Being an Aussie expat that has lived in the U.S. and Southeast Asia, I sometimes get questions about Australian foods. So I’ve put all my thoughts and recommendations for international visitors into this post with deliciously unique Australian foods I think are worth trying.
Let’s clear the elephant from the room and address Vegemite straight up. The savoury spread is made from brewer’s yeast extract and is the Aussie answer to Britain’s Marmite. Vegemite is savoury, salty and a little bitter. I haven’t met anyone who didn’t grow up on the stuff, who has taken to it as an adult – even when it’s served correctly. Save yourself the trouble and just don’t go there. There are plenty of other fabulous Australian foods to try.
If you are an adventurous foodie and you insist on trying some, here are my tasting notes on how to do Vegemite the right way (or jump to the next Australian food on our list). First, I recommend starting with a base that is slightly crunchy in texture like toast, cracker or crispbread.
Next add something creamy: butter or cream cheese are most commonly spread underneath the Vegemite, while some layer slices of avocado over the top. Any way you do it, ensure you have a creamy flavour to balance the tart, saltiness of the spread. Last, but most important, spread the Vegemite super thin–scrape don’t schmear.
Alternatively, go down to the nearest bakery and ask them for a Cheesymite Scroll (or their equivalent), which is going to come in a ready-to-eat package, without the fuss. A Cheesymite Scroll is a savoury pastry with a thin layer of Vegemite and a generous amount of cheese cooked in, so you don’t have to wonder if you’re doing it right.
Graze on some local game – kangaroo
Kangaroo is lean, red meat that can be most closely compared to venison. It isn’t a regular part of most Australian’s diets, though you will notice it in the meat case of larger supermarkets. The meat is slowly gaining popularity as more chefs incorporate it on restaurant menus, usually in burgers.
If you are going to prepare the kangaroo yourself, I suggest starting with minced meat and substituting it for beef or pork in Spaghetti Bolognese or as JP calls it Spaghetti Bolo-Roo! Be prepared for quite a gamey cooking odour, but once served up you will hardly notice the difference. If you are feeling more adventurous, try a steak. As mentioned previously, the meat is low in fat and therefore is quickly overcooked. Only attempt it if you are prepared to eat it medium-rare to rare.
Snack on a sausage sizzle
Think of a sausage sizzle as the Australian hot dog. A snag (slang for sausage), straight off the barbie, placed across a diagonally folded slice of soft bread, topped with grilled onions and tomato sauce (what we call ketchup), then eaten with the hands. Sausage sizzles have traditionally been held as low-cost fundraisers for schools and community groups or as part of backyard barbeques. If you want to try this delicious snack, your best bet is standing outside a Bunnings (big box hardware store chain) on a Saturday morning where community fundraisers take place most weekends.
Try our meat pies
There is a disconnection that happens when you try to tell an American that pies are savoury, or try to convince an Australian that pumpkin pie makes a good dessert. Somehow through history Australians retained the British origins of the dish and terminology, while Americans changed it up. So to be clear, when speaking to an Aussie:
“Pie” refers to the pastry filled with minced meat and gravy or alternative savoury filling.
“Tart” is the term used for the equivalent sweet dish.
While meat pies are not an Australian invention, we took to them like ducks to water. Some might even call it our national dish. Australians eat meat pies at sporting matches like Americans consume hotdogs. So ask your nearest Aussie where the best meat pies in town are and they will likely have a recommendation for you.
Slam some Tim Tams
Tim Tams are a popular chocolate biscuit made by Arnott’s (once an Australian brand, now owned by America’s Campbell Soup Company). The sweet biscuit consists of light chocolate cream sandwiched between two rectangular malted biscuits and coated in a thin layer of chocolate.
I have found Tim Tams sold in other parts of the world, but the recipe has generally been tinkered with to appeal to local tastes. So even if you’ve tried them before, make sure you do so again on their home soil.
BONUS: A “Tim Tam Slam” refers to biting the short ends off a Tim Tam and using it as a straw to drink your coffee – a flat white, of course. The trick becomes letting the liquid soften the chocolate biscuit but not so much that it completely crumbles. Go on, have a go!
Honour the fallen with ANZAC Biscuits
ANZAC biscuits date back to WWI when they were made to sell or serve at fundraising events for the war effort. Since then, they have been eaten around ANZAC Day, the 25th April each year. ANZAC day is the anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) landing at Gallipoli in Turkey. The day is a public holiday in Australia and New Zealand, to honour those who died in conflict.
These buttery biscuits have evolved over time and Aussies have distinct preferences of crunchy versus chewy-style cookies, but they are generally accepted to contain the key ingredients: oats, flour, sugar, golden syrup, coconut and butter. Homemade or fresh bakery ANZAC biscuits are best. The pre-packaged store-bought ones are just not the same.
Sample a Lord’s Lamingtons
There are a range of stories on how the first Lamington came to be. Most involve Lord Lamington, Governor of Queensland from 1896-1901, and a fateful piece of sponge cake dropped in melted chocolate. Whether you believe it was the idea of the maid, the French chef Armand Galland, or Lord Lamington himself, to roll that chocolate-covered sponge in desiccated coconut, is of little consequence now.
All you need to know is that Australian’s love the treats enough to have designated July 21st National Lamington Day. Unlike Lord Lamington himself, who referred to them as “those bloody, poofy, woolly biscuits” – what would he know anyway? He was British.
