A few decades ago, the answer to a question about the top culinary destinations in the world probably wouldn’t have included Australia. In recent years, however, this vast island nation has slowly changed that perception, becoming a choice city for many seeking good dining and excellent gastronomic experiences. As avid travellers such as Stefan Masuhr – a banking executive by profession – have seen first-hand, the combination of stunning sights and unique culinary options make Australia a dream holiday location.
Australia’s food scene reflects the country’s culture. Unlike countries such as France and Italy that can proudly boast of a culinary identity, Australia doesn’t quite have one that is distinctly theirs. While that might be a drawback in some places, it makes the country’s culinary scene exciting. It’s okay to sample a meal that has the touch of multiple countries in it, combined and presented deliciously and cleverly.
A Look Back
It’s important to understand the context within which Australian cuisine has thrived. The country has, over the course of its history, witnessed waves of immigrants, with each cycle bringing their gastronomic expertise to the desert island. This is excluding the indigenous community – the Aboriginal people – who’ve been there for thousands of years. Their nomadic nature enabled them to hunt and gather their food, with the term “bush tucker” coined to reflect this. The bush tucker cuisine consists of ingredients such as emu, kangaroo, macadamia nuts, bush tomato, and yams, some of which have been integrated into modern cuisines.
The British were the first settlers, which lead to the some of the Anglo-Saxon traditions of modern meals that most of the world sees. They were soon followed by the Chinese in the 19th century (the Gold Rush), many of whom remained and introduced their natural flavours (Chinese restaurants are common in many towns). The Italians came over a bit later, lending their affinity of pasta and other dishes to Australian gastronomy.
Almost a third of Australia’s population boasts an overseas heritage. Countries represented in the population include the United Kingdom, China and Italy (as mentioned above), India, New Zealand, Philippines, Thailand, South Africa, Germany and Malaysia. Each wave of migration has resulted in the introduction of food from the overseas homeland, continuously adding to the food culture. Depending on who you ask, the national dish could be meat pie, satay chicken, spaghetti Bolognese, or salt n’ pepper squid.
Given its cultural diversity, Australia offers its visitors a wide array of iconic foods to enjoy. Add to this a respectable coffee scene, good wine, craft beer and celebrity chefs; it might be difficult to describe an Australian meal as disappointing. That’s an across-the-board generalisation, of course, but many of the country’s restaurants offer a mix of both tradition and modern culture.
Here’s a state by state breakdown of what to expect:
New South Wales
With access to the South Pacific, fishing contributes to the local cuisine. Sydney’s menus are filled with seafood such as tuna, squid, prawns and crabs. There are some famous restaurants helmed by big-name chefs where visitors can try out different dishes, including Quay (Peter Gilmore) and Rockpool (Neil Perry).
North of Sydney is Hunter Valley, famous for its wine. The multitude of wineries offers a fascinating array of cool-climate wines to sample from.
Queensland, with its humid, tropical climate, has a strong coffee culture going for it. As with any tropical location comes an array of fruits including mangoes, bananas, pineapples, avocados and coconuts, just to name a few. Beef is also standard, thanks to the state’s vast cattle ranches.
Like Queensland, coffee is a mainstay here. Wine is also serious business, with the cold climate lending to easy-to-savour pinot noir and pinot gris wines. Melbourne boasts a Chinatown where visitors can find delicious flavours, and the Queen Victoria Market is a good place to stock up on seafood, beef, fruit, pastries and vegetables.
South Australia features iconic wine regions that produce some of the world’s best red and white wines. Many of these areas are geared towards tourism, only a day’s trip from Adelaide. The seafood is also something to sample, from many of the restaurants or markets such as the Fresh Fish Place (Port Lincoln).
Not to be overshadowed, West Australian wine also can stake a claim to being among the best, with nine regions that provide unique qualities to their wine. In the capital, Perth, visitors can take their pick of restaurant; there are more restaurants here per capita than any other capital city in the entire country.
Think of Tasmania as a big food bowl – there’s simply a lot to choose from. The island is the largest supplier of wild abalone (shellfish), thanks to the abundance of the natural marine environment. Organic farming is standard, providing locals with access to a wide variety of products such as fruit, cheese, milk, honey, olives, seeds, vegetables, eggs, beef, and lamb.
Although many people credit immigration to the culinary expansion, there are a lot of other factors at play. A vibrant seafood culture, availability of organic farming acreage, and the promotion of food and wine regions have all played a role in enriching Australian cuisine.