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The History of Australian Food

Information about the history and traditions of Australian food...

Prior to European colonisation in the 18th century, Aboriginal Australians survived for thousands of years on a hunter-gatherer diet. They were experts at finding food and water in the Australian landscape. This "bush tucker" diet often included emu, kangaroo, moths, lizards and snakes as well as berries, roots and honey. Seafood, which was caught with spears or hooks, was a staple of the Aboriginal diet. The diet and cooking techniques of a particular tribe varied with their location. Despite the hardships of this lifestyle many Aborigines thrived and were healthy and well fed.
The British settlers who arrived following Captain James Cook in 1770 did not adjust easily to the staples of the indigenous diet, much of which they didn't recognise. The scarcity of water was also a shock after its abundance in the United Kingdom. They did find some foods that were familiar: fish, geese, swans and pigeons. The settlers put much effort into developing agriculture to provide a more familiar European diet. Sheep and cattle were introduced throughout the continent and familiar crops were planted. Flour was a staple of the settler's diet and was used to make bread or damper, a dense thick bread.
Familiar game animals such as rabbit and deer were introduced for hunting. The success of some of these introduced species led them to become pests in the eyes of farmers and environmentalists. Rabbit was to become an important food during the Great Depression of the 1930s as it was the only affordable meat for poorer families. In the last twenty years rabbit has lost its reputation as a poor person's food and has gained popularity as a gourmet choice in Australian restaurants.
Modern Australian cuisine has been strongly influenced by the palettes of migrants to the country. The influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East has brought a vast range of new flavours. Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Lebanese, French, African and Greek cuisine have become strong influences on Australian tastes and the major cities have a wide choice of restaurants. Australian chefs are renowned worldwide for their fusion cuisine, combining traditional European cooking with Asian flavours.
In recent years vegetarianism and veganism have gained a wider acceptance in Australian culture, in part because of the importance of vegetables in Asian and Indian cuisine. There has also been a growth in awareness of Kosher and Halal eating practices. In modern Australia traditional bush tucker foods and game meats are novelty or speciality food items. Meat pie, normally filled with steak, is considered a national dish.


Australian Cuisine

Understand how Australian cuisine fits in to the rhythms of the day, and find out about the most popular dishes of the country...

Fish and Seafood
Australia has the third largest fishing zone in the world. The clean waters around the country provide abundant seafood for export and domestic consumption. Fishing and aquaculture, which supplements the main ocean species of salmon, lobster, prawns and tuna, are an important part of the country's agricultural industry.
A legacy of Australia's colonial past is the continuing popularity of British style fish and chips as a take-away food, often eaten on the beach. The fish, generally flake or shark rather than cod, is deep fried in batter and served with chips. Seafood restaurants are common and popular as the vast majority of the population lives near the coast. Sydney is particularly renowned for its seafood restaurants.
Barramundi, which is found in rivers in the north of Australia is a popular catch with sporting anglers and is commonly found in restaurants.
Barbecues
The iconic image of Australian eating is that of a barbecue under sunny skies. Most homes have a barbecue and they can also be found at beaches, in camping and caravan parks and on business sites. The type of food cooked on barbecues has changed with Australian tastes. Traditional choices such as chops or sausages are being replaced with marinated steaks and fresh seafood served with gourmet salads and wine. Barbecues are also becoming increasingly popular as a Christmas meal rather than the traditional British style meal of roast turkey and vegetables.
Australian Mealtimes
Breakfast tends to be light and is typically made up of cereal, toast, or fruit with tea, coffee or juice. In colder regions a cooked breakfast of porridge, or bacon and eggs is common. Vegemite, a brown spread made from yeast extract, is popular on toast.
Dinner is the main meal of the day in Australia. Typical choices include roast meat with vegetables, pasta, pizza, a stir fry or barbecued meat. The meal is usually eaten at home.
Take Away-Food
Australians are one of the world's biggest consumers of fast-food. As in most western countries, take-aways and fast food reflect a wide range of cultures. There are a large number of Chinese, Indian and other Asian restaurants in Australia's major cities offering take-away food. Australian fast food restaurants serve hamburgers, fried chicken, kebabs and fish and chips.
"Sausage sizzles" are stalls selling barbecued sausages and fried onions on white bread with a tomato or barbecue sauce.
Classic Australian Foods
Vegemite is probably the most famous iconic Australian foodstuff. Others include a honeycomb chocolate bar named Violet Crumble; Dim Sim, a dumpling inspired by the popular Chinese dim-sum; vanilla slices and wheat biscuits. Lamingtons are square sponge cakes covered with chocolate icing and desiccated coconut. They were named after Baron Lamington who was Governor of Queensland at the end of the 19th century. Original Lamingtons had strawberry or raspberry jam in the centre but now it is usually whipped cream.
Damper is a traditional Australian bread made without yeast. It was originally cooked over hot coals and often wrapped around a stick before being eaten with honey and tea. Today it is often baked with nuts or dried fruit to enhance the flavour and is popular with butter and jam.
There is much debate between Australia and New Zealand over who created ANZAC biscuits and Pavlova. Anzac biscuits are generally made from rolled oats, golden syrup and desiccated coconut. They were made by women during World War One and named after the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps to whom they were sent.
Pavlova is a dessert named after the Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova. It is a meringue shell topped with whipped cream and fruit. The oldest known recipes for both ANZAC biscuits and Pavlova appear to originate in New Zealand.
The macadamia nut is the only native Australian food to be highly commercialised.

 Drinks in Australia

Find out about the popular drinks of Australia,

"Billy Tea", described in the folk song Waltzing Matilda was a staple Australian drink of the colonial period. It was traditionally prepared by boiling water into a billy, or cooking pot, over a fire with a gum leaf for flavour. The migration of many Europeans since 1945 has led to espresso coffee becoming a more popular drink than tea.
The early settlers brought rum with them and it was soon being produced in the new colonies. In the early years of European settlement rum was a major currency. Beer has also been popular since colonial times with beer being brewed since the late 18th century. In the late 20th century Australian beer, particularly Foster's lager, has become popular around the world.

 Further Information
  • Australian government food and drink webpage: Click here
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