Contemporary Bush Tucker in Australian Restaurants

Native ingredients, are experiencing a revival. Embraced by the country’s leading chefs, they are transcending “bush tucker” status and being subtly integrated into contemporary restaurant menus. The shift has been especially noticeable in the past five years; it is part of the global trend to celebrate localism in food. The Australian chefs using indigenous ingredients most successfully are notable for their skill and restraint in incorporating them in dishes with flavours and techniques more usually associated with Europe or Asia. Such chefs are highlighting indigenous ingredients not just because they offer a point of difference, but because they taste so good. Contemporary Bush Tucker in Australian Restaurants
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Contemporary Bush Tucker in Australian Restaurants


Native ingredients, are experiencing a revival. Embraced by the country’s leading chefs, they are transcending “bush tucker” status and being subtly integrated into contemporary restaurant menus.

The shift has been especially noticeable in the past five years; it is part of the global trend to celebrate localism in food. The Australian chefs using indigenous ingredients most successfully are notable for their skill and restraint in incorporating them in dishes with flavours and techniques more usually associated with Europe or Asia. Such chefs are highlighting indigenous ingredients not just because they offer a point of difference, but because they taste so good.

Here are some of the ingredients most favoured by top chefs, and some places where you can try them.

Kangaroo

A traditional indigenous food all over Australia, kangaroo was enjoyed by British settlers who compared its deep-red flesh and gamy flavour to venison or hare; bush housewives made the tail into a hearty soup. For some decades in the 20th century it fell from favour but from the early 1990s “roo” returned to menus around Australia. It is a popular choice among health-conscious diners because of its very low fat content and high protein and mineral levels. The choicest cuts may be stir-fried with Asian flavours or simply grilled: it is best cooked rare or medium. In Darwin, kangaroo burgers are sold at market stalls, while Adelaide’s buzzing, casual new Street ADL bar and eatery is putting a street-food spin on kangaroo: pulled kangaroo sandwiches and roo shoulder to share feature on the proudly South Australian menu. Upstairs from Street ADL, fine diner Orana is operated by the same team and has a strong indigenous focus.

Vue de Monde,
Melbourne, VIC

Wallaby

Lighter in colour than kangaroo and milder in flavour, wallaby shares kangaroo’s healthful properties. Its low fat levels mean it must be cooked with care to retain its natural tenderness and juiciness: it is superb served raw as a tartare or carpaccio. Sydney chef Kylie Kwong, who has championed indigenous ingredients, serves wallaby in a variety of ways: she might stir-fry the tenderloin with black bean and chilli; turn it into san choi bao; or red-braise the shanks to serve with saltbush and mushrooms. At Vue De Monde in Melbourne slivers of raw meat might be gently cured, tableside, on a slab of Himalayan salt heated to 58 degrees, then served with a herb emulsion, beach mustard and marigold petals. 

Emu

Lean, gamy and deeply flavoured, emu meat comes from the tall, flightless bird found alongside the kangaroo on Australia’s national coat of arms. It is a red meat, usually cooked quickly on a grill or roasted, and is sometimes found smoked or cured on a charcuterie board. Try it at Brisbane restaurant Tukka, a highly rated indigenous food specialist, where you might find chef Bryant Wells’ house-smoked emu fillet served with bearnaise sauce, golden shallot compote and fondant potato. 

Orana, Adelaide, SA

Marron

These freshwater crustaceans are the largest in Western Australia and – according to the state’s Department of Fisheries – the third largest in the world. Native to Western Australia, they are also farmed in South Australia. The Aboriginal people of the continent’s south-west have always loved marron; recreational fishing for marron is a Western Australian tradition during the short summer season when it is permitted. The flesh in the tail and claws is white, sweet and delicate: excellent poached, pan-fried or roasted. A luxury ingredient, marron is most often found on the menus of ambitious, high-end restaurants. You may find it at Melbourne’s new-look The Press Club, perhaps served with creamy house-made tarama. It is a menu mainstay at the respected Vasse Felix winery restaurant in Western Australia’s Margaret River wine country, the marron’s home territory. 

Wattleseed

Australia has hundreds of types of acacia. Not all their seeds are edible but some are used for food, including those of the national flower, the golden wattle. When the seeds are roasted and ground they have a versatile, nutty flavour comparable to that of hazelnuts, suited to both savoury and sweet dishes. Wattleseed flour is used in cake and pancake batters and in biscuits. The grounds may form a component of a spice mix to coat meat; they are also used to make a coffee-like drink, which in turn may flavour sauces and ice-creams. Wattleseed infused in hot chocolate stars as a finale to dinner at the Northern Territory’s Tali Wiru – an intimate outdoor dining experience under the vast outback sky, within sight of Uluru.

Tower Hill National Park,
Warrnambool, VIC

Native Berries and Small Fruit

Every region of Australia has edible native berries of its own. Quandongs, a staple of indigenous diets in many parts of Australia, are now commercially grown. They are a versatile fruit that can be eaten raw or dried, and are often made into jams or chutneys. The Davidson plum grows on Australia’s east coast, with deep purple skin and juicy, acidic fruit – it is typically too sharp to be enjoyed raw but is preserved in sauces and syrups. Muntries, from South Australia and Victoria’s west, are often compared to blueberries because of their small size and high antioxidant levels; picked fresh, they are crisp and taste more like apples. They may be eaten fresh but freeze well for out-of-season use in desserts. All these fruits – and many more – frequently feature on the menu at Melbourne’s Charcoal Lane, a smart restaurant using native Australian ingredients in a modern menu.

Finger Lime

Native to rainforests of the border ranges of South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales, Finger Limes are in season from December until May.

This small, cylindrical rainforest fruit takes lime to a whole new level. Cut open, it reveals tiny, juicy pearls resembling caviar, in shades from palest green to vivid pink that can be spooned out to flavour and garnish everything from kingfish carpaccio to dainty citrus tarts. Their beauty, bright acidity and pop-in-the-mouth texture is such that they are found on good restaurant menus across Australia in the months when they are most plentiful (December to May), often atop freshly shucked oysters where they add glamour and a citric kick. Finger limes are native to the forests of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. At Town in Bangalow, near Byron Bay, owner-chefs Karl and Katrina Kanetani offer serious six-course degustation dinners on three nights each week. Katrina, one of Australia’s leading pastry chefs, likes to cook with native, locally grown ingredients. The couple sources finger limes from a local farmer when they come into season each summer, using them in savoury dishes as well as desserts.