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Australian cuisine facts for kids

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Meat pie
A typical Australian meat pie with tomato sauce


Australian cuisine is the food and cooking practices of Australia and its inhabitants. As a modern nation of large-scale immigration, Australia has absorbed culinary contributions and adaptations from various cultures around the world, including British, European, Asian and Middle Eastern.

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 post-war immigration programs led to a large-scale diversification of local food, particularly under the influence of migrants from the Mediterranean, East Asia and South Asia.

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 bush tucker. Australia exports many agricultural products, including cattle, sheep, poultry, milk, vegetables, fruit, nuts, wheat, barley and canola. Australia also produces wine, beer and soft drinks.

While fast food chains are abundant, Australia's metropolitan areas have restaurants that offer both local and international foods. Restaurants which include contemporary adaptations, interpretations or fusions of exotic influences are frequently termed Modern Australian.

History

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.

Native food sources were used to supplement the colonists' diet following the arrival of the First Fleet in Botany Bay in 1788.

Fruit and vegetables

Fruit

Granny smith and cross section
A Granny Smith apple

There are many species of Australian native fruits, such as quandong (native peach), wattleseed, muntries / munthari berry, Illawarra plums, riberry, native raspberries, lilli pillies, as well as a range of native citrus species including the Desert Lime and Finger Lime. These usually fall under the category of bush tucker, which is used in some restaurants and in commercial preserves and pickles but not generally well known among Australians due to its 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 originated in Sydney 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, kiwifruit, 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.).

Vegetables

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.

Meat & poultry

Chicken parmiagana
Chicken parmigiana, colloquially known as a chicken "parma" or "parmi", is a popular pub food

Chicken is the most commonly consumed of all meats or poultry by weight, with approximately 47 kg of chicken consumed by the average Australian per year.

Sheep eating grass edit02
Sheep grazing in rural Australia. Early British settlers introduced Western stock and crops

As of July 2018 Australians ate around 25kg of beef per person with beef having a 35% share of fresh meat sales by value, the highest of any fresh meat in 2018-19.

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 gyros and doner kebabs, brought by Greek and Turkish immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s. Australia consumes more lamb and mutton 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).

Lunch at an Australian pub is called a counter lunch, while the term counter meal is used for either lunch or dinner. Common dishes served at counter lunches and counter meals are steak and chips, chicken parmigiana and chips, a mixed grill (an assortment of grilled meats), and roast lamb or beef with roast vegetables.

Game

Kangaroo meat is available as game in Australia, although it is not among the most commonly eaten meats. In colonial-era 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. Kangaroo is however a common commercial dog food in Australia.

Even less commonly eaten forms of game are emu and crocodile.

Fish and seafood

Seafood consumption is increasing, but it is less common in the Australian diet than poultry and beef. Australian cuisine features Australian seafood such as southern bluefin tuna, King George whiting, Moreton Bay bugs, mud crab, jewfish, dhufish (Western Australia) and yabby. Australia is one of the largest producers of abalone and rock lobster.

Fish and Chips Ocean Foods Drummoyne
Typical serving of fish and chips

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 with deep-fried chipped (slab-cut) potatoes. Rather than cod which is more common in the UK, the most popular fish at Australian fish and chips shops, at least in southern Australian states, is flake – a fillet of Gummy shark (Mustelus antarcticus).

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. Bay lobsters, better known in Australia as Moreton Bay bugs are common in seafood restaurants, or may be served with steak as "surf & turf".

The most common species of the aquaculture industry are: salmon, tuna, 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 River as an invasive species, is not considered edible by most Australians despite being common in cuisines across Europe.

Dairy

See also: Agriculture in Australia#Dairy

Ever since the first British settlement of 1788, Australia has had a dairy industry. Today produces a wide variety of milk, cream, butter, cheese and yoghurt products.

Australians are high consumers of dairy products, consuming on average some 102.4 litres (22.5 imp gal; 27.1 US gal) of milk per person a year, 12.9 kilograms (28 lb) of cheese, 3.8 kilograms (8.4 lb) of butter (a small reduction from previous year, largely for dietary purposes) and 7.1 kilograms (16 lb) of yoghurt products.

Beverages

Tea

Tea was the hot beverage most commonly consumed in Australia throughout most of its history from the time of the earliest British settlers, though coffee has become overall more common since the 1990s.

Since the 19th Century, billy tea was a staple drink for those out in the Australian bush, such as those working on the land or travelling overland. Boiling water for tea in a billy over a camp fire and adding a gum leaf for flavouring remains an iconic traditional Australian method for preparing tea. Famously, it was prepared by the ill-fated swagman in the renowned Australian folksong "Waltzing Matilda".

Tea and biscuits or freshly home-baked scones are common for afternoon tea between friends and family.

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.

Coffee

Pellegrini's at night
Pellegrini's Espresso Bar in central Melbourne opened in 1954

Today's 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.

Flat white
The flat white is purported to have originated in a Sydney café in the 1980s.

