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Australian cuisine refers to the food and cooking practices of Australia and its inhabitants. As a modern nation of large-scale immigration, Australia has a unique blend of culinary contributions and adaptations from various cultures around the world, including Indigenous Australians, Asians, Europeans and Pacific Islanders.
Indigenous Australians have occupied Australia for some 65,000 years, during which they developed a unique hunter-gatherer diet, known as bush tucker, drawn from regional Australian flora and fauna. Australia became a collection of British colonies from 1788 to 1900, during which time culinary tastes were strongly influenced by British and Irish migrants, with agricultural products such as beef cattle, sheep and wheat becoming staples in the local diet. The Australian gold rushes introduced more varied immigrants and cuisines, mainly Chinese, whilst Australia's post-war multicultural immigration program led to a large-scale diversification of local food, particularly under the influence of Mediterranean and East and South Asian Australians.
Australian cuisine in the 21st century reflects the influence of globalisation, with many fast-food restaurants and international trends becoming influential. Organic and biodynamic foods have also become widely available alongside a revival of interest in bushfood. Australia has become famous for the high quality of its exports, with major agricultural industries including cattle and calves, wheat, fruit and nuts, vegetables, milk, sheep and lambs (for meat and wool), poultry, barley, canola. The country is also well regarded for its locally-made wine, beer and soft drinks.
While fast food chains are abundant, Australia's metropolitan areas have famed haute cuisine and nouvelle cuisine establishments that offer both local and international foods. Restaurants whose product includes contemporary adaptations, interpretations or fusions of exotic influences are frequently termed Modern Australian.
Indigenous Australian bush food
Indigenous Australians have lived off the often unique native flora and fauna of the Australian bush for over 60,000 years. In modern times, this collection of foods and customs has become known as bush tucker.
It is understood that up to 5,000 species of Australian flora and fauna were eaten by Indigenous Australians. Hunting of kangaroo, wallaby and emu was common, with other foods widely consumed including bogong moths, witchetty grubs, lizards and snakes. Bush berries, fruits, and nuts were also used, including the now widely cultivated macadamia nut, and wild honeys were also exploited. Fish were caught using technologies such as spears, hooks and traps; in some areas, the construction of complex weir systems allowed the development of forms of aquaculture.
Resource availability and dietary make-up varied from region to region and scientific theories of bush tucker plants being spread by hand have recently emerged. Food preparation techniques also varied, however a common cooking technique was for the carcass to be thrown directly on a campfire to be roasted.
Development of modern Australian cuisine
Following the pre-colonial period, British colonisers began arriving with the First Fleet of ships at Sydney harbour in 1788. The diet consisted of "bread, salted meat and tea with lashings of rum (from the West Indies, but which was later made from the waste cane of the sugar industry in Queensland)." The British found familiar game in Australia including swan, goose, pigeon and fish, but the new settlers often had difficulty adjusting to the prospect of native fauna as a staple diet.
After initial difficulties, Australian agriculture became a major global producer and supplied an abundance of fresh produce for the local market. Stock grazing (mostly sheep and cattle) are prevalent throughout the continent. Queensland and New South Wales became Australia's main beef cattle producers, while dairy cattle farming is found in the southern states, predominantly in Victoria. Wheat and other grain crops are spread fairly evenly throughout the mainland states. Sugar cane is also a major crop in Queensland and New South Wales. Fruit and vegetables are grown throughout Australia and wheat is a main component of the Australian diet. Today there are over 85,681 farm businesses in Australia, 99 percent of which are locally owned and operated.
Billy tea is the drink prepared by the ill-fated swagman in the popular Australian folksong "Waltzing Matilda". Boiling water for tea over a camp fire and adding a gum leaf for flavouring remains an iconic traditional Australian method for preparing tea, which was a staple drink of the Australian colonial period.
The nation also has a longstanding dairy industry (virtually from colonisation) and today produces a wide variety of cheeses, yoghurts, milk, cream, and butter products. Australians are high consumers of dairy products, consuming (on average) some 102.4 L of milk per person a year (due in part to Australia's coffee culture), 12.9 kg of cheese, 3.8 kg of butter (a small reduction from previous year, largely for dietary purposes) and 7.1 kg of yoghurt products.
