One of the joys of travel is tasting the cuisine of a new land, and Australian food offers a cornucopia of superb ingredients deftly handled by a foodie community that is passionate about quality and flavour. Here are six unique Australian flavours, and the best places to sample them, all located in inner Sydney.
Fresh, local seafood is one of the defining pleasures of Australian dining. With its big open windows overlooking the beach, North Bondi Fish is an exceptional spot to try some local specialities just a few steps from the sand. There’s small plates like soft-shell crab sliders, grilled Tasmanian scallops, rock oysters and whiting tacos, as well as beer-battered flathead and chips, and whole baby hiramasa kingfish. For a unique Aussie flavour try the XO Moreton Bay bug, served with zucchini, garlic chive noodles, bacon dashi and shiso. Bugs are curious creatures, a bit like small lobsters with a shovel shape and a sweet, rich flavour.
First things first: Aboriginal communities have been enjoying the unique produce of the Sydney region for millennia, and in recent years more and more bush-tucker flavours have found their way onto the city’s menus. Learn all about it at the Royal Botanic Garden on Wednesday, Friday or Saturday, when Aboriginal guides lead group heritage tours incorporating cultural education and taste-testing of bush tucker (adult/child under 8 $40/free). Or visit Biri Biri Aboriginal Cafe at 137 Redfern St, Redfern, where Aboriginal elder Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo trains Indigenous people in the foodie biz, drawing on a repertoire of recipes such as ‘bushetta’, with native tomatoes and outback spices, or paperbark-smoked salmon with aniseed myrtle arancini.
For many people this is the must-try meat on a trip to Australia. Kangaroo is lean, juicy and strong-flavoured, and, unlike touristy fare such as emu or crocodile, locals really do eat it. In fact they love it. You’ll find it all over town, from pub grills to fine-dining institutions, and in the meat section of most supermarkets. If you’re invited to a barbie, take a roo steak (soy sauce and honey makes a great marinade), or step out to see what the chefs are doing with it. For roo with a view, head to architecturally daring Barangaroo House, opened in December 2017 and led by ex-Noma chef Cory Campbell, where they serve it with munthari (a native berry) and blueberry ($38). Or try the kangaroo burger at Moo Gourmet Burgers in Bondi, Coogee, Newtown or Manly ($16.95) where it’s served with sage, garlic, caramelised onions, tomato, rocket, mayo and (like all great Aussie burgers) beetroot.
Classic sausage sizzle
If you are in town during an election, stop by a primary school for a ‘democracy sausage’ – sold by P&Cs who set up fund-raising barbecues outside school halls, which are used as polling booths. You’ll get a white roll, a greasy sausage, some tomato sauce and, if you’re lucky, some burnt onion. And you’ll be participating in a great Aussie culinary tradition. If there’s no election on, the same fund-raising favourite is served up by community groups outside Bunnings hardware stores every Saturday and Sunday. Netball clubs, bush regeneration groups, churches and childcare centres alike raise funds by sizzling sausages for weekend shoppers – try the branches in Alexandria (8/40 Euston Rd) or Randwick (cnr Clovelly Rd & Kemmis St). They usually cost about $2.50. Enjoy.
Mod Oz cuisine has been heavily influenced by the culturally diverse communities that call Australia home. The 2016 Census revealed that 49% of Australians are first- or second-generation migrants and the local palette has stretched in marvellous ways to create flavour fusions that are unique. Sydney’s hubs of multicultural dining tend to be in particular precincts (such as Harris Park for Indian and Pakistani food, Marrickville or Cabramatta for Vietnamese) but if you want to try some exciting fusions, step into Billy Kwong in Potts Point where the Australian-Chinese menu celebrates the ‘sweet, sour, salty, oceanic, peppery, tart, citrusy, bitter, floral and woody notes of Australian native ingredients’. The changing menu includes the likes of dumplings with warrigal greens (a native vegetable), saltbush cakes and the famous red-braised caramelised wallaby tail with black bean and chilli.
Smashed avocado on toast
In late 2016, this simple dish caused quite a stir. An Australian columnist linked the difficulty faced by millennials in entering Australia’s tough real-estate market with their desire to dine out on 'smashed avo toast' instead of saving for a deposit. Since then, the cafe staple has become something of an ironic food trend in Sydney, where housing is the second most unaffordable in the world. Want to set back your savings? Our picks are the avocado toast with fire-roasted capsicum hummus, chargrilled corn, grape tomato, jalapeño, Meredith chilli chèvre and seasonal leaves at Two Chaps in Marrickville, or the smashed avocado, artichoke hearts and heirloom tomatoes with spicy coriander and za’atar at Israeli-European Shenkin in Surry Hills, Randwick, Newton, Enmore, Balmain or Erskineville.