In 1874 Ernest Giles, self-styled ‘last of the Australian Explorers’ and the rst European to lay eyes on Kata Tjuta, was lost in the Gibson desert, starving, dehydrated and with only his dead horse for company.
Just when all was lost, he heard a faint squeak in the scrub and stumbled upon a baby wallaby that had fallen from its mother’s pouch. Hunger does strange things to a man, and he later wrote in his journal of his rst foray into local cuisine: ‘I pounced on it and ate it, living, raw, dying – fur, skin, bones, skull and all …
The delicious taste of that creature I shall never forget.’
Now, let’s drag ourselves into the present, shake that disturbing image from our collective consciousness and grab our flip flops, Acca Dacca beach towels and Southern Cross back tatts and put together a totes bogan menu for the Ozziest picnic that ever Ozzied.
As long as your franks are smothered in dead horse (for the uninitiated, that’s Aussie rhyming slang for tomato sauce), you can pretend they’re not quite as disgusting as they are. However it’s the immortal line uttered by ctional drag queen Felicia over a battered fry pan in the middle of the Australian Outback in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, “How do you like your little boys, girls?” that paint a really vivid picture as to how awful cocktail franks really are. Small, red, rubbery and nutritionally dubious, these shouldn’t be seen outside of a child’s seventh birthday party or an episode of Kath ‘n’ Kim. And only then when party pies and mini sausage rolls aren’t available.
Paul Hogan did plenty to make Australians the butt of American jokes for a good decade or two, but his ‘Throw another Shrimp on the Barbie’ campaign took it to the next level. Having said that, despite us all shouting ‘PRAWN!’ at the telly whenever the advert aired, our love of the little crustacean is quite recent. Up until the end of WWII, Australian protein consumption centered around red meats, speci cally lamb and beef. Prawn shing didn’t gain traction until the 60s, and even then a WA prawn sherman named William Miller was quoted as saying “If you built a prawn trawler in those days and wanted to get funding from the bank, you had to say that it could be converted to tuna shing, otherwise they wouldn’t give you any money… Nobody was interested in prawns.”
Sausage in bread
Sausage Sizzle, Bunnings Snag or Democracy Sausage, the inalienable Australian right of enjoying a BBQ snag that’s burnt beyond recognition on the outside and cold and slimy on the inside should be written into the constitution. Bill Shorten did it wrong, stuffing his into a bread roll and biting from the centre (but not half as wrong as the Tony Abbott Onion), when we all know the correct method is to nibble from the end on a slight angle so you don’t get sauce and onions down your front. Incidentally, my vote for 2018 Young Australian of the Year award goes to ‘Tim’ from Sunbury, Victoria, who ew a drone to Bunnings to collect a snag, which was then delivered to a friend waiting in an outdoor spa in a neighbouring suburb.
There’s no easier way to turn someone off a meat pie than to suggest a pie oater. Which is a real shame because a well-made oater is delicious. They’ve been around for over a century, sharing main street with horse and cart and were typically purchased in the street from pie-carts as a late evening meal. They were the original hipster food truck.
If you’re not quite sure what I’m talking about (and are harbouring suspicions that I’m actually referring to a regrettable incident involving a toilet and that only seems to happen when you’re at someone else’s house for dinner), the pie oater is an Australian dish consisting of a traditional Aussie-style meat pie, usually sitting atop, but sometimes submerged and sometimes even upside down in a bowl of thick green pea soup. If you’re lucky it comes perched on a little dinghy of mash potato. Connoisseurs may also add mint sauce or malt vinegar, but that’s taking things a little bit too far don’t you think?
In 2003, the pie oater was recognised as a South Australian Heritage Icon by the National Trust of Australia, which just goes to show what a legendary dish it is, and how odd the people of Adelaide continue to be.
The first sheep were brought to Australia by the First Fleet in 1788, both for food and their wool. By the end of that rst year all but one had been slaughtered for meat or had carked it in the harsh environment. It would be a while yet before lamb and mutton became the Sunday dish of choice for a whole new generation of families, but once it was established it became as close to a national dish as we’ve got.
If you’re old enough you may remember that back in 1989, back when cutlets were still affordable, Naomi Watts gave up dinner with Tom Cruise for her mum’s lamb roast (YouTube it). These days we rely on the Lamb Man himself, Sam Kekovich, whose annual Oz Day adverts have been entertaining, shocking and dividing us since 2005 and driving up January lamb sales by 30 per cent ever since. So wrap yourself in an Australian ag, stuff yourself with rosemary and garlic and get a leg of lamb in the oven. It would be unAustralian not to.
