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Hungry Magazine - All Things Tasty
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07.09.07

Waltzing Australia

Recipes, Travel


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If Americans think about the food of Australia at all, it probably doesn’t go much beyond Paul Hogan’s famous, “We’ll throw another shrimp on the barbie.” Well, they certainly have plenty of shrimp (or prawns as they are more likely to say down there) and even more barbies, but the country and its cuisine go far beyond that. Of course, there are the fabulous people, the fascinating scenery, the weird and wonderful wildlife, the glorious beaches and sophisticated cities—and those are all great reasons to go to Australia. However, I hope to convince that Australia is also a great dining destination.

First of all, it’s an island, with 80 percent of the population living within an hour of the ocean, so fresh seafood is abundant. Dine on barramundi from Queensland to Darwin, John Dory in Sydney, or whiting in the south. Sample Sydney’s splendid oysters. Indulge in succulent scallops in Perth or Adelaide. Check out the “bugs”—Balmain bugs or Moreton Bay bugs—sweet, flavorful, indigenous crustaceans that taste like a cross between crab and lobster. Look for crayfish on the menu—these are what we call rock lobsters, and they are particularly abundant in the southern states. (Crayfish are unrelated to crawfish. The Aussie crustacean most like a crawfish, or crawdaddy, is the yabbie, a freshwater creature that is larger than its American counterpart—and is also worth trying.) Prawns are varied and succulent, and some are massive, particularly in Queensland. And don’t forget the crabs. If you only get to Sydney, Doyle’s on the Beach is the place to go to sample the widest possible selection of seafood.

Second, much of Australia is in the tropics, so there is a wide array of gloriously exotic fruit available, from mangoes to custard apples to pawpaws. The macadamia nut, also known as the Queensland nut, is indigenous, so they’re not nearly as expensive as they are here in the states. The farmers’ markets are a delight—and if you get to Melbourne, check out the Queen Victoria Market, a 100-year-old outdoor market that covers 16 acres. And Adelaide’s Central Market is a treat, too. In fact, all the major cities have markets that will delight you.

Third, Australia is a world-class wine-producing country. There are numerous dinky-di Aussie wineries, many of them international award winners, but most of the world’s top outfits have vineyards here, as well. The Chandon vineyard outside Melbourne, for example, is a delightful spot to stop for a bit of bubbly and to enjoy the view of vineyards and bordering mountains. However, if you can only visit one wine region, the Hunter Valley outside Sydney is recommended. If you can take in more than one, South Australia has a number of wineries worth a visit, as well. And then there’s the rum and the beer—you can check out the importance of rum by visiting the rum history I did a while back, and as for the beer, every state has at least a few brands, and brewery tours are often available. (Me, I prefer cider to beer, and Australia is where I got hooked on Strongbow.)

On top of that, you have a substantial immigrant population. There was a huge influx from Europe after World War II. (Huge enough that, for example, Melbourne has the third largest Greek-speaking community in the world, after Athens and Thessalonica.) And Australia is in Asia’s backyard. Even 20 years ago, you could get octopus or hot goat curry from food vendors in shopping malls. It’s where I had my first Vietnamese food and Cambodian food, and while I’d first sampled Indonesian food in Amsterdam, I became truly familiar with it in Australia.

Throw in a few ambitious, imaginative, cutting-edge chefs, and you have the makings of a diners’ paradise.

There are a few things that might strike you as strange. Pumpkin is served as a vegetable at many meals. (I love squash, so I was in heaven.) Pub grub often offers roast lamb at lunch, which is not usual for Yanks but is certainly not a bad thing. The candy bars are almost all different from ours. For ice cream, you go to a “dairy bar.” And you can get champagne and orange juice in pop-top cans—again, not a bad thing. But that just adds a touch of the joy of exploration to the trip. (You don’t want it to all be familiar, do you?)

I’ve been to Australia four times now. The first time was for six months, and I covered almost 20,000 miles. The return trips were for one month each. But don’t worry, even if you can’t get away long term, it’s still a worthwhile destination (though the flight over means you don’t want to consider it for a long weekend).

If you wonder what I did during that first six-month sojourn, you’re in luck. As you may have noticed, I like to write, and I’ve produced a book about that initial adventure— Waltzing Australia. Yes, I’d also like to suggest that you visit Australia, but even if you don’t think you’ll ever go, I’d love to have you buy my book and read about my adventures during a trip that ranged from swimming with the crocodiles and riding horseback across the mountains to prowling through museums and searching out great food.

Come wander with me through rain forests and convict ruins, art galleries and rock formations, seal colonies and farmers markets. Go to my blog first Waltzing Australia to look at photos (first books don’t get color photos in them), read excerpts, and learn about further adventures—and then from there, go to Amazon.com and buy my book.

And to give you something to munch while you’re reading the book, here is a recipe for ANZAC biscuits, an authentic Aussie treat that could easily become a major addiction.

(By the way, ANZAC is an acronym for Australia New Zealand Army Corps. If you saw the movies “Gallipoli,” you know who these guys are. The corps served with distinction in World War I but ceased to exist when Australia and New Zealand were no longer lumped together by the British as a single entity. There are several stories about the origin of these cookies [which the Aussies, like the Brits, call “biscuits”]. Some claim that a group of women created them for care packages for soldiers, another story suggests that they were making a dish that didn’t use eggs, which were dried and sent to soldiers over seas. Whatever the real story is, there is no doubt that their purpose was to honor the brave ANZAC soldiers of World War I.)

One note regarding measurements: I got this recipe in Australia, which means that it used a mix of British Imperial measure and European metric. I’ve translated it into American standard measure, but thought you’d wonder why some measures are a little inexact. For example, one cup Imperial is 10 ounces, while in American a cup is 8 ounces, and tablespoons are the tiniest bit bigger in Imperial measure. However, being off one way or the other by a couple of shreds of coconut or drops of golden syrup won’t really make a difference.

Anyway, these are among the most delicious cookies on earth. Enjoy.

Anzac Biscuits

1-1/4 cups rolled oats
1-1/4 cups plain flour
1-1/4 cups brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup shredded coconut (or a pinch less)
one stick butter (125 grams, to be exact, so a smidge more than one stick, really)
2 slightly overflowing Tbs. Lyle’s Golden Syrup (available in the baking section of most stores)
1 tsp. baking soda
3 Tbs. boiling water

Method:

Combine oats, flour, sugar, and coconut, blending thoroughly. In a small saucepan, combine butter with golden syrup, melt over low heat, and remove from heat. Add baking soda to the boiling water, then add this to the butter/syrup mixture. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the liquid. Mix thoroughly.

Drop mixture by the tablespoonful on to a greased cookie sheet, approximately 3 inches apart, to allow for spreading. Bake at 300-310 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 17 minutes. Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then remove to wire rack to cool completely. Makes approximately 36 cookies.

One Comment on "Waltzing Australia"

Queen Victoria Market « Waltzing Australia

[...] Victoria Market Jump to Comments I have both written and spoken, here and elsewhere, about dining in Australia, so if you’ve been following me for [...]



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