Aussie Meat Pie
© Paula Trites
No strictly regional foods have developed yet in Australia, though there is the start of an awareness of local products.
Many new dishes being created in Australia are a blend of Asian and Mediterranean cooking classes, but there is no new “common class” that has actually emerged yet; just changing “themes” that are picked up and then dropped by the food media. A chef might create buzz by making sushi with (Australian-made) Brie and sun-dried tomatoes on it, but that doesn’t mean it’s been awarded a place in the national food canon. Some say that in trying to identify what is “Australian food”, more is being made of this mixture of ingredients than there actually should be. After all, the Japanese and Chinese are also absorbing Western elements into their food, and no one cites the Brie and sun-dried tomato sushi as being emblematic of Australian food alone.
Australians have a fondness for yeast spreads. They have, as of 2006, five different brands: Promite, Aussie Mite, Mighty Mite, Vegemite and Marmite (2 kinds: imported from the UK, and made in Australia.) Each product has its fiercely-loyal backers.
Mustard in Australia tends to be of the hot English variety, not the milder “hot-dog mustard” prevalent in North America. Pickled foods such as onions, gherkins, mustard pickles and pickled beets are still popular, as is relish made from corn.
Up to 1966, 80% of Australia’s salt was produced in South Australia. Since then, only 14% comes from South Australia, largely at Lake Macdonnell and Lake Bumbunga. 80% now comes from Western Australia, largely from solar evaporation from saline lake waters, or harvesting from the beds of saline lakes which dry out seasonally.
Beverages in Australia
People drink tap water in Australia. Many restaurants will provide pitchers of iced tap water on the table without prompting, and those that don’t, will provide them with no bother when asked.
Alcohol laws vary by state, but throughout Australia you must be 18 or over to purchase alcohol. Alcohol is sold in privately-owned liquor stores called “off licences.” Some Woolworth’s stores in Australia even have a Woolworth’s Liquor store attached to them.
Light flavoured and coloured beer is the norm. You can buy beer at gas stations in the Australian Capital Territory and in Queensland. Victoria is one of the more liberal states; you can purchase alcohol almost anywhere.
Wine is now increasingly popular. Australians name their wines to match European names, to make consumer recognition easier, particularly in Europe. Most wineries are in New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.
Australian Bush Foods
“Bush Foods” are items indigenous to Australia.
Macadamia nuts were ignored until Hawaiians imported the trees and invented the market for them, perhaps embarrassing the Australians not just a little bit. It may be that with Australian’s deep sense of competition, they’ve decided not to be caught out again.
Early awareness of bush foods started in 1974 with the publication of “Wild Food of Australia” by Alan and Joan Cribb (of the Department of Botany, University of Queensland.)  It was furthered in 1988 with a television series called “Bush Tucker Man” (with Les Hiddins) and with the “Bush Food Hand Book” (by Vic Cherikoff) published in the same year. Cherikoff went on to set up his own business selling Bush Foods and became a major promoter of them.
Australians, however, have remained more accepting of new but proven ingredients that are already used in other cuisines. Most adaptations have just evolved around swapping them in as ingredients to existing dishes, e.g. wattle seeds in ice cream, etc, rather than entirely new dishes.
Dairy in Australia
As of 2005, Australian dairy herds were producing (10 billion litres) of milk a year — 1/50th of the world’s production for that year. More than 50% of Australia’s milk production is exported.
The price of milk sold to be drunk was controlled by the government, guaranteeing producers a price higher than the market would have otherwise borne. The price of milk used to make other dairy products from, however, was not controlled: instead, producers received a subsidy on that milk. In 1999, the dairy industry itself proposed deregulation, with a transition scheme. In 2000, the controls and the subsidy were ended. To finance the transition, a levy of 11 cents per litre was placed on milk sold to the consumer and distributed to producers to help them with the transition. It was introduced on 8 July 2000 and is slated (as of 2006) to continue until 2008. The consumer still saw savings, though: previously milk had been marked up between 25 and 35 cents per litre.
