Fondue Foodie

Some people call it the Food Crime of the Century; others are more nostalgic and say simply: “Yummy!”
We’re talking about the 1970s, the time when the Australian food revolution began, the time when the beloved barbie no longer seemed enough.
There were few fast-food takeaways, no pizza home delivery, no curry house on the corner. But plenty of tinned pineapples and saveloys.
Australia is now renowned throughout the world for beautiful fusion cuisine, an art at which many Northern Territory restaurants excel.
But let’s be honest, we got off to a shaky start.
For a start, a country with some of the best natural ingredients on earth had an obsession with tinned food. Everything was in a can, including (wait for it!) salads. Yes, tinned salads were advertised in the seventies as the latest health tucker.
Pineapples came in cans โ€ฆ and were served with everything.
Fresh pineapples were for special occasions. For instance, it was not uncommon for saveloys to be stuck in half a fresh pineapple.
As Simon & Garfunkel fretted about a bridge over troubled waters, Aussies learnt the meaning of the word “gourmet” and responded by putting a lettuce leaf and slice of beetroot in burgers.
Convenience was all the rage in the 1970s, including pre-cut frozen onions, which saved cooks from getting teary, and the arrival, courtesy of Kraft, of ready sliced cheese in individual plastic wrappings. The fact that the onion tasted like bullets and the cheese like soggy cardboard was irrelevant. This was modern living.
Healthy eating became all the rage – salt, sugar and caffeine had to go. The war on caffeine didn’t last long and the warnings about alcohol were ignored from the start.
Out went the potato, in came cottage cheese; butter was out, the water-in-vegetable-fat emulsion known as margarine was in.
And then there was the cultural cringe in cooking – a belief that everything European was good and everything Aussieโ€ฆ well, a bit provincial.
So chefs began smothering some of the best fish in the world – barra, snapper, whiting – with claggy, custard-like lemon sauce.
Steaks that would cost a second mortgage in Britain but were on sale in Darwin for a few bucks were suffocated in thick, glutinous gravies with French names. And then there was fondue.
It’s a Swiss dish of melted cheese served in a communal pot (caquelon) over a portable stove (rรฉchaud) heated with a candle or spirit lamp, and eaten by dipping bread into the cheese using long-stemmed forks.
Fondue was the height of communal chic. “Come over for a fondue,” was a much sought-after invitation.
Hip young Territorians would gather around the fondue pot sipping Barossa Valley wine while josticks made the room smell sickly. T
here are probably few homes in Australia owned by children of the seventies without a fondue set hidden away somewhere.
Quirky meant trendy in 1970s Australia.
Eggs were popular, including sardines laid on half boiled eggs and boiled eggs with prawns.
Tomato chutney went with mayonnaise, seafood with lettuce, bananas with meat and olives with jello.
It was the age of stuffed peppers, meatloaf that needed to be cut with a chainsaw and prawns rammed into apples.
There were even candles (yes, they were lit!) made of cranberries and mayonnaise.
Champagne became popular after Australian Vogue published a story saying it was the least fattening drink at only 35 calories a glass. Few women needed more encouragement than that.
Many Aussies switched to a diet of four glasses of champagne a day with an egg, nibble of seafood and a handful of crispbread.
Newspapers and magazines in the early seventies were packed with food adverts, but they were all very traditionally Anglo Saxon โ€ฆ no Greek yoghurt, no pasta. And certainly no curries.
All those joys were to come later in the decade when the food revolution really got going.
Vegetarian restaurants began opening, but down south – the Territory was not ready just yet to swap steak for carrot cake.
It seems bizarre now, but most Australians still bought their food in small stores and street markets in the seventies. The supermarket giants would take a stranglehold on the grocery trade in the 1980s.
Of course, politics played a part in changing Australian eating habits – for the better, for all time.
Gough Whitlam led Labor to power in 1972 after 23 years of Liberal rule and within a year had scrapped the White Australia policy.
A wave of Asian immigrants brought exotic food that shocked the scent glands and tickled the taste buds, even in a multiracial place such as the Territory.
Vietnamese, Indonesians and Filipinos joined the Chinese, Greeks and Italians already prospering in Darwin. And with them they brought pho, nasi goreng and adobo.
Australia would never be the same again.
Incredibly, 1970s food is coming back – admittedly, with a modern, healthier twist.
Publisher Anna Pallai is at the forefront of the retro food revolution and her book, 70s Dinner Party, published by Penguin, is a top seller.
The lighthearted book is packed with recipes, most of which are enough to put you off eating for life, but some might be worth a try, especially the desserts.
Anna’s favourite dish is Cauliflower Surprise – a cauliflower with slits cut into it, which are filled with a Birds Eye beef burger, and then the whole thing is served on a cheese sauce.
“It looks like something from Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” says Anna.
She’s also fond of the sandwich loaves “iced” with green cream cheese and mayonnaise.
Nowadays there is a realisation that there is no need to ape Europe. We have marvellous, natural ingredients, talented chefs and great restaurants.
Australian cooks have learnt the most precious lesson in life – to be themselves.
The final word, for no better reason than it’s funny, goes to comedian WC Fields: “I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food.”