Through years of colonization and arrival of migrants, Australia has become a melting pot for diverse cultures and beliefs — including, of course, taste preferences and cuisine. Britain and China are only some of the countries that have influenced the Australia we know today.
What makes Australian cuisine more interesting? Even plenty of their iconic food items are not unique to the country, but the Aussies have managed to find a way to recreate these in their own special way. Ready to tickle your tastebuds? Read on and learn about the Australian food fare that will make you say “let’s grab a feed, mate!”
1. Wood-eating larvae are eaten by indigenous Australians.
Witchetty grub does sound fancy, but did you know that this refers to a large white larva of a wood-eating moth? For indigenous Australians, witchetty grubs are a part of their traditional diet. Whether eaten raw or cooked, it provides large amounts of protein that help build the body’s bones and muscles. If you’re wondering about how it tastes, they say that witchetty grubs have a nutty flavor and tastes somewhat like chicken and prawns. Also known as a “bush tucker,” these larvae are sometimes served in the city restaurants and even in barbecue gatherings as an appetizer.
2. There is a biscuit in Australia that was originally created for World War I soldiers.
The ANZAC biscuit, a sweet and crunchy baked goodie primarily made of rolled oats and desiccated coconut, is a popular snack among Australians. It is not a secret that this biscuit is associated with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought during World War I, thus the term ANZAC. It was first made by the wives of the soldiers during wartime and sent to them in Egypt where the troops were training. Since the ingredients didn’t spoil easily, ANZAC biscuits survived the long boat journeys from Australia all the way to Europe — providing some nourishment to the fighters and reminding them of home.
3. The second largest living bird is endemic to Australia, and can be eaten.
Indigenous Australians do love eating healthy food. Apparently, it was Indigenous Australians who first discovered that emu, the second largest living bird in the world next to ostrich, can be eaten. They traditionally hunted the emus for the meat and also for the oil, which is said to have healing properties. Emus are very low in fat and cholesterol, while containing more iron than beef. Today, emu meat is available in many modern restaurants and served in a variety of ways: smoked, broiled, fried, sauteed and even as a pizza topping!
4. The most basic Australian food is a soda bread called damper.
Talk about food origins and backstories! Damper, the most basic form of bread in Australia, was created by road workers and bushies many years ago. It is made of only three ingredients — wheat flour, water and salt — which are baked over coals. Since it didn’t cost much and it was pretty easy to prepare, damper has become a staple food for workers. Up until today, you will still find dampers in Australia, sometimes cooked by locals in their own homes while the modern-day bakeries add milk and self-raising flour to make the basic bread a little tastier. Tip: damper is best paired with tea or rum!
5. Breakfast biscuits have been popular in Australia since the 1930s.
Weet-Bix, a proudly Australian brand of breakfast cereal biscuits, has been a household name in Australia since the 1930s. Because of its sweet taste, the product has appealed to the palate of Aussie kids and later, even to Kiwi and South African kids. Weet-Bix is usually prepared in a bowl with milk and fruits like bananas or strawberries. Meanwhile, there are also new-found Australian ways of consuming Weet-bix, not just for breakfast but for dessert as well. You can now add them to smoothies, muffins and cakes!
6. The lamington is the "National Cake of Australia."
A celebration of Australia Day, happening on the 26th of January every year, is incomplete without lamingtons on the table. Often referred as the “National Cake of Australia,” it is made of a sponge cake with chocolate and lots of desiccated coconut. To make it more special, a layer of jam or cream is put in the middle of two lamington halves. Today, you will easily find lamingtons in cafes and bakeries, often paired with coffee or tea. It is also one of the most popular food items sold at fundraisers.
7. Ginger has been an essential part of Australian cuisine since the 1800s.
Thanks to Chinese settlers who started to grow ginger in the country, this popular spice has added a zing to the already flavorful Australian cuisine. Gingers are particularly abundant in Queensland, where there is volcanic soil, high rainfall and high humidity. In the mid-1800s, various ginger products were already popular and spread throughout the markets in the country. These products included ginger cakes, ginger jams and even ginger beer. It was after World War II when Australians stopped relying on Chinese-planted gingers, and the rise of an Australian ginger producer called the Buderim Ginger Company became popular.