The import of raw-milk cheese is banned by a government agency called “Biosecurity Australia.” Cheeses sold in Australia and New Zealand must either be made from pasteurised milk, or from thermalized milk. If the cheese is made from thermalized milk, it must then be aged for a minimum of 90 days. Some exceptions are now being made for raw milk cheeses from Europe if they have been aged a long time. This includes Emmentaler, Grana Padano, Gruyere, Parmesan, Sbrinz and Tilsiter.
There are not many “gourmet quality” butters yet as of 2006, with the exception of a few brands such as “Gympie Farm Cultured Butter.”
Most egg production is in New South Wales and in Victoria. Up to July 1989, the sale of eggs in New South Wales (NSW) had to go through a state agency called the “NSW Egg Corporation.” In July 1989, the agency was abolished and the market liberalised. As of 2002, only in Tasmania and in Western Australia were egg sales still controlled by the government (through “statutory marketing”, to use the government phrase.) On 1 February 2003, the Australian Egg Corporation Limited went into operation to promote eggs and conduct research and development. It is funded by a levy on eggs which is passed onto the consumer. Egg producers supported its formation because egg consumption had been falling in Australia since 1993 (estimates vary by source, either a fall of 146 to 137 eggs per capita per year, or a fall from 159 to 152 eggs.) Though all producers are compelled to pay the levy, they are not required to be members.
Fast Food in Australia
Fast food chains in Australia include McDonald’s, Burger King, and Hungry Jack’s. In addition to its standard fare, McDonald’s in Australia also sells toasted bread rolls with bacon, fried egg and Swiss cheese on them. Hamburgers sometimes have a pineapple slice on them, or a fried egg. Ketchup is put on hamburgers, but no dill pickle slices or green pickles of any kind or sweet relish as is used in North America, and no mustard or mayonnaise. McDonald’s, following its North American formula, does put pickles on most of its hamburgers there, but lots of people just pick it off. The most popular topping, however, seems to be a slice of pickled beet. McDonald’s even sells a hamburger called “McOz” which has a pickled beet slice on it.
Food Safety in Australia
Food safety in Australia is governed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ); Biosecurity Australia covers food imports. The State of New South Wales also has its own inspection agency, the “NSW Food Authority”, since April 2004. Australian Quarantine Inspection Service watches ports and airports to catch travellers coming or people returning to Australia with banned food items. In 1999, a report by an Ian Mckay for the The Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) said that 4.9 million Australians a year get some form of food poisoning, ranging from very mild upset stomach to cases requiring long-term hospitalisation.
Australian Fusion Food
Food cooked at home in Australia has changed a great deal; it’s no longer just meat pie and mash. There is an increasing amount of fusion between European cooking and Asian influences in home kitchens. One night dinner might be pasta; another stir-fry. By 1991, 65% of Australians were making stir-fry at home two days a week. “Tabouleh” salad is considered normal at a delicatessen now.
Like California in America, chefs have developed a Pacific Rim fusion approach to food (Thai and Vietnamese cuisine are the dominant Asian cuisines.) Many European-class restaurants now also include some Asian dishes on their menus. In fact, Australians believe they started the Pacific Rim fusion trend 5 years before California had even thought of it. It is often credited to a man named Cheong Loes from Kuala Lumpier, Malaysia who in 1975 was cooking in Adelaide at his restaurant called “Neddys.”
Meat in Australia
The import of many meats such as salami is banned. Prosciutto and jamon are allowed if certain requirements are met. Salami made in New South Wales must be made with manufactured starter culture, rather than being allowed to ferment naturally. The import of raw foie gras is banned, it must be semi-cooked, to prevent importation of poultry diseases.
Hanging game fowl to mature is not allowed if you want to sell it; it must be cleaned within an hour of being killed.
Capons are hard to find, but not banned as they are now in England.
Australians, like Brits, call outdoor grilling “barbequing.” Australians get quite fancy when barbequing; they are well beyond tossing a few sausages on the grill, as is done in the UK. Some even cook Christmas dinner on their barbeque.
