20 January 2020 by Emily Newton-Smith
From fresh calamari to love-it-or-hate-it Vegemite, Australia certainly has some unique culinary offerings. Of course, the best way to experience Australia's gastronomic delights is in person – perhaps on a food and wine tour of Tasmania, a gourmet getaway to the Margaret River, or a luxury train journey followed by a stay in the Barossa Valley. Along the way, there's plenty of opportunities to sample some classic Aussie grub. And, to get you in the mood, here's our top ten list of some of Australia's finest foods – just in time for Australia Day.
Barramundi means "large-scaled river fish" in native Aboriginal, and it features in restaurants all over the country. It's not necessarily a classic chip-shop fish though – it's often pan-fried or seared and served in fine dining establishments. Australia's Northern Territory is famous for wild barramundi, in season between March and November, and Central Queensland is also considered barramundi heartland. It's quite the Aussie experience to fish your own barra on the coast and head inland to cook it – many hotels and tour operators offer it as part of your holiday.
Vegemite – some people love it, a lot of people hate it, but it's undeniably Australian. If you've really never heard of it, it's basically Marmite for Aussies, a thick, dark brown spread made from leftover brewers' yeast extract and spices., and just as divisive. Just like peanut butter and jelly is a childhood staple in the United States, a Vegemite sandwich is a lunchbox must for an Australian kid. Although it's not gourmet, you'll often see upscale dishes inspired by the spread, including Vegemite curry and one cafe's "deconstructed" Vegemite on Toast.
Lamingtons are the perfect afternoon tea accompaniment, consisting of light sponge cake filled with jam and wrapped in chocolate and shredded coconut. The story goes that Lord Lamington, the governor of Queensland in 1901, employed a maid who accidentally dropped a sponge cake into some melted chocolate. Rather than waste it, Lord Lamington suggested covering it in coconut and the lamington was born. There's evidence to the contrary however – New Zealand scholars now claim that he stole the concept on a visit to Wellington in the 1890s. Origins aside, this remains an Aussie bakery stalwart.
Although it might seem strange to us in the UK, crocodile meat is a delicacy in Australia. It is surprisingly low in fat and high in protein, and since it's cooked in the same way as lean pork or chicken, it can be incorporated into a number of classic dishes. In the north of the country, especially the Northern Territory, crocodiles are everywhere, so it's quite common for people to cook it at home. And, particularly in the tourist hotspots, you can buy packs of crocodile jerky.
You can't go past the classic Aussie BBQ on a list of iconic foods, and it's true that barbecuing is a national pastime. From throwing some shrimps on the barbie to grilling a few "snags", it's ingrained in Australian culture. Outdoor barbecue stations are everywhere, from city gardens to national parks, and the menu includes everything from sausages to seafood, accompanied with copious amounts of tomato sauce – not to be confused with ketchup (yes, there's a difference). And, as a tourist, a cookout on an Australian beach is a rite of passage.
6. Anzac Biscuits
Anzac biscuits are so-called because of their connection to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) in World War I. Their hardy ingredients supposedly made them well-suited for transportation to the soldiers on the front line, sent there by wives and women's groups – although it's more likely they were baked and sold at fundraisers back home. Regardless, around Anzac Day each year, a day of remembrance observed in Australia and New Zealand, Anzac biscuits can be found everywhere. And, these buttery, oaty cookies are simply delicious.
7. Tim Tams
Tim Tams – not to be confused with wonderful Wexas travel specialist Tim Tan – are Australia's version of a Penguin (the biscuit, not the animal). Made by long-running Australian company Arnott's, a Tim Tam consists of two malted biscuits, separated by chocolate cream and coated in more chocolate. There are often limited edition flavours available, including red velvet, choc orange and peanut butter. If you're not a chocolate fan, these aren't for you, but Australians eat almost 50 million packets per year – they're enduringly popular.
While eating kangaroo would be unthinkable in the UK, estimates suggest there are more kangaroos in Australian than people, and they are farmed from their natural environment – unlike cows or sheep. Many Aussies consider consuming kangaroo meat more humane than eating more intensively farmed animals. Whether you're for or against it, kangaroo burgers and steaks are common across Australia, and, because it is exceptionally lean, organic, and very high in iron, is one of the healthiest red meats available.
Calamari, which refers to certain species of squid, has in recent years experienced a boom in Australia. Almost every restaurant now serves calamari – usually lightly fried and seasoned – as a starter or main course. Accompanied with aioli and a glass of white wine, it's a perfect lunchtime dish, and since worldwide, squid numbers seems to be increasing due to over-fishing of their predators, they're potentially a more sustainable choice.
10. Witchetty Grubs
Perhaps the most authentic Aussie delicacy of all – the witchetty grub. These nutty-flavored critters have been consumed by indigenous Australians for thousands of years. For travellers who want to immerse themselves in all things outback, dining on a bit of bush tucker – in the form of these raw grubs – is essential. However, the average Australian isn't chowing down on these every day.
As you'll have seen in the news, the bushfires currently affecting Australia have taken a devastating toll, not only on the lives and homes of local people but also the country’s wildlife. Current estimates suggest over 1 billion animals have lost their lives. The Wexas Travel Foundation is therefore raising funds for WIRES – the Australian Wildlife Rescue Organisation, based in New South Wales. You can donate here.
It is important to note that much of Australia remains unaffected by the fires, and Tourism Australia has created this resource for prospective travellers. The best way to support Australia's recovery is to continue to travel to the country – our travel specialists are, as always, ready to help with extensive knowledge of your destination. So, if you'd like to taste Australia's iconic foods in person, there's everything from luxury rail journeys to dedicated food and wine experiences to immerse you in the land down under. Simply get in touch here.