8. Sausages are called snags in Australia.
Although sausages are not unique to Australia, the locals have made it an essential part of their barbecue tradition over the years. They refer to these sausages as snags, which are made of either pork or beef with various herbs and spices to make it tastier. Aside from barbecued snags, another Australian way of eating it is to have it on a slice of bread topped with fried onions and sauce. Sold everywhere in Australia, snags are recommended as a hangover food, often served with a bottle of soda.
9. Pavlova, a famous Australian dessert, is said to be named after a Russian ballerina.
When you are in Australia, sweet tooth cravings are best satisfied by eating a pavlova. It is made of a meringue with a crispy crust and a soft inner layer. Topped with whipped cream and fresh fruits, this dessert is usually associated with summer, but is now widely available in restaurants and food shops at any time of the year. Whilst New Zealand claims that the pavlova originated from them, there’s a popular Australian legend that says this dessert was created by a chef from Perth’s Hotel Esplanade. It is said to be named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who visited Australia in 1926 and 1929.
10. Approximately 35 million packs of Tim Tam are sold each year.
With the massive popularity of Tim Tam, it’s safe to say that Aussies really love sweets. The proudly Australian-made product contains triple chocolate layers: chocolate biscuits with a chocolate filling coated in melted chocolate. Tim Tam’s producers say that approximately 35 million packs of these are sold each year, which means an average of 1.7 packs are consumed per person in Australia. The love for Tim Tam has already spread all over the world, making it a common item in supermarkets and grocery stores.
11. Dagwood dog is an Australian term for corn dog.
If Americans have corn dogs, Australians have dagwood dogs. This popular snack is made up of a sausage or a hotdog on stick, which is coated in cornmeal batter and then deep fried. Whether served with tomato sauce or not, it is popular among Aussie kids and kids at heart. Also referred as the “pluto pup,” dagwood dogs are commonly sold by food carts at festivals and sporting events. Other variations have melted cheese between the hotdog and the breading.
12. Australia has a thing called charity biscuit.
Another biscuit on the list! SAO is said to be originally created as a charity biscuit by the Salvation Army Officers, thus its name. It is a light savory snack made of thin dough that are cut in squares and sometimes served with toppings or spread. In the 1900s, it became a commercial product, heavily advertised in magazines and newspapers. Today, it has become a popular ingredient for a dessert called vanilla slices.
13. The Australian version of the Italian dish parmigiana is usually paired with beer.
The Italian version of parmigiana uses eggplants as the main ingredient. In Australia, parmigiana or parma often refers to a baked chicken drizzled with lots of tomato sauce and mozzarella or other kinds of cheese. In restaurants, it is served with sides like chips and salad. However, if you’ll ask Australians about the best partner of their parma, they would surely give you one answer: a glass of beer. Due to this pair’s popularity, many local pubs even hold a weekly “parma night.”
14. Australia’s’ first take-away food was the meat pie.
Australians do not claim to be the origin of meat pies, but one thing is for sure: it is the country’s first take-away food, long before fast food chains were a thing. Meat pies became popular in Australia during the early colonial days and were sold from street carts. Sometimes referred to as a “dog’s eye,” it is basically a pastry shell filled with meat, gravy and other savory ingredients. Aussies are into meat pies so much that they even have an Official Great Aussie Pie Competition, a national event held since 1990. Meanwhile, the oldest surviving pie cart in Australia is the Harry’s Café de Wheels located in Sydney.