As of 2002, Australia was the largest beef exporting country in the world, having 21% of the market, followed by America in second place.
Smoked bacon is more popular than unsmoked bacon in Australia. Beef sausages more common than pork sausages.
Food chains in Australia include Woolworth’s (in every state except Victoria as of 2006), Safeway’s (owned by Woolworth’s since 1985; Woolworth’s Foods trades as Safeway’s in Victoria), and Coles. Woolworth’s in Australia is not the same as that in the rest of the world: F.W. Woolworth’s in America hadn’t registered the name in Australia, so someone else did. Many grocery stores also offer mini-versions of themselves in places with a select offering of their wider range of goods. These stores will sell many chilled prepared meals, as in the UK. These chilled, ready-to-eat meals from supermarkets are popular.
Vegetables in Australia
Beets are very popular in Australia. Pickled beet is present on many salad sandwiches at salad bars, as well as being omnipresent on hamburgers.
Red-skinned potato varieties were largely introduced into Australia after World War Two.
Sweet corn consumption in Australia has nearly doubled from 2 kg to nearly 5 kg per son as of 2002 (compared to 12 kg per person in America in 2002.) 7/8ths of all sweet corn grown in Australia is grown in New South Wales and in Victoria (2002 figures.)
In Australia, a tablespoon is 20 ml — that’s 4 x 5 ml teaspoons. This differs from the North American and New Zealand definition of a tablespoon, which is 15 ml — 3 x 5 ml. Many Australian cooks, though, seem unaware that their tablespoon is larger.
Many Australian recipes give measurements for dry ingredients by weight in grams, and liquid ingredients in mls, as well as measurements by volume in cups for both. Oven temperatures are generally given only in Celsius and ovens generally only have Celsius dials on them.
Tinned and packaged food products usually only have metric on them; meat and produce are sold by metric weight only.
Australians recipes convert Australian cups to metric in the same way that North American recipes do: 1 cup = 250 mL or 8 fluid oz.
Mechanical refrigeration started in Australia in 1851 for railroad shipping.
In 1905, Victoria became the first state in Australia to pass food laws, called the “Pure Food Act”. The act was passed after a government inspector (W. Percy Wilkinson) found substances such as coal tar in soft drinks, etc.
At the turn of the 20th century in Australia, the milkman would deliver milk by pouring it into a “billy can” the householder had left out on the front step. And rabbits had become so plentiful after their introduction to Australia that to make extra money children would go door with dead rabbits, and skin them on the spot for you for dinner.
The only area in Australia where the North American craze of alcohol prohibition was in effect was in Canberra, from 1915 to 1928.
By the 1920s, a gas connection had been installed in 90% of Australia homes, allowing them to run gas ovens and stoves. By the 1940s, electrical refrigerators started to become common.
During the Second World War, the Australian government issued ration books to ration the sale of beef, lamb, butter, sugar and tea. Fish, pork, chicken and cheese were not rationed. Rationing continued for a few years after the war on some food items.
Post Second World War immigration from Italy, Greece and Lebanon brought ethnic restaurants. This wave of immigration is credited with changing Australian food. This general explanation, however, is too simplistic and doesn’t take into account why after massive immigration from China, France, Germany and Italy during the 1850s, cuisine changes didn’t take place then. What else had changed after the Second World War was a prosperity boom, allowing more money to be spent on experimenting with new foods, improvements in transportation and refrigeration which allowed farmers in one area to generate niche products for wider sale, and improvements in agricultural productivity (brought about by works such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme 1949 to 1974 which both generated hydro electricity and provided irrigation to the Murray-Darling Basin: the area now generates 40% of the agricultural produce in Australia). All these factors increased the selection of ingredients available in Australia, which this time, the wave of immigrants was able to use to cook in different ways.
Despite all the changes, though, Australians retain a traditional pride in home-baked goods.
