Celebrate Australia's fantastic fresh produce and love affair with food as you taste your way across the nation.
By Jac Taylor
Australians are eating out more than ever, and it's no surprise. Even traditional foods are getting the gourmet treatment, and visitors and locals alike are spoilt for choice. Every town offers its own cross-cultural cuisines and fresh, artisan options, but there are certain must-try dishes that you can find across the nation.
Sights from Australia's famous cafe culture
AVOCADO ON TOAST
Avocado is a much loved staple at the Australian breakfast table, and particularly popular when people eat out for breakfast (something Australians do with great enthusiasm). This is a true local delicacy, consisting of mashed (or "smashed", as it's sometimes called) avocado served on one, two or even three slices of toasted, crusty bread. It's also known as an avo smash, and served in a variety of ways. You might find it mixed with feta cheese, sprinkled with sesame seeds and sea salt or drizzled with virgin olive oil (or all three, which is how it's served at Byron Bay's Folk café). Then again, it could be topped with poached eggs or even served with black sesame and beetroot hummus, as is the case at SingleO café in Sydney. This is one dish you can't visit Australia without trying.
BACON AND EGG ROLL
Eating bacon and eggs for breakfast might be a British tradition, but in Australia this dish has been transformed into a popular grab-and-go morning snack, served in a bread roll with tomato sauce (ketchup). Every city in Australia offers this local treat, but different cultural communities have added their own creative mixes – such as the caramelised onions and fresh tomato relish served at Sydney's Australian-Italian Contessa café, or Melbourne's Vietnamese-inspired roll, stuffed with smoked bacon, fried egg and cucumber at Luxsmith. With freshly baked bread almost compulsory in popular cafés (it's increasingly common for cafés to bake their own) you might also find your bacon and eggs served in an artisan bread roll, filled with grains or topped with seeds.
A lamington is just a square of sponge cake, soaked in chocolate sauce and rolled in coconut. But when these three ingredients are put together, the sum is much greater than the parts. This beloved local delicacy is considered by many to be Australia's national cake, and can be found in neighbourhood bakery windows and trendy cafés alike. Look out for them at food markets too. Mostly you'll find this treat simply served as is, but a small subset of Australians prefer theirs filled with jam and cream in the middle. Australia's current obsession with all things salted caramel has also resulted in the popular salted caramel lamington, a sweet treat you'll find at Brisbane's enormously popular pop-up dessert stall, Reid Street Kitchen.
SUPER FRESH SEAFOOD
When it comes to seafood, Australians like to keep it simple. It's not uncommon to find a silver bucket of cold cooked shrimp offered on menus as a "bucket of prawns". Served with a glass of chilled white wine or a beer, this is a popular snack at pubs across Australia. Local, fresh oysters also feature on most menus within sight of the ocean – look out for the giant, creamy specimens from Coffin Bay in South Australia, and make sure you try Sydney's celebrated rock oysters while visiting the Harbour City. Keep an eye out for barramundi on menus too. This white, firm-fleshed fish, similar in taste to snapper, is hugely popular in Australia, especially in Darwin, where it can be caught in the morning and served by lunchtime. And, of course, look out for locally farmed Atlantic salmon and ocean trout. These Tasmanian specialities are highlights of any gourmet trip Down Under.
Local's tip: you'll find these food items on menus across the country, but for a taste of them all visit Sydney Fish Markets.
THE MODERN MEAT PIE
A pastry case full of minced or diced meat and rich gravy, the once humble meat pie has been a part of Australian working-class history for decades. Traditionally made of beef and topped with tomato sauce, this quick takeaway snack can be found in many service (gas) stations and convenience stores across the country. However, Australia's love of this snack has led to its elevation into countless modern varieties of the classic. Local bakeries, found in almost every neighbourhood in Australia, usually offer several varieties of meat pie. These could include anything from classic beef and gravy to creamy scallop pie, lamb shank pie or vegetable curry pie. At Sydney's crowd-pleasing Bourke Street Bakery, you'll also find more complicated recipes – try the chicken, sweet potato, pea and lime pickle creation for something different.
SALT AND PEPPER SQUID
Thanks to Australia's multicultural community, cuisine from all over the world has been given a uniquely Australian twist and adopted as our own. Such is the case with salt and pepper squid, a traditionally Vietnamese dish of simply spiced, fried seafood, now found throughout Australia in beer gardens, regional pubs, beachside takeaways and refined city eateries. This delicious dish is served in a multitude of ways – for example, with salad and deep-fried sweet potato wedges, or with a touch of chilli, lemon dipping sauce and a side of steamed rice – but it's loved equally throughout the country. Try it at Joe's Fish Shack in Fremantle, Western Australia, where all seafood, including Joe's hand-cut, crumbed version of salt and pepper squid, is pulled straight from the water into his waterfront kitchen.
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