15. Fairy bread is not made by fairies, but from candies.
A mainstay in Aussie children’s birthday parties, fairy bread isn’t really made by fairies but are definitely magical in the eyes of the kids. It is made of white bread sliced in triangles, with butter or margarine on top and then showered with candy sprinkles or what they call “hundreds and thousands.” The next time you would need to cheer up an Aussie friend or remind him or her of the good old days, this is one of the best ways to do so! Meanwhile, if you’re coming to Sydney in November, don’t miss the event called Fairy Bread and Wings Day where families gather and make fairy bread at the same time.
16. Vegemite is not entirely made of vegetables, but of yeast extract.
Here’s another Australian food icon: Vegemite! It is a dark brown food paste made from yeast extract combined with various additives that was invented in 1922 by Cyril P. Callister. Britain has a similar product called Marmite, which is made of vegetable extract. However, Vegemite claims to have a different taste — somewhat more on the savory side than sweet. If you want to enjoy a taste of Australia’s most famous food paste, all you have to do is spread it evenly it on a toast while it is hot.
17. Australians have their own version of the Chinese spring rolls.
The chiko roll is one of the most popular take-away food items in modern-day Australia. It is influenced by Chinese spring rolls. One roll is made up of an egg and flour dough that is filled with beef, cabbage, carrot, celery, barley and other spices. Depending on the seller, it also sometimes contains some offal. Invented by Frank McEnroe in 1951, it was first called “Chicken Roll” even though it doesn’t contain any chicken. Nowadays, chiko rolls are sold everywhere in Australia, including fish ‘n’ chip shops and snack carts at sporting events.
18. An Australian burger is not complete without a slice of beetroot.
What makes the Australian burger different from all the other burgers in the world? One word: beetroot. It is a taproot from the beet plant, which is known in other parts of the world as red beet, golden beet, and garden beet. Simply sliced and put on top of an Australian beef patty, this piece of nutritious vegetable makes all the difference. At a random period of time every year, McDonald’s in Australia sell their own version of beetroot burger which they call “McOz.” Still, the best place to grab an authentic Aussie burger is at a local pub or take-away joint.
19. Australians don’t say "McDonald’s." They call it “Macca’s.”
Speaking of McDonald’s, Australians has embraced this American fast food chain since its first store was built in 1971 in Sydney. Today, the locals fondly refer to it as Macca’s, a very Australian nickname that the company has already adopted in their store signages and ads all over the Land Down Under. Aside from the McOz, other unique food items you will find in Macca’s are Chicken Mcbites, Classic Angus and Aussie BBQ Angus. If you love, pastries they also offer macarons and muffins along with coffee!
20. Pumpkins were brought to Australia by the Europeans during its colonization period.
During the colonial period, the Europeans grew cucurbit vines in several parts of Australia, leaving produce such as melons, cucumbers and pumpkins. Pumpkin seeds arrived with the First Fleet, and were originally sent to feed animals such as pigs. Later, cucurbits became a popular part of the local cuisine. Some of the the best Australian pumpkin dishes you will find today are pumpkin soups, pumpkin pancakes, and pumpkin scones. There are also pumpkin festivals held in the country every year, featuring new recipes featuring pumpkins.
21. Australia’s oldest chocolate bar is the Cherry Ripe.
Manufactured by Cadbury, the Cherry Ripe was first introduced in Australia during the 1920s. The Cherry Ripe has cherries and coconut covered with delicious dark chocolate. You can eat it as is, but if you’re feeling extra creative with your dessert, you can make a Cherry Ripe brownie cake, a Cherry Ripe cheesecake, or a Cherry Ripe Panforte. Sold in groceries and supermarkets, this chewy chocolate bar remains a classic Aussie pick-me-upper!
22. Australians’ unconventional ice cream is enclosed in fruit flavoured ice.
On a hot summer day, Australians love to go to the beach and eat Splice. This cold treat on stick is another one of the Aussie’s unconventional food items, with the actual vanilla ice cream being enclosed in fruit-flavored ice. Splice was launched in the 1950s and since then has become a part of many Australians’ summers. Today it has three popular flavors, namely the Pine Lime, Raspberry, and Mango.
