've seen gumbo file available there as well as some Paul Prudhomme seasonings.

            Harris Farm will probably also have okra - I don't think that's too hard to find, but it's generally not carried at the big supermarkets.

            Good luck finding catfish - I don't think I've ever seen it around. You could ask some of the places at the fish market in Pyrmont and see if they ever get it in. That would be the most likely place to find it, but I don't think it's that common. Barramundi would probably make a passable substitute for a local twist on southern classics.

            Hope that helps a bit. Good luck!

            6 Replies
            1. re: jdmetz

              They do have Monterey Jack at Costco, and some other American cheeses - there is a bag of something like mexican cheese which seems to be a mix of an orange one and a white one

              1. re: jdmetz

                seeing as in the US a lot of catfish is farm-raised in VN, it's not too difficult to imagine finding it in AUS.

                and why not call the US consulate or cultural affairs office? in Spain in the 80's, those State dep't folks were excellent on tips (and almost vehement on the subject of sourcing the familiar)

                1. re: hill food

                  Is Vietnamese catfish (basa) the same thing? If it is, it's at every fishmonger

                  1. re: mr_gimlet

                    I hear it's similar (but to be honest while I've seen it, I've never used it, I'm in catfish-central-country, so need for substitutes)

                    1. re: diaphainein

                      hope it helps, the reception and admin staff are usually local hires, but if you can get through to someone there who promotes US goods and culture...

                      the US also has a military (Navy and Air Force mostly IIRC) presence there, our nearby AFB proved to be a good resource for us - i.e. a whole bunch of ex-pat's looking for the same things.