Though once dominated by British culinary tastes, Australian cuisine is now influenced by a variety of Mediterranean and Asian foods introduced by immigrant cultures. Many people living outside of Australia think of native Bush Tucker when they contemplate Australian food, but Southeast Asian, Greek, Lebanese and Italian influences are now more common.
Bush tucker is Australian terminology for the huge variety of herbs, spices, mushrooms, fruits, flowers, vegetables, animals, birds, reptiles and insects that are native to the country.
Some grow wild in the backyards of city homes, others hide their goodness in remote parts of the desert and are difficult to find.
The Aborigines have been eating bush tucker for 50,000 years. It is said that in colonial times the pioneering white settlers who learned about local foods from Aborigines and utilized this knowledge fared much better than others who did not. But to many white people the plants are still a mystery, the grubs look unappetizing, and Aboriginal cooking methods are not understood.
But this is changing. European Australians are developing an interest in products unique to their environment and there is growing interest from world-class chefs seeking "new" tastes and combinations.
Wild Australian fruits make excellent jams, sauces, chutneys and desserts. Nuts are used in pies, sweets and breads. New flavors from the bush are finding their way into ice cream, beverages and as spices.
In restaurants now you can find meat and fish dishes seasoned with ground kurrajong flowers, wattle seed ice cream; lilly pilly berries soaked in honey and served with meat dishes and quandong (wild peach) stewed or in ice cream. Cappuccino is being seasoned with wattle seed and buffalo steaks smoked over banksia cones.
The eating of grubs and insects may not be everyone's cup of tea but to the Aborigines the hoards of flying, squirming creatures which arrive with the changes of season are cause for great celebration. The arrival of the Bogong moth in the mountains of southern New South Wales from November to January used to attract up to 700 people from different tribes.
The grub which is best known, and most tasted by white people, is the witchetty grub. This fat, white grub is the most important insect food of the desert and a much valued staple in the diet of women and children. Men also love witchetty grubs but seldom dig for them. They are eaten raw or rolled in ashes. The taste is likened to almond nuts.
Native animals are not farmed for consumption but there is a growing movement for this to happen. At present kangaroo is caught wild but by law it can be eaten in restaurants only in South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. As with the emu, farmers will be breeding kangaroos, goannas and grubs. Maybe even dugong, turtle and echidna which were once favorite foods of the Aborigine.
Drinks can be made from many native beans and seeds. The blue flowered herb called chicory is a famous coffee substitute. Early colonists coped with dwindling tea stocks by substituting native plants such as Leptospermum, the most commonly used bush tea referred to as "tea tree."
There are hundreds of different kinds of tasty fruits and berries in the bush. They include: quandong, a wild peach which is has a delicate acid flavor which is eaten stewed or in ice cream; the native cherry of New South Wales, different to the European cherry in that it has a stone on the outside, which is sweet and slightly astringent to the palate.
Seeds and Nuts
Grass seeds, pigweed, wattles and mangrove pods are widely eaten. Australia also has a good variety of nuts. The macadamia nut is the only indigenous plant cropped commercially. The nuts can be eaten raw or roasted. They are commonly used in a range of confectioneries and cakes and various products are now being manufactured from the nut. For example, macadamia nut butter and cold-pressed macadamia oil. The bunya nut can also be found in some supermarkets. Edible varieties of beans and peas include Moreton Bay chestnuts and matchbox bean.
Tubers provided the staple diet of Aborigines and various yams, corms, and roots were the major forms of sustenance. Roots and tubers have similar food value to potatoes and carrots. Aborigines knew the smell of chocolate for thousands of years before they encountered the taste. The aroma is carried by the mauve lilies found in South Australia. Other lilies include common fringed and twining fringed lily. Many orchids and their tubers are also eaten.
Leaves of plants were only a minor source for Aborigines. Edible varieties included bruised leaves of fishweed and different saltbushes that can be boiled like spinach. Leaves of cresses can be cooked as cabbage, the buds and flowers steamed as broccoli and the seeds ground as mustard.
Kangaroos, possums, lizards, fish and shellfish were staple foods for the Aborigines. Small animals such as dragon lizards, grasshoppers and even hairy caterpillars were also eaten. Delicacies included whale and seal meat.
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This page modified January 2007
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