As a backpacker with a limited budget, my diet really only consisted of canned tuna and bread. I do not have a breadth of food encounters during my trip to give my firsthand experience and insight on the typical Australian diet. Like Americans, the Australians do not have a cultural collection of what should be labelled as “Australian” cuisine. Both these colonized nations offer a medley of ethnic foods from across the globe.
Here are some iconic foods and brands that identify with being “Australian” (Disclaimer: Once again this is a limited observation from a backpacker’s perspective):
- Vegemite – This is probably the most iconic “exotic” food people think of when they think of the Australian diet. The English says it tastes like marmite. Vegemite is a spread made from yeast extract and other addictive producing this soy sauce-like taste and a pungent smell. A common misconception (from images of Australians scoffing spoonful of Vegemite) is the amount of Vegemite consumed at once. You are only supposed to use a small amount that thinly spreads over a piece of toast or else it would taste extremely salty.
- Flat white – It originated in Australia since the 1970s. The espresso, milk, and foam ratio is similar to a cappuccino, but served with a thin layer of foam. Flat whites are famously known as Hugh Jackman’s favorite drink.
- Tim Tams– Tim Tams is a popular snack consumed by locals and visitors alike. They are chocolate coated biscuits with a filling in between (similar to the English Penguin biscuits). They come in many flavors; my personal favorite is the new salted caramel chocolate Tim Tams. I was on a Tim Tams frenzy for awhile. While they are not what I would consider heaven on earth, they are dangerously addicting. I have gotten a number of backpackers addicted since I would feel self conscious being the only one pigging out on Tim Tams.
- Beets (in sandwich) – Red beets is a popular add-on topping to sandwiches and burgers. I am not aware of the origin or story of its popularity, but it simply reminds me of the Danish diet of eating red beets and putting them in burgers as well.
- Soy chicken flavored chips – This is sort of arbitrary, but I see a lot of variations of soy sauced flavored snacks in the supermarket. Perhaps due to the proximity to Asia, manufacturers in Australia decided to produce an Asian inspired snack flavor to cater towards the Asian population in Australia. I’ve only tried this flavor once and was unimpressed.
- Banana bread – I do not know if Australians actually love banana bread or if it’s because I have only recently started to grow an interest in banana bread, but I seem to see them everywhere! As I have mentioned to another post, Australian banana bread is darker in color and more moist and dense in texture.
- Kangaroo meat – Kangaroo meat is an Australian delicacy that is not commonly consumed. I’ve only tried a kangaroo burger once. If no one told me, I would have assumed that I was eating a regular beef burger. In case anyone is wondering, no one eats koalas (probably because they ingest toxic eucalyptus leaves).
- Crocodile meat – Like kangaroo, it’s not a common household choice of meat. I’ve only tried diced crocodile meat as a pizza topping. It didn’t have a taste. I did hear from others that crocodile tastes like chicken. I agree that it has a similar texture, but I cannot attest to the taste since I never had a proper one.
Differences in restaurant chains (in comparison to the US):
- Hungry Jacks – I was so confused and amused when I saw Hungry Jacks because it looks like an exact copy of Burger King. In fact, it is. Hungry Jacks is Burger King’s Australian franchise; they couldn’t use the name “Burger King” because it was already trademarked for something else in Australia. They share the same menu except the Australian meat is healthier (as I have heard).
- McDonald’s – The only thing I want to note is their 30 cents soft serve ice cream. Despite the high standard of living, their small soft serve is unusually cheap. It reminds me of the cheap soft serves in China and Hong Kong’s McDonald’s.
- Domino – Domino is a popular dining choice backpackers resort to because their individual pizzas only cost $5 AUD. The $5 options are limited to certain toppings, but it’s good enough to satisfy hungry budget travelers. During my Australia trip I realized that only Americans quantify pizzas as “pies”. This form of measurement is not used in Australia and definitely not in Italy.
- Max Brenner’s – Did you know Max Brenner’s is an Australian franchise? Comparing the Australian stores to the Max Brenner’s in Union Square, NY, MB in Australia operates in a cafe setup. The Max Brenner’s in New York is more of a restaurant than a cafe, offering more “real” food options.
Again, due to its proximity to Asia, there is a large variety of authentic Asia cuisines in Australia and specifically, Sydney. There are a lot of authentic Thai and Japanese restaurants in Sydney. As an avid lover of both Thai and Japanese cuisines, I really enjoyed the selection here. You can easily find delicious good quality Japanese meals with food prepared by Japanese chefs at affordable prices. In New York, you can only sample authentic Japanese food at high end places. Overall, the food selection in Australia reminds me of the U.S. Since both countries share a similar history of being exploited lands from European colonies, they both embrace a toss salad of cultures.