Perhaps you’ve started your day with Vegemite-smeared Weet-Bix then downed a Chiko Roll for lunch followed by a pav for dessert?
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then read on. While Australia has no shortage of incredible, world-class food, it’s also home to some truly unique and sometimes questionable “tucker” (that’s Aussie for food, by the way).
Here are 10 iconic Australian foods you should try if you’re ever Down Under.
When former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard offered a taste of Australia’s favorite spread to Barack Obama in 2011, his reaction was fairly standard for a foreigner: “Horrible”. It might be pretty gross, but this is as Australian as food gets. Vegemite is a thick, dark paste made from yeast extract, various vegetables and spice additives. Although it looks like Britain’s Marmite, Vegemite is much saltier than its UK cousin. The most popular way to eat Vegemite is on bread or toast with butter, and the trick is to spread it thinly – this salty, bitter spread is not like Nutella. The spread lives in just about every Australian’s cupboard, adorning toast and disgusting foreigners for years.
“Aussie kids are Weet-Bix kids”, or so says the brand’s famous advertising jingle which has been pervading Aussie homes for decades. This high-fiber breakfast biscuit has been an Australian food favorite since 1930. Made from whole-grain wheat, it is sweeter and smaller than Weetabix found in the UK or the US. Weet-Bix is eaten with hot or cold milk, a spoonful or two of sugar and fruit like bananas and strawberries. You can also spread butter and Vegemite on Weet-Bix.
3. Sausage Sanger
Australians and barbecues go together like Americans and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And at the core of any good Aussie “barbie” are “snags” (sausages). On the weekends, it’s common to find a “sausage sizzle” happening outside your local hardware store. These sausage sizzles are usually part of fundraising efforts for schools and other community organizations. You can buy a “sausage sanger” – a sausage slapped on usually one piece of bread with some fried onions on top and smothered in your favorite sauce – for a few dollars.
4. Chiko Roll
Inspired by Chinese spring rolls, this Australian food icon is a deep-fried snack containing cabbage, celery, carrot, beans, onion and spices stuffed into a tube of batter. Despite its name, the Chiko Roll contains no chicken. The snack is usually eaten on the go and can be found in your local fish and chip takeaway among other deep-fried delights. Part of the Chiko Roll’s popularity comes down to marketing. Chiko has used sexy women to market the brand since 1965, most memorably with scantily clad biker babes gripping the roll suggestively.
5. Chicken Parmigiana
The Italians may have invented the parmigiana, but it was the Aussies who transformed the dish into a true pub classic known as the “chicken parmi”. The meal has evolved from an Italian eggplant dish into a chicken schnitzel topped with tomato sauce and melted cheese, served with fries and a side salad. You can get your parmi in plenty of versions including camembert, pesto, ham, prosciutto, pineapple and tandoori. In Melbourne in particular, plenty of pubs offer a “parma night” which usually includes a beer or house wine.
Aussies and New Zealanders have been arguing over who invented the pavlova for years, but regardless of its origin, this meringue-based cake topped with whipped cream and fruit is delicious. Also known as a “pav”, pavlovas can be found in bakeries and cake shops. You can also buy the meringue shells from supermarkets and fill the cake in yourself with cream and fresh fruit like strawberries, kiwi and mango. Both Australia and New Zealand claim to have invented the pav in honor of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova after she visited the region in the 1920s.
7. Meat Pies
What do you call a seven-course meal in Australia? A pie and a six-pack of beer. Or so the joke goes. Aussies have a strong love affair with the meat pie, which is basically a hand-sized pastry filled with minced meat and gravy, usually smothered in tomato sauce (ketchup). But they’ve also gone gourmet, and you can find them with fancy fillings including mushrooms, seafood, chicken, crocodile, curry chicken and much more. Meat pies are a popular snack and can be found in bakeries, supermarkets, service stations and corner shops as well as sporting events.
Yes, it’s true, Australians eat their national emblem. Although kangaroos are a protected species, they are overpopulated in some areas and regarded as pests. Kangaroo has become a common meat which can be found on supermarket shelves and menus, with the meat harvested from wild populations. Harvesting is regulated in each state by the relevant authority, and management plans have to get the green light from the federal government. Kangaroo is a healthy, lean, red meat which can be eaten as steaks, burgers, sausages and more. Despite kangaroo meat’s growing popularity, surveys have found just over half of Australians have tried it, and many object to eating it.
9. Tim Tams
This much-adored biscuit (or “bikkie” for Australians) is made up of two chocolate biscuits packed with chocolate cream and then covered in even more chocolate. The Tim Tam appeared on Australian shelves in the 1960s and has been popular ever since. They now come in a range of fancy flavors like salted caramel, coconut cream and choc raspberry. The best way to eat these little bites of magic is to chew off the opposite corners, dunk it in your coffee or tea and suck your drink through the Tim Tam. This is known as the “Tim Tam Slam”. Don’t forget to eat your biscuit before it gets too soggy and ends up a disintegrated mess in your drink.
In one of Australia’s most memorable tourism campaigns in the 80s and 90s, Aussie actor Paul Hogan told Americans he’d “slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you”. Being a massive island, Australia is blessed with beautiful seafood including sweet, succulent shrimp, which Australians actually call prawns. Whether you like your prawns au natural with a simple squeeze of lemon, marinated and barbecued on a skewer, or as part of a prawn cocktail in a glass (a dish made with mayonnaise and tomato dressing that was a huge hit in the 70s), prawns are another wonder of Australian food.