23. Milo, the chocolate and malt powdered drink, was invented by an Australian.
Many Aussie kids grew up drinking Milo, a chocolate and malt powder drink mixed with either cold or hot water. It is created by Thomas Mayne in 1934 and is now produced by Nestle. Today, the product is sold all over Asia, South Africa and even in some parts of Europe, although the composition and the taste vary in some countries. From a simple beverage, other Milo products have been created to satisfy the cravings of Milo-loving kids. This includes Milo snack bars, cereals and ice cream.
24. A former Australian Prime Minister made an Iced VoVo reference in an election victory speech.
You’ll know something is a true food icon when even the Prime Minister thinks of it during a huge public event. In 2007, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a reference to the Iced VoVo in his election victory speech. It sent Aussies to the nearest supermarkets, craving a taste of the wheat-flour biscuit with pink fondant and raspberry jam. Arnott’s, the company which manufactures Iced VoVos reported that their sales skyrocketed that year — thanks to the free advertisement from the Prime Minister!
25. "Golden Gaytime" is a legit food product.
Golden Gaytimes is a real food product you will find in Australian supermarkets — a delicious frozen product for that matter. First released in 1959, it is made of toffee and vanilla ice cream which is covered with chocolate and honeycomb biscuits. The ice cream’s name has been a subject of confusion and some controversy, but the manufacturers decided to keep it along with their official slogan: “it’s hard to have a Gaytime on your own.”
26. "Long black" and “flat white” are Australian coffee variations.
Australia has its own coffee lexicon that might not be familiar to foreign visitors. If you are a coffee lover, do your research first before ordering in an Aussie cafe. Some of the most basic coffee variations you should known are the long black and flat white. The Australian long black is slightly similar to an Americano, but with a stronger taste. It is made of double espresso shots in hot water. Meanwhile, the flat white has steamed milk over a single shot of espresso. It is usually compared to France’s cafe au lait.
27. When Australians "throw a barbie," it means they’re having a barbecue party.
Don’t be surprised when Australians tell you that they’re “throwing a barbie.” They don’t mean any harm — it is a colloquial term Aussies use, which refers to a local barbecue gathering. Sometimes they also say “put another shrimp on the barbie.” Over the years, weekend barbecue parties have been an essential tradition in Australian culture, bringing families and friends closer together. It doesn’t even need to be a holiday because Aussies throw barbies every chance they get!
28. The Australians have their own traditional method of preparing tea.
Tea time might be owned by the British, but Australians have their distinct method of preparing tea. Locally called billy tea, the water used for the tea is boiled over a campfire. To add more flavor, gum leaf is added to the tea once it is poured in a cup. Billy tea was a popular drink during the Australian colonial period. It was even mentioned in an Australian folk song entitled “Waltzing Matilda.”
29. Australia is the fourth largest exporter of wine around the world.
Australia is the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world. Approximately 760 million liters of Australian wine are sent overseas each year — imagine how many bottles of wine that many liters can fill! Of course, Australians also love their own wine varieties. In fact, local consumption of wine in Australia is as high as 500 million liters per year since the early 21st century. Some of Australia’s best wines come from the regions of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. Meanwhile, Adelaide Hills, which is renowned for wine production, is also a famous tourist destination.
30. Yes, in Australia, kangaroos can be eaten.
In case you’ve been wondering all along about kangaroos: yes, Australia’s national animal is edible and, in fact, widely available all over the country. Kangaroos are not eaten by Aussies on a daily basis but they are still an important part of what makes the local cuisine unique. Sold in various cuts and even in sausage form, kangaroo meat is methane-free and low in fat. Specialty restaurants also offer kangaroo dishes such as seared kangaroo, barbecued kangaroo and kangaroo steak. Don’t leave Australia without tasting one!
Have taste of iconic Australian food
As quirky as it may seem, Australian cuisine is worth giving a try. It will satisfy both your palate and your curiosity for the country’s interesting history.
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