Redefining traditional cuisine

Australian or Australasian?

18 FEBRUARY 2015,
Brunch at Donovans © Sanctu
Brunch at Donovans © Sanctu

I am proudly Australian and have a big passion for food. So why is it when people ask me the question, “What is Australian cuisine?” I inevitably change the topic and just laugh about eating kangaroo?

Of course we Australians have food that could be defined as “Australian”. Yet, is it too far to say this cuisine has completely changed, if not, been slightly forgotten?

In my 25 years I have never once tried a witchetty grub nor have I had the desire to sample our country’s national animal, instead I feel more Australian based on where I choose to eat as opposed to what. Perhaps this symbolizes a disconnection to my national roots, or maybe I have just been swept up in the new undefinable Australia.

Food Down Under has become a hot topic in recent years, with much debate as to whether it has taken on a whole new meaning. A response to this has been found in an increase in the use of a new word: Australasian. A term used in the attempt to define what we Australian’s are now consuming.

This word, Australasian, pretty much says it all. Australians are eating Asian food. I am not complaining, I love the food we eat at home. But it makes me question, what has happened to Australian cuisine if there is now a new term to describe it? A word that implies a fusion of flavours, strongly emphasizing the Asian over the Austral.

What is it Australian cuisine now representing?

Gone are the days of the humble BBQ. In recent years Australians have changed what they are eating, with many complying with what is now ‘in vogue’ and instead glancing backwards, slightly embarrassed, at the food we were once so proud of.

BBQ in vogue? No, this year it was Korean food. Don’t get me wrong, The BBQ, he still shines, just not in everyone’s backyard.

Globalization in the food world is so subtle, you don’t even realize that it’s happening. In Australia it started slowly and then one day, out of the blue it was as though our neighbouring Asian countries had taken over our food scene. This is not to say we haven’t appreciated it, many of us love the new flavours on our menus, after all, if we weren’t we would still be eating only Australian. People, restaurants and food magazines began to loosely use the term Australasia. Not only an obvious sign of the apparent merge of cultures, but perhaps representative of so much more.

I often wonder if the cuisine of Australia has ever been strong enough to withhold the introduction of other cultures influence, let alone a new word to describe food. I think many of us have spent the time to question what is truly Australian. I don’t know many people who are fishing for crocodile, making damper or throwing shrimps on the barbie. Instead I go to friends’ houses for a dinner of Indian curry, handmade pasta or plate of phad Thai.

This new term seems to purely represent the way Asia has slowing begun changing the ways of the Australian kitchen.

Perhaps this is why we Australian’s are so confused. Everything we thought was ours is apparently belonging to someone else. Australia is losing grip of the treasured BBQ more and more every year, desperately trying to hold on to something that is true to the nation.

Sausage in bread, we couldn’t get much simpler than that, a simple dish (dish is generous) that somehow represents everything from the Australian outback to beach culture to a lazy day at home. In the future this term Australasian, could mean so much more. Instead of setting up the BBQ to share with friends, we will be making an Indian/Asian/French/Italian feast. With this term we have done much more than define our new national cuisine. It seems we just may have blurred the lines between what is authentically Australian and what is not.

On the 26th of January is Australia day. This is a perfect occasion to celebrate anything Australian, from food to music to culture as a whole. It is on this day in particular that many people feel the need to cook something Australian. In Australia, we have many dishes to love, the “old favourites” as we call them. Yet our cuisine as a whole is quite difficult to define.

After living in Italy I have finally come to a conclusion, put simply, in Australia there are no rules. It is not like Italian cuisine where each dish must have an identity; that a recipe can be simply ruined or requires a new name because you added prosciutto instead of pancetta to it. No, Australian cuisine is forever changing and difficult to define.