To this day, international coffee chains such as Starbucks have very little market share in Australia, with Australia's long established independent cafés existing along with homegrown franchises such as The Coffee Club, Michel's Patisserie, Dôme in WA, and Zarraffas Coffee in Queensland. One reason for this is that unlike with the United States and Asia, Australia for many decades had already had an established culture of independent cafés before coffee chains tried to enter the market.

Other hot beverages

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 cold or hot 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.

Alcohol

See also: Alcohol in Australia, Beer in Australia, and Australian wine

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.

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.

In modern times, South Australia has also become renowned for its growing number of premium spirits producers, with the South Australian Spirits industry quickly emerging as a world leader with producers being recognised globally such as gin producers Seppeltsfield Road Distillers, Never Never Distilling, Adelaide Hills Distilling and many more.

Rum served as a currency during the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Australia when metallic currency was in short supply.

Take-away and convenience foods

Milk Bar, Miller Street
A traditional milk bar in the Melbourne suburb of North Fitzroy
Finley Fish Shop
A fish and chip shop, Finley, New South Wales

The traditional places to buy take-away food in Australia has long been at a local milk bar, fish and chip shop, or bakery, though these have met with stiff competition from fast food chains and convenience stores in recent decades.

Iconic Australian take-away food (i.e. fast food) includes meat pies, sausage rolls, pasties, Chiko Rolls, and dim sims. Meat pies, sausage rolls, and pasties are often found at a milk bar and bakeries, where they are kept hot in a pie warmer; meat pies are also a staple at AFL football matches. Chiko rolls, dim sims and other foods needing to be deep fried, are to be found at fish and chip shops.

The Australian hamburgers and steak sandwiches are also found at fish and chip shops. Australian hamburgers consist of a fried beef patty, served with shredded lettuce and sliced tomato in a (usually toasted) round bread roll or bun. Tomato sauce (similar to ketchup but made with less sugar and slightly less viscous) or barbecue sauce are almost always included. Bacon, cheese and fried onions are also common additions, as is a slice of beetroot and/or a fried egg, with other options including sliced pineapple. Pickles are rarely included, except in burgers from American chains. Steak sandwiches come with the same options, but instead of a beef patty they consist of a thin steak and are served in two slices of toast, not buns.

Commonly found at community and fundraising events are sausage sizzle stalls – a stall with a barbecue hot plate on which sausages are cooked. At a sausage sizzle the sausage is served in a slice of white bread, with or without tomato sauce and with the option of adding fried onions, and eaten as a snack or as a light lunch. A sausage sizzle at a polling station on any Australian state or Federal election day has in the 21st Century become known as a Democracy sausage.

The Halal Snack Pack, ("HSP", also known in South Australia as an AB) originated in Australia as a fusion of Middle Eastern and European flavours, common at kebab shops around Australia. It consists of doner kebab meat served over hot chips and covered in sauces (such as chilli, garlic, or barbecue sauce).

Baked goods and desserts

Damper is a traditional Australian soda bread prepared by swagmen, drovers and other travellers. It is a wheat flour based bread, traditionally baked in the coals of a campfire.

Toast is commonly eaten at breakfast. An iconic commercial spread is Vegemite – this is a salty, B vitamin-rich savoury spread made from brewers yeast eaten on buttered toast, commonly at breakfast, or in sandwiches. A common children's treat dating back to the 1920s is fairy bread.

A classic Australian biscuit is the ANZAC biscuit, which are often homemade and so-called as they were sent by families and friends to Australian soldiers fighting in Europe and the Dardanelles in the First World War. A popular commercial brand of biscuit are Arnott's Tim Tams.

A classic Australian cake is the lamington, made from two squares of butter cake or sponge cake coated in an outer layer of chocolate sauce and rolled in desiccated coconut. Another popular cake and dessert dish is the pavlova, a meringue-based dessert, however the origins of this are contested as New Zealand also lays claim to its invention.

The mango pancake, a stable of Yum Cha restaurants in Sydney and elsehwere in Australia, is believed to have originated in Sydney in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Regional foods

Pie floater in Adelaide SA
The famous pie floater of Adelaide

As well as national icons there are many regional iconic foods.

South Australia has 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.

Victoria is famous for its home-grown Melbourne invention, the dim sim. Tasmania has leatherwood honey and abalone. Queensland has Weis Fruit Bar and claims the lamington.

Cities

Brisbane

The cuisine of Brisbane derives from mainstream Australian cuisine, as well as many cuisines of international origin. Major native foods of the Brisbane region and commonly used in local cuisine include; the macadamia, lemon-scented myrtle, Australian finger lime, bunya nut, and Moreton Bay bug. The city's cuisine culture is often described as casual with an emphasis on outdoor dining. Roof-top dining has become an iconic part of the culinary landscape, as well as a large street food scene with food trucks and pop-up bars common. Brisbane also lays claim to several foods including "smashed avo"; although popularized in Sydney in the 1990s, smashed avocado was a common dish in Brisbane and Queensland dating back to the 1920s. Brisbane also claims the Lamington and the Conut.

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