Some Food History Milestones in Australia
- 1949 – Bird’s Eye opens shop in Australia
- 1950s – Women’s magazines started carrying Chinese recipes
- In the 1950s, “cafés” were used in the British sense of the word, what North Americans might call a coffee shop, a greasy spoon or diner, a place that served hot meals such as sausage rolls, fish and chips, etc. The only things called “restaurants” tended to be Italian restaurants.
- Supermarkets came along in the 1950s, following the boom in cars that let people both get to the stores and bring home a lot of shopping all at once.
- Chinese restaurants were in Australia as early as 1840, but didn’t really start booming until the 1950s. By the 1960s, they were in almost even the smallest rural town. Chinese restaurants also tended to be referred to as “cafes”
- 1956 – Philadelphia Cream Cheese arrives in Australia
- 1959 – Frozen TV dinners appear in Australia
- Competition sprang up between the State Electricity Commission and the Gas and Fuel Corporation to win over Australian kitchens and housewives: each published cookbooks, gave cooking lessons.
- Two important, competing magazines were The Australian Women’s Weekly and Woman’s Day
- 1960s – Shift to coffee drinking from tea drinking occurs
- 1960s – Electric appliances start to hit kitchens. Electric ovens start to overtake gas ovens in popularity.
- 1960s – Chicken starts to become affordable as an everyday food, owing to the start of large-scale chicken raising.
- 1960s – As in North America, ice cream came in vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and Neapolitan. Children ate Cream buns, Finger Buns and Chelsea Buns.
- 1960 – Kraft processed cheese slices and Kraft Cracker Barrel cheddar cheese arrive
- 1960 – 90% of homes in Australia have a refrigerator
- 1961 – Kraft grated parmesan in the green can arrives
- 1963 – Safeway’s enters the Australian market
- 1968 – Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) arrives in Australia
- 1970 – McDonald’s and Pizza Hut arrive in Australia
- 1970s – backyard grilling (aka “barbequing” in Australian) starts to become popular, along with cooking in tin foil on the barbeque.
- 1973 – Australia loses Britain as an easy export market for meat and dairy when Britain joints the European Union (EU)
- In the mid-1970s, East Asian immigration started
- 1980s – People begin to eat out of the house more. More people can afford holidays in Asia, and come back with an interest in the food they had there. Pasta and rice become popular, gaining territory from bread and potatoes. Australians spend 1/5 of their income (it’s unclear whether this is before or after tax) on food. Open concept kitchens and dining rooms start to become popular. Microwaves become popular, along with blenders and food processors.
- 1980s Thai restaurants started appearing in Sydney
- 1990s – Items such as couscous and polenta are now normal in household cupboards
 To my certain memory it (ed.: Alan & Joan’s 1974 book “Wild Food of Australia”) launched the modern interest in bush tucker. Alan’s father-in-law Professor D. A. Herbert was responsible for training Australian troops in jungle survival skills in WWII, providing on the ground courses in bush food identification, plant toxins, finding safe water sources etc. I was fortunate enough to be both one of Prof Herbert’s last students (receiving live training in rain forest survival and bush food identification from him) and Prof Cribb’s PhD student as well as taste tester on many occasions. Following the publication of Alan’s book, a very popular bush tucker group was set up by postgraduates and staff of the Dept of Botany, University of Queensland which carried out field trips, grew collected plants and developed early recipes for bush tucker. Many undergraduates also participated. Later this rare training was not wasted but passed on to the next generation of undergraduates at the University of Western Sydney when I joined its academic staff.” — Dr Judyth McLeod. Correspondence with CooksInfo.com. 31 March 2009.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Food Poisoning Research Reveals Alarming Statistics. 25 May 1999.
Dupré, Ruth. The Prohibition of Alcohol in the Anglo-Saxon World: Why in the U.S. and not in Canada, Australia or New Zealand? Paper presented at the 14th World Congress of the International Economic History Association, Helsinki, Finland, 21 – 25 August 2006.
Earl, Paul. Australia’s Dairy Reforms: Lessons For Canada. Winnipeg, Manitoba: The Frontier Centre for Public Policy. March 2003.