Channel your kid at heart with fairy bread
A children’s birthday party classic since the 1920s, fairy bread is a slice of moist white bread, spread with butter or margarine and covered with coloured sprinkles. This simple delight of Aussie childhood is usually served sliced into triangles, although some parents may use cookie cutters to create other fancier shapes.
There is only one restaurant in Australia known to serve Fairy Bread, so best be getting yourself invited to a local child’s birthday party, or be prepared to make it yourself.
Also, I have tried to recreate Fairy Bread in North America for friends, but it is impossible. The bread is too sweet, the butter is too salty and the sprinkles are tasteless. You just have to try it in Australia!
Provoke some Kiwis with pavlova
There is a long rivalry between Australia and New Zealand as to who made the first Pavlova. The delicious, fluffy cloud of meringue could be compared to a ballerina’s tutu, and it was. Russian dancer, Anna Pavlova, inspired the desert during her 1920’s tour Downunder.
Pavlova has a crisp outer shell and a soft, airy centre. It’s usually served topped with fresh cream and fruit. You’ll often hear the dessert’s name shortened to “pav” – Aussies are lazy and shorten EVERYTHING!
Pavlova is a popular summertime dessert because of the light texture of the meringue in hot weather and availability of seasonal fruit as topping. This means it’s an Australian Christmas favourite.
Become an Aussie coffee snob
Not to put too finer point on in, but Starbucks went broke in Australia, closing 61 of 87 stores across the country in 2008. Why? Because Aussie’s know coffee and don’t tolerate anything second rate.
After WWII, flocks of Italian immigrants brought espresso to Melbourne, Australia’s coffee capital. From there it emanated through the country. Now we are an entire nation of coffee snobs and we’ve built a reputation on it throughout the world.
If you want to try a uniquely Aussie coffee, a flat white is our own creation and sits midway on the spectrum between a straight espresso and a latte. Compared to a classic cappuccino which has distinct layers of espresso, steamed milk, and froth, a flat white is an espresso shot with steamed milk poured into the coffee. Try it! Even better, Tim Tam slam it!
Australian food culture and vocabulary
One of the biggest obstacles with Australian foods is the nuances of culture and vocabulary. We use many of the same words in British/Australian English as in American English but with reference to completely different things. Here are a few to look out for:
Lemonade – In Australia (as in Britain), lemonade is a generic term used to describe soft drinks with lemon or citrus flavours such as Sprite and SevenUp, while in the US, ordering a “lemonade” will get you the old fashioned style drink made with lemon, water and sugar.
Coffee/tea – Most Australian’s drink their coffee and tea with milk – harking back to our British roots. If you want it black, you’ll have to specify. This goes for iced coffee as well, in which scoops of vanilla ice cream are often substituted for milk. You won’t find sweet tea or iced tea on most Aussie menus. If you order tea, we will assume you want it hot.
Chips – In Australia, “chips” refer to crisps AND fries. We generally know contextually as to which people are referring, but for visitors, it can be tricky. If you want fries, use the term “hot chips”. Also, note that if a meal comes with chips it’s almost guaranteed to be fries. Crisp style chips are considered a snack on their own, not a side dish eaten at a cafe or restaurant.
Barbeque (bbq) – In Australian food terms, barbeque is anything cooked outdoors over a flame provided by gas or coals. Aussie barbeque is what American’s refer to as “grilling”—it’s more of a general cooking technique or device. Furthermore, the term “grill” in Australia refers to the element in the top half of your oven, which is a “broiler” in the US. Have I confused you yet?!
Tomato and bbq sauce – Ketchup is called “tomato sauce” in Australia, but it’s essentially the same thing. Aussie bbq sauce has an unmistakable flavour, though it contains similar ingredients to many American style bbq sauces such as sugar, vinegar, tomato paste, malt vinegar, salt and paprika.
French dressing – French dressing in Australia means a vinegarette usually made of oil, vinegar and mustard. The creamy French dressing served in the US is more akin to what we call seafood sauce/ cocktail sauce / Thousand Island dressing, usually served with… fresh seafood. Australian “seafood sauce” is a variation on the British Marie Rose sauce.
Zucchini and aubergine – Australians use the Italian term “zucchini” — instead of the French/British “courgette”. We also say “eggplant” instead of “aubergine”.
Pumpkin – In Australia, we incorrectly refer to almost all squash as “pumpkins” e.g butternut pumpkin instead of butternut squash. We only use the term “squash” for what North American’s call pattypan squash. We generally prepare and serve pumpkin/squash as savoury foods, like vegetables instead of the fruit that they are.
As I mentioned before, Australian’s lose their mind a little over the idea of pumpkin being made into a dessert-like pumpkin pie. We think of it as a side dish to our Sunday roast!
Capsicum and chillies – A “capsicum” is a bell pepper. The word “chilli” is a generic term for hot peppers in Australia. The dish, chilli con carne, isn’t common in Australia, so there’s no confusion for us, but maybe some for you.
Lettuce – Downunder, romaine is called cos lettuce (pronounced coz) and arugula is called rocket (also spelled roquette). Americans, don’t even think about ordering a “wedge salad” – we have no idea what that is.
I hope you enjoy exploring these uniquely Australian foods. If you are travelling to Australia and want to pick up some food souvenirs, check out my Aussie souvenir shopping list here.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,