For a truly Australian dish, first insert tinnie in bum
The signature dish at the Prairie Hotel , in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, is its Road Kill Grill ($30), a mix of kangaroo and emu fillet on mash, with a camel sausage tossed in for good measure.
I can recommend the kangaroo tail soup too.
Reflecting on what it means to be Australian inevitably leads to a debate about our national dish. The Daily Telegraph asked the question on Australia Day, with Masterchef’s Poh Ling Yeow telling the Tele salt-and-pepper squid has taken over from fish and chips as our top tucker. It follows on from a major survey in The Sunday Telegraph where people said Australia’s national dish is the meat pie (37 per cent), followed by roast lamb (28 per cent), lamingtons (12 per cent) and pavlova (11 per cent).
A pie? Gee, a lot of those surveyed must also go to the footy. Tucking into a rat coffin suggests Australians are adventurous eaters, since the contents of most pies are the leftover bits even a sausage rejects.
The only reason you’d pick a pav is to annoy New Zealanders, who think they invented it. As for roast lamb. C’mon, as a tennis player now watching the Australian Open on telly with the rest of us, would say. Sam Kekovich is a genius.
He’s making us eat like Poms and pretending it’s Australian. We’ve gone from riding on the sheep’s back to chewing on it.
Looking at a typical café menu, maybe Poh has a point. But if we are what we eat, then a study released by Meat and Livestock Australia, titled “Last Night’s Dinner”, says we’re half Italian, a little bit Asian, and love roasts. MLA surveyed 1421 people in May 2009. A staggering 73 per cent cook steak and veg at least once a week, followed by lamb chops (49 per cent), roast lamb (47 per cent), then spaghetti bolognaise (38%). About a third knock up a chicken stir fry weekly.
So what do you reckon are truly Australian dishes? Most of our food isn’t original, especially the meat pie. We’re cooking the hand-me-downs of the people who’ve made this country their home. But that’s the best thing about our food. We nick ideas from around the globe and shape them in our own image. Luckily, we have some of the freshest and certainly the most diverse range of ingredients you’ll find anywhere in the world.
Our most famous chef, Tetsuya, uses French and Japanese influences to create dishes that are distinctly Australian. South Australian chef Cheong Liew’s Chinese-Malaysian background helped change the face of Australian restaurants over three decades. I tried a duck and abalone dish by Cheong last week. An imagination like that flourishes best in Australia.
Masterchef’s Matt Preston says the barbecue is the way Australians express their culture – a bit like the Chinese with a wok.
If we’re going to have a National Dish, it has to say something about who we are.
It should have a sense of humour, stick it up authority, reflect our multicultural heritage and you need to be able to cook it with a beer or glass of wine in one hand.
My nomination goes to up-the-duff chicken. Say what? Open a tin of beer, shove it up the chook’s date, then stand it upright on the BBQ. Food writer Matthew Evans has a recipe here .
Some people bang on about eating the wildlife, but for the most part, I wouldn’t bother. The exception is the Sydney rock oyster, the finest bivalve in the world.
Skippy’s a bit too fