Feral Mixed Grill, anyone? How about an unsmashed avocado? Keith Austin tracks down Australian foods in their natural habitat. Tuck in!
The township of Pinjarra, south of Perth, is a pretty collection of historic buildings first settled in the 1830s. Here, among the craft centres and cafés, you can partake of one of Australia’s great pastimes: stuffing your face with a meat pie. Buy it from Pinjarra Bakery and Patisserie, which won the Footy Pie category at the Official Great Aussie Pie Competition in 2016, and eat it in the nearby Heritage Rose Garden while, um, smelling the roses.
Sydney rock oysters
Much sought after, Sydney rock oysters are best eaten freshly shucked. And where better to do that than on an oyster punt in the beautiful Pambula River estuary on NSW’s South Coast? Unlike the oysters themselves – which are delicate little beauties – Captain Sponge’s Magical Oyster Tours is a bit of a mouthful but going on one is well worth it. You get a cruise, a hands-on explanation of oyster farming and a few of the freshest oysters you’re ever likely to eat.
Victorian gold-rush town Bendigo is full of beautiful architecture, has a plethora of parks and gardens and is a regional cultural hub to boot. Hard to believe, then, that this is where local boilermaker Frank McEncroe created the Chiko Roll. The first outing of this popular snack – a deep-fried pastry tube filled with meat and vegetables – was in Wagga Wagga, NSW, in 1951 but it was birthed in Bendigo. Eat it at the Bendigo Agricultural Show Society’s Annual Show on October 27 and 28 this year. It can also be found at most fish ’n’ chip shops and popular sporting events.
Native only to eastern Australia, the macadamia nut is now cultivated all over the world. Just inland from the NSW North Coast between Ballina and Byron, there is, yes, Macadamia Castle. This 2.4-hectare family fun park features an animal park, 18-hole minigolf and a nut bar. Visit the café for the macadamia-and-mango pancakes.
All right, settle down, kids: they don’t actually fry Nemo at the Frying Nemo fish ’n’ chip shop in Darwin but they do serve a mean wild-caught barra. It also helps that one of Australia’s favourite fish can be eaten on a delightful wooden deck overlooking the yachts in the Tipperary Waters marina. Barramundi, by the way, is Aboriginal for “large-scaled silver fish”.
Shrimp (on a barbie)
There’s that classic Paul Hogan ad of 1984, of course, in which he invites Americans to Australia and says, “I’ll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for ya” while holding up a large prawn. The name change was to avoid any confusion in the United States but it doesn’t change the fact that a big old prawn on a barbecue is heaven on Earth. Grunske’s by the River is a fish market and restaurant in Queensland’s East Bundaberg, fronting the Burnett River. Feast on prawns there or buy some and barbecue them yourself.
Beetroot (in burgers)
A true-blue Aussie beef burger isn’t complete without a slice of beetroot flopped inside. Renowned American chef David Chang says Australians bugger up burgers more than anyone else in the world. What does he know? Try one from Neil Perry’s Burger Project outlets: his Aussie burger uses Cape Grim beef and – take that, Chang – beetroot.
Named after Lord Lamington, a former governor of Queensland whose chef supposedly invented it, the lamington is simply a sponge cake dipped in chocolate and coated with coconut. It can be enjoyed at The Pantry café in Brisbane’s Old Government House, alleged scene of the cake’s creation.
In 1990, just 14 per cent of Australian lamb was exported and the industry was worth $1.9 billion. Today, those figures are 56 per cent and $3.9 billion. So eat up, people, before it all disappears. One place that uses local lamb – and uses it well – is Graze restaurant at the Willow Tree Inn on the New England Highway in NSW’s Willow Tree. Order the slow-cooked lamb shoulder for two. Take someone else if you must.
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We’re going through the looking glass on this one: this Alice in Wonderland-sounding tart – a hand-sized pastry filled with mock cream (and sometimes jam) then topped with dried icing in two colours – was not invented in the wonderfully named NSW town of Grong Grong. That’s just wrong-wrong; a little white lie about local woman Ruby Neenish that got out of hand. The Neenish Tart Facebook page raves about those from Victoria at the Appin Street Bakery in Wangaratta (03 5721 2496) and The Basin Bakery in The Basin (03 9762 3081).
The Prairie Hotel is a grand old sandstone pile in Parachilna, a dot of a place near the Flinders Ranges in South Australia’s outback. About 500 kilometres north of Adelaide, the hotel is famous for its Feral Mixed Grill of kangaroo and emu fillets and camel sausage. Eat it in the early evening as the sun goes down and turns the sandstone to gold.
