More Than Meat Pie: What Exactly is Australian Cuisine?

Don’t worry, we’re confused too

‘Modern Australian cuisine’ is a term that’s been springing up a lot recently, but it’s hard to draw a confident description from anyone. So we thought we’d get into the nitty gritty and work out what exactly it is.

Australian cuisine is not something you can sum up in a few words. You can’t just list a couple of dishes and expect people to know they’re Australian. While Thai or Indian or most European cuisines are clear and easy to describe, Australian cuisine is not.

Are the stereotypes the real deal?

Most folks assume Australians live on a diet of mangos, avocado toast and coffee. Or shrimps on the barbie? Or pies smothered in tomato sauce at the Grand Final, meat and three veg and loads of VB. But there’s much more to Australian cuisine than all this. It’s not just Anzac biscuits dipped in Bushell’s tea or a fresh batch of lamingtons on Sunday morning. Our British friends also like to argue that Australian dishes are rip-offs from their staples like Sunday Roast and fish and chips, but this is not the kind of thing we’re talking about here. It doesn’t constitute ‘modern Australian’.

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Bush tucker at its finest

Australia is a melting pot of culture and tradition. Meaning, its cuisine draws upon Indigenous, European and Asian flavours and cooking techniques.

First, Australian food has its Indigenous community and natural landscape to thank for meats like fish, emu, kangaroo and wallaby. As well as ‘bush tucker’ like berries, witchetty grubs, snake, quandong and lemon myrtle. Dominant flavours of Asia then come into play – lemongrass, coriander, kaffir lime leaves, star anise, ginger, galangal and plenty of chilli – which are blended with Indigenous produce and inspired by European recipes.

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It’s all a blend, baby

This means that Australian cuisine is a blend. A blend of lots of influences from over the years. In a way it’s embracing its history – the good, bad and the ugly – to create something new.

Where else would you find Coorong mullet, lemon iron bark, Geraldton wax, native honey & green ants in one well-rounded and delicious dish? Or pan-roasted chicken with honey, black shallots, warrigal greens and lentils; brioche packed with maple bacon, runny egg, caramelised onions, tomato, spinach and gruyere with a tangy lemon mayo and wattleseed pancakes topped with cacao nibs, maple syrup, fresh fruit and coconut cream?

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If Adelaide restaurant, Orana, winning the top prize of Restaurant of the Year at the Australian Good Food Awards tells us anything, it’s that Australian cuisine is cementing itself as a standout fusion cuisine. Meaning, modern Australian cuisine means fusion cuisine. Its focus is on the use of natural and native ingredients, ethical sourcing and bridging communication between Indigenous and non-Indigenous foodies.

So we should stop looking for a way to define Australian cuisine in a few words or sentences and just change our perspective. Instead, embrace that modern Australian is an all encompassing cuisine that has pinched bits from here and there, taken traditional ingredients and created dishes that are its very own.

No matter your thoughts on modern Australian cuisine, one thing is for sure: it’s bloody delicious and worth a try.

Tuck in then?

Check out a few of our favourite restaurants that are changing the face of Australian cuisine, one dish at a time:

Melbourne: Felt RestaurantSydney: Henry Deane at Hotel PalisadeBrisbane: No.15 RestaurantAdelaide: Chloe’s RestaurantPerth: Hey Griller

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