The chocolate and malt powder Milo, which was developed by Thomas Mayne in Sydney in 1934 in response to the Great Depression, is mixed with milk to produce a popular beverage. In recent years, Milo has been exported and is also commonly consumed in Southeast Asia even becoming a major ingredient in some desserts produced in the region.
The Australian wine Industry is the fifth largest exporter of wine around the world, with 760 million litres a year to a large international export market and contributes $5.5 billion per annum to the nation's economy. Australians consume over 530 million litres annually with a per capita consumption of about 30 litres – 50% white table wine, 35% red table wine. Wine is produced in every state, with more than 60 designated wine regions totalling approximately 160,000 hectares. Australia's wine regions are mainly in the southern, cooler parts of the country, in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia. Amongst the most famous wine districts are the Hunter Region, Margaret River, Yarra Valley, and Barossa Valley and among the best known wine producers are Penfolds, Rosemount Estate, Wynns Coonawarra Estate and Lindeman's. In Australia's tropical regions, wine is produced from exotic fruits such as mango, passion fruit and lychees.
Beer in Australia has been popular since colonial times. James Squire is considered to have founded Australia's first commercial brewery in 1798 and the Cascade Brewery in Hobart, Tasmania, has been operating since the early 19th century. Since the 1970s, Australian beers have become increasingly popular globally – with Fosters lager being an iconic export brand. However, Fosters is not a large seller on the local market, with alternatives such as Victoria Bitter & Carlton Draught outselling the popular export. Craft beer is popular, as well as distinctive products from smaller breweries such as Coopers and Little Creatures.
Australia has a distinct coffee culture. The coffee industry has grown from independent cafés since the early 20th century. The flat white first became popular in Australia, and its invention is claimed by a Sydneysider.
The iconic Greek cafés of Sydney and Melbourne were the first to introduce locally roasted coffees in 1910. In 1952, the first espresso machines began to appear in Australia and a plethora of fine Italian coffee houses were emerging in Melbourne and Sydney. Pelligrini's Espresso Bar and Legend Café often lay claim to being Melbourne's first 'real' espresso bars, opening their doors in 1954 and 1956 respectively. This decade also saw the establishment of one of Australia's most iconic coffee brands, Vittoria, which remains the country's largest coffee maker and distributor. The brand has existed in Australia since 1958, well before it moved to the US.
Although Australians often drink tea at home, it has been found that in out-of-home establishments where tea and coffee are sold together, tea accounted for only 2.5% of total sales. To this day, coffee chains such as Starbucks have very little market share in Australia, with other homegrown franchises such as The Shingle Inn, Gloria Jean's, The Coffee Club, Dôme, Michel's Patisserie and Zarraffas Coffee also contributing to the smaller coffee chain market share. One reason for this is that unlike in the United States and Asia, Australia already had a developed coffee culture for many decades before coffee chains came to the market.
There are many species of Australian native fruits, such as Quandong (native peach), Wattleseed, Muntries / Munthari berry, Illawarra plums, Riberry, Native Raspberries and Lilli pillies. These usually fall under the category of "bush tucker", (bush foods), which are used more commonly in restaurants and used in commercial preserves and pickles but are not generally well known to Australians due to low availability.
Australia also has large fruit growing regions in most states for tropical fruits in the north, stone fruits and temperate fruits in the south which has a mediterranean or temperate climate. The Granny Smith variety of apples first originated in Sydney, Australia in 1868. Another well-known Australian apple variety is the Cripps Pink, known locally and internationally as "Pink Lady" apples, which was first cultivated in 1973.
Fruits cultivated and consumed in Australia include: apples, banana, kiwi fruit, oranges and other citrus, mangoes (seasonally), mandarin, stonefruit, avocado, watermelons, rockmelons, lychees, pears, nectarines, plums, apricots, grapes, melons, papaya (also called pawpaw), pineapple, passionfruit and berries (strawberries, raspberries etc.).
Kangaroo, emu and crocodile meat is available in Australia, although it is not among the most commonly eaten meats. In colonial recipes, kangaroo was treated much like ox tail, and braised until tender forming a rich gravy. It is available today in various cuts and sausages.