Whether it’s the weekend sausage sizzle outside your local Bunnings hardware store or the famous “democracy sausages” at polling booths on election day, Australians do love a simple snag on white bread, maybe with grilled onions and a spattering of tomato, mustard or barbecue sauce. Grab a beach umbrella and some sangers from Bunnings in Rosebud, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, then make your way to the lovely Rosebud foreshore camping reserve. It’s only a five-minute drive away so the snags will still be warm when you get there.
What used to be exotic meat can now be found in the large supermarket chains, though it’s still not hugely popular. Up in the Northern Territory, where crocs have been known to eat people, you can get your own back by eating them at Outback Jacks Bar & Grill. There’s a giant 10-metre saltie inside (don’t worry, it’s fake) that might be good for a selfie. Then get your teeth into the signature barbecued croc skewers, ribs or burger.
Thanks to postwar immigration from Europe, Australia now pumps out some of the best coffee in the world. For an award-winning cuppa, visit Ona Coffee in Canberra. Its head trainer, Hugh Kelly, was named Australian Barista Champion in 2016. His mentor, café director Sasa Sestic, won the title in 2015 and then took out that year’s World Barista Championship, too.
The western rock lobster, or crayfish – Panulirus cygnus if you have a scientific bent – can be found in the waters off Western Australia, living mostly between Perth and Geraldton. Get yourself to Cervantes, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Perth, for good lobster in season. You’d be hard-pressed to find fresher than at The Lobster Shack, a factory and restaurant in Madrid Street that’s open 11am to 3pm daily for lunch.
Denmark is a town in WA’s stunning Great Southern coastal region about 400 kilometres south of Perth. It has dramatic coastlines, age-old forests, golden beaches, turquoise waters and, on Strickland Street, the Denmark Bakery – 2016 winner of the best sausage roll in the Official Great Aussie Pie Competition. This is no mean feat, as Aussies love their sausage rolls as much as their pies. Snack on it while walking the Bibbulmun Track, the state’s longest hiking trail, which passes through town.
Australians eat about 25 kilograms of seafood per person annually and a fair whack of that is salmon. According to Roy Morgan Research, a quarter of the population eats it in any given week. Oddly, salmon-producing Tasmania is one of only two states where its consumption has declined (from 27 per cent in 2014 to 23 per cent), which means all the more for us. Head to Hobart’s waterfront and the Drunken Admiral Seafarers Restaurant for a good selection of salmon dishes.
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The pav continues to court controversy, for there is much discussion as to whether it originated in Australia or New Zealand – or indeed elsewhere. What’s not in contention is that it’s a meringue dessert topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream and was named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. Indulge at Adriano Zumbo’s café and high-tea salon in South Yarra, Melbourne, where it appears on the Dessert Bar menu on Saturday nights only.
This fruit is synonymous with summer and, in Australia, the Kensington Pride (or Bowen mango) is the most popular – accounting for about 55 per cent of our annual commercial market. See the 10-metre-tall Big Mango in Queensland’s Bowen, where this variety was originally grown. The nearby information centre sells a pure mango sorbet, as well as mango fudge, dried mango, mango lip balm, mango body lotion and mango toilet paper. Okay, I made that last one up but give ’em time.
Bush herbs, spices and fruits have been popular in Australia in recent years; say, the past 50,000 or so. Indigenous Australians have been chowing down on them for a while but the rest of us have finally caught on. The Ayers Rock Resort in Central Australia has created a Bush Tucker Trail through the resort’s restaurants, serving dishes with local ingredients such as bush tomato, Kakadu plum, wattleseed and lemon myrtle. You can also imbibe a range of bush-tucker cocktails – Quandong caprioska, anyone?
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When social commentator Bernard Salt pontificated in his newspaper column last October that young people could afford a mortgage if they stopped paying $22 for smashed avocado on toast, he unwittingly put this humble fruit in the national spotlight. Now you can’t find a café without smashed avocado on the menu. Unless it’s the Plantation Cafe at Tropical Fruit World in Duranbah, northern NSW, home of the Big Avocado. Their Avocado Lovers’ Delight is an avocado (half) served with gluten-free toast and a spicy sauce. Note the parenthetical half: none of your hipster smash here, cobber.
Pretty much a feature of every Australian’s childhood and popular in the milk bars of old, the spider is a scoop of ice-cream in a soft drink or carbonated water flavoured with cordial. The milk bars are mostly gone now but a great one survives in the mining town of Broken Hill in outback NSW. Bells Milk Bar is a ’50s-style joint where you can drink malted milk and ice-cream sodas in more than 50 flavours.