If people living outside Australia think about answering this question, they would probably answer: roast kangaroo, steak & eggs, fried mutton chops, pavlova, and billy tea. That is, if they thought about it at all. Australia does not have a reputation for a local cuisine in the same way that China, France or Mexico have. But we have much to offer, even though the question is no easier to answer for someone living in Australia.
Our modern cooking is the product of a combination of ideas from the waves of immigrants from Europe and Asia, of scenes from TV and movies from Europe and North America, and from overseas chefs brought to Australia to show us how cooking should be done. The absence of a specific national cuisine has meant that we have been free to adopt and adapt whatever suited us from other cuisines.A perfect example is the roast leg of lamb. In earlier times, we cooked it in the same way as the British immigrants and served it with Baked vegetables, peas and mint sauce. Now, it is just as likely to to be cooked with rosemary, garlic and then roasted slowly, or rubbed with spices and yoghurt and cooked in our version of the tandoori style.
All of this adds up today to a cosmopolitan or multicultural style of cooking and food. A buffet lunch I ate recently had Italian lasagne, Greek salad, Dutch and Swedish-style cheeses, Thai chilli chicken, and Welsh potato and leek soup, among other cold and hot dishes. This sort of combination is quite normal for Australian meals.
The major characteristics of cooking in Australia now are the freshness of the ingredients, the variety of influences from around the world, the simple methods of preparation, and the willingness to try new things.
One potential source of food and cooking has been almost ignored - our indigenous foods. Australians have not made very much use of the food plants or animals that are native to Australia, except as novelties for tourists, both domestic and international. In fact, more overseas tourists have probably eaten kangaroo than have Australian-born people.
So what is Australian cooking and food? I'll try to answer that in future articles on this website.
The recipes on the website are divided into the following categories:
- Iconic Foods - the dishes that have been uniquely or distinctively Australian - most were developed in Australia.
- 1788-1914 - the period from the first permanent European settlement to the start of World War 1 - dishes were mainly from the United Kingdom and Ireland, as that was the source of the great majority of settlers. By 1900, Australians were eating about 120kg of meat per year, so most recipes contained meat, mainly either beef or mutton/lamb. Foods introduced by other nationalities, such as Chinese (in the gold rushes) and Germans were not eaten by the wider Australian community. The different nationalities did not tend to mix socially. The differences between urban and rural foods were large, as people in the towns and cities had access to a much wider range of ingredients and cooking methods. In remote areas, the staple foods were meat (locally produced), flour (for damper), tea and sugar.
- Pre-1970s - period of major influx of immigrants from non-English speaking countries (e.g. Italians for the sugar cane industry and the Snowy Mountains Scheme) and the return of Australian men and women from the 2 World Wars. Their foods slowly spread into general use in the wider Australian community as the grocery stores, and later the supermarkets, started to stock their ingredients.
- Modern - period of rapid development of a multicultural Australian society. Over 25% of the current population of Australian were born overseas, and about 50% have one or more parents born overseas (these are some of the highest rates in the world), and the different nationalities now mix socially. Modern Australian cooking is as international as anywhere else in the world these days.