Lamb is very popular in Australia, with roasting cuts (legs and shoulders), chops, and shanks being the most common cuts. Lamb will often form part of either a Sunday roast or a barbecue. It is also commonly found as an ingredient in doner kebabs, a dish of Turkish origin that has been popular in Australia since the 1970s. Australia consumes more sheep meat than any other country listed by the OECD-FAO (with Kazakhstan in second place). In 2017, Australians consumed an average of 8.5 kilograms (19 lb) per person. By way of comparison, New Zealanders average 3.2 kilograms (7.1 lb) and Americans just 0.4 kilograms (0.88 lb).
Fish and seafood
Seafood consumption is increasing, but it is less common in the Australian diet than poultry and beef.
The most common species of the aquaculture industry are: salmonids, tuna, edible oysters, pearl oysters and prawns. Other species include: abalone, freshwater finfish (such as barramundi, Murray cod, silver perch), brackish water or marine finfish (such as barramundi, snapper, yellowtail kingfish, mulloway, groupers), mussels, ornamental fish, marine sponges, mud crab and sea cucumber.
While inland river and lake systems are relatively sparse, they nevertheless provide freshwater game fish and crustacea suitable for dining. Fishing and aquaculture constitute Australia's fifth most valuable agricultural industry after wool, beef, wheat and dairy. Approximately 600 varieties of marine and freshwater seafood species are caught and sold in Australia for both local and overseas consumption. European carp, common in the Murray as an invasive species is not considered edible by most Australians despite being common in cuisines across Europe.
Australian cuisine features Australian seafood such as southern bluefin tuna, King George whiting, Moreton Bay bug, mud crab, jewfish, dhufish (Western Australia) and yabby. Australia is one of the largest producers of abalone and rock lobster.
Fish and chips is a take-away food that originated in the United Kingdom and remains popular in Australia. It generally consists of battered deep-fried fish (often flake rather than cod which is more common in the UK) with deep-fried chipped (slab-cut) potatoes. Flathead is also a popular sport and table fish found in all parts of Australia. Barramundi is a fish found in northern Australian river systems.
In the temperate regions of Australia vegetables are traditionally eaten seasonally, especially in regional areas, although in urban areas there is large scale importation of fresh produce sourced from around the world by supermarkets and wholesalers for grocery stores, to meet demands for year-round availability. During Spring: Artichoke, Asparagus, Bean shoots, Beetroot, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cucumber, Leek, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Peas, Rhubarb, and Spinach. During Summer: Capsicum, Cucumber, Eggplant, Squash, Tomato, and Zucchini.
Iconic Australian foods include ANZAC biscuits, lamingtons, Tim Tams, Chiko Rolls, fairy bread and Vegemite, a vitamin-rich, savoury brewers yeast which is spread on toasted bread. Another iconic dish is pavlova but the origins of this meringue-based dessert are contested, with New Zealand also laying claim to its invention.
The Australian hamburger consists of a fried beef patty, served with shredded lettuce and sliced tomato in a (usually toasted) bread roll. Tomato sauce (similar to ketchup but made with less sugar with a more liquid texture) or barbecue sauce are almost always included. Beetroot and fried onions are also common additions, and sometimes sliced pineapple. Other frequently-served hamburger options are bacon, fried egg and cheese. Pickles are rarely included, except in burgers from American chains.
Barbecue sausages are a common food, particularly in the form of the sausage sizzle, which has been described as both a cooking technique and a cultural event. They are served in a slice of white bread optionally with onions and tomato sauce.
Regional iconic foods
As well as national icons there are many regional iconic foods. South Australia has pasties – based on cornish pasties, FruChocs, King George Whiting, and a range of food of German origin including mettwurst, Bienenstich (beesting), streuselkuchen (German cake) and fritz. The state has its own iconic brands such as Farmers Union Iced Coffee, YoYo biscuits, Balfours frog cakes. Jubilee cake is a specialty of South Australia. In Adelaide, a variant on the meat pie is the pie floater, which is a meat pie served in a bowl of pea soup.
Halal Snack Pack, ("HSP", also known in South Australia as an AB) is a Middle-Eastern inspired dish common at kebab shops around Australia. It consists of doner kebab meat served over hot chips and covered in sauces (usually chilli, garlic, and barbecue).
- Australian wine
- Chinese restaurants in Australia
- Culture of Australia
- Modern Australian cuisine
- Bush tucker
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