It’s been a little while since our old mate Ernest Giles extolled the virtues of local fauna, and it was only a few years ago I sat down to a counter meal in an Oh So Hipster corner hotel in Melbourne and saw roo llet on a pub menu for the rst time. While it was delicious, the chef was obviously new to roo meat and thus, unfamilliar with its rich, gamey avour. Two great slabs like twin rump steaks hung over the side of a plate the size of a bus wheel and the whole thing was smothered in a creamy mustard sauce.
Since then restaurants and pubs around the country have favoured smaller, top quality portions with a range of sauces and spices (bush tomato and onion chutney being my personal fave). Roo meat is good meat from an environmental point of view as well; sustainable, lean, healthy and sourced in the wild. Some people argue that eating an animal that appears on the national coat of arms is wrong, but they just haven’t tried emu yet…
The humble snot block has been a mainstay of local bakeries since the day someone rst slopped custard between a few flaky sheets of puff pastry. Ouyen, a small country town in the Mallee region of Victoria, held the Great Vanilla Slice Triumph from from 1998 until 2011.The event was born when locals challenged then Victorian premier Jeff Kennett to give them an event to boost the local economy, and cheekily suggested the Formula 1 Grand Prix. After declaring that the Mallee Bakery vanilla slice was the best he had ever tasted, he suggested a pastry competition instead. Kennett himself acted as a judge for seven years, and the slices had to meet exacting standards: “A custard with a creamy smooth texture and a balance of vanilla taste with a crisp, crunchy pastry and topped with a smooth and shiny glaze fondant”. That actually sounds a lot like the French original, mill e-feuille, but give me a cornershop phlegm sandwich any day.
Much like Sam Neil and Russell Crowe, our cousins across the pond actually have a decent claim on the pav. Now, hush your howls of protest, there’s evidence to back this up. We all agree that it was named for the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who visited both countries in the 1920s, but the Oxford English Dictionary
did some research and found a recipe for pav rst appeared in a Kiwi cookbook, Davis Dainty Dishes, in 1927, whereas the Aussie version didn’t appear in print until 1940. But why bicker? The current incarnation of meringue, cream and fruit is excellent by any standards, although national pride tends to prevent kiwi fruit from appearing in the Aussie versions.
The story goes that a maid-servant was working at Government House in Brisbane when she accidentally dropped the sponge cake destined for the plate of the Governor into some melted chocolate. He thought it waste to throw it away, but being a pernickity sort of fellow (and in all probability was wearing expensive gloves at the time), he suggested she dip the soggy sponge in shaved coconut to avoid chocolate-covered ngers. She obeyed, and Lord Lamington became the rst to munch on the spongey treat that now bares his name. Despite serving Queensland for ve years, it is the lamington that is his legacy.
Pure Vegetable Extract was launched by the Fred Walker Company (later Kraft Food) in 1922. Walker’s daughter picked the name ‘Vegemite’ from hundreds of entries in 1923, but poor sales lead to a rebrand. Marmite was hugely popular, so logic dictated the Australian version should be Parwill, as in ‘If Marmite, then Parwill.’ Unfortunately a zippy tagline didn’t disguise the fact that the new product sounded like something you fed to pigs, and sales declined even further.
It took adverts in the British Medical Journal and a limerick competition with huge prize incentives for Vegemite to really
take off. By 1942 it was a household product, and in 1954 it was immortalised with the rst airing of the jingle Happy Little Vegemites.
WHAT’S HOT & WHAT’S NOT
HOT: BBQ SWORD
Last Christmas my sister gave me a BBQ sword and it was magnificent. A proper cutless with hand guard, a slender blade and two perfectly formed prongs at the end. The packaging even came with a novelty cardboard facemask and extravagant pirate moustache. I was Lord of the BBQ for an entire twenty minutes until it became apparent that I’d set re to the clothes line and was deemed incapable of weilding such a grown-up and impressive implement.
NOT: BBQ TONGS
These are wonderful until they break, then it’s all tong heads that don’t quite meet in the middle, dooming hundreds of half- cooked sausages and honey soy chicken wings to an ashy grave beneath the coals. Either that or the agonising pinch of the soft, soft webbing between your thumb and forefinger, sliced to ribbons by razor sharp metal where each half of the tongs join. Then they DO break (which is always two days after purchase), for some reason you hang on to them, so every set of tongs you’ve ever owned (461 pairs to be exact) live forever in the second drawer. Unless of course they’re lightsaber tongs. In which case they are as awesome as a BBQ sword.