Plenty of countries have a diverse cultural make-up; what makes Australia so special?
For one thing it’s very diverse, and for another, it’s something Australians grow up with at a grassroots level. Today Australians are as likely to cook with a wok as they are a barbecue (which might explain why Australian barbecues have wok burners), and fresh, locally-grown galangal and lemongrass have been a common sight alongside rocket and radicchio in its supermarkets for decades.
Some of the cultures making the most high-profile contributions to Australian restaurants include Chinese migrants, some of whom have been in Australia since the gold rushes of the 1850s, the Italian migrants who arrived in the wake of World War II, and the large numbers of Vietnamese and Lebanese migrants who came to the country in the 1970s and 1980s.
It’s an English-speaking country with an Italian coffee culture that just happens to be part of Asia, where a dégustation will segue seamlessly from Champagne to sake to saison, just as the table is set with chopsticks and forks alike. It gives Australia’s chefs a grounding in many traditions without binding them, necessarily, to any one in particular.
It’s also obsessed with breakfast.
Maybe it has something to do with the Italian passion for coffee running headlong into a British colonial fervour for tea and baked goods, but Australia is a nation obsessed with a good breakfast. These days the old-school Vegemite and banana bread are likely to be complemented on the menu by congee and manoosh. We should note, too, that while both sourdough and the avocado itself are native to the Americas, Australia lays claim to having invented avocado on toast.