Bush Tucker Australian Cuisine: a World Class Melting Pot
When visiting Australia, I am always trying to come to terms with what Australian food really is. There's a core theme that runs true in every area I visit. Queen Mum's favorites, such as Fish and Chips, Lamb Roast and Meat Pies still reign, but don't get the wrong idea about Australian food - fast and fresh Asian is a huge part of the food scene and it astonishes me how much home cooks know about authentic Mediterranean ingredients.
World-class wine and cheese makes Australia a formidable contender for other parts of the culinary world. The real message is that Australian is very much like American food. There is no one cuisine across the land. It's been influenced by so many immigrants that it's a melting pot with pockets of exotic flavors and ingredients with roots in the traditions of its settlers.
Roughly the size of the U.S., and bigger than the whole of western Europe, it's population is only 21 million and most live within an hour of the coastline. Described as the "Cuisine of the southern sun" the contemporary fare has joined the forces of the best thanks to dazzling ingredients and a truly multicultural civilization.
Because Australia is one of the most traveled nations in the world, many residents have tried firsthand the cuisines of Europe, America and Asia. This has influenced diner's expectations and has raised the bar for cooks at home and in the restaurant industry. As a professional chef, always traveling on my stomach; tasting what the locals eat is what it's all about when adventuring in the Land Down Under. Australia is said to have a natural fusion cuisine that has evolved over the years where people have joined together and intertwined their own techniques with other influences.
Australian celebrity chefs celebrate the natural fusion by serving dishes combining Asian and Mediterranean flavors and techniques in the same dish. A tasty example that stands out in my mind as one of my best meals ever was a seared duck breast with a cilantro and basil macadamia nut pesto on a bed of jasmine risotto and glazed with a sweet chili sauce. I can still remember those flavors and how heavenly they tasted in my mouth.
With a continent full of fresh produce, the obsession and emphasis on freshness shows great versatility with combining cuisines from around the world.
The Newest Cuisine - Bush Tucker
It's odd, but the newest cuisine depends on the oldest ingredients. Aborigines have lived off the land for over 50,000 years and cultivated a harvest of foodstuffs that are being rediscovered today. A full 20 percent of Australia's native plant species are edible. Bush foods were used not only for culinary purposes but for medicinal ones as well. Kangaroo meat, wild seeds and nuts, fruits and native vegetables have been used for thousands of years and the early settlers almost perished until they adopted the indigenous food ways.
Vic Cherikoff, a famous non-Aboriginal Australian chef is credited for introducing the bush spice movement to modern Australian cooking. His spice line is widely distributed on the internet and foodies worldwide are enjoying his efforts. In a recent interview, Cherikoff said, "My Vic Cherikoff Down Under range of sauces and splashes is going beyond Whole Foods Markets and out into wider mainstream retail outlets with great success." Vic also produces a range of industrial pack ingredients for food service applications. Bush spices are more pungent and stronger that their American counterparts. A little spice goes a long way and the spices are varied and versatile in multicultural cooking.
Emerging from the shadow of Great Britain, Australia is learning it has more in common with its Asian and island neighbors because of the relative climate. Along with its tropical flavors and isolated historical culinary treasures, it's heading for center stage internationally as a mega trend. The great national institution, the Aussie BBQ we all have heard about is renowned but the shrimp on the Barbie is only the first course. History combined with stellar ingredients and sensational cooks makes Australia very promising as a food adventurer's Mecca.
Dukkah - A combination of nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. The tradition of dukkah goes back to ancient Egyptian times and would have been used as an appetizer before a meal. Now, dukkah has been redesigned with Australian nuts, seed and spices and is served with damper (Australian bush bread) and a peanut or macadamia nut oil.
Aniseed Myrtle - Subtle Pernod-like flavor with sweet aftertaste. Use with white meats and seafood or infuse with sauces. Very strong flavor so use sparingly.
Lemon Myrtle - Fresh or dried is strong flavored and extremely versatile. Has a complex blend of citric flavors with a lemongrass accent. Substitute for Kaffir lime in recipes, add to mayonnaise or use as a replacement for lemongrass.
Bush Tomato - Also known as the desert raisin. Similar to sun dried tomato in flavor. Use in marinades, sauces, soups and casseroles. Available whole and ground. Similar to dried raisins.
Wild Lime - Also known as desert lime, native cumquat. Close to the finger lime family, matches with most bush herbs. Ginger, cilantro and lemongrass go well with wild limes.
Quandong - Also known as native peach and desert peach. Tastes like a cross between an apricot and rhubarb with a hint of cinnamon. Does not match with acidic or strong-flavored foods. Complemented with fruit, ginger, garlic and chili in moderation.
Lemon Aspen - Distinctively citrus with a hint of eucalypt and honey. Goes well with native pepper, ginger, native mints. Does not match with bush tomatoes and will overwhelm delicate fruits.
Native Rosella - Also known as native hibiscus. Available in a syrup that is delicious in drinks as a garnish. Rosella jam is popular with a rhubarb-plum-raspberry flavor. Has sweet and savory applications.
Riberry - Also known as clove lilly pilly and cherry alder. Taste is intense, juicy and mildly sweet with an acidic finish and a hint of cloves.
Paperbark - Rolls of tea tree bark similar to thick paper. Use as a food wrap for cooking and serving. Imparts a smoky flavor into meats and starchy vegetables. Matches well with wild game, and can be substituted for juniper berries in recipes. Apples, oranges and pears are also good partners. Can be used in place of clove.
Wattleseed - A highly versatile and nutritious roasted grain (Acacia seeds) with an amazing coffee, chocolate, hazelnut flavor. Use in desserts, breads, ice cream. Wattleseed has a dominating flavor so use sparingly.
Native Mint - Has a peppermint flavor and beautiful aroma. Use in desserts and as a seasoning for light meats, sauces, pesto, Flavor butter with native mint for a fresh mint flavor.
Arlene Coco Buscombe is a food evangelist and Ozziefile who travels Down Under bi-annually to visit her husband's relatives and eats her way though a new region every trip. Visit her on the Web at www.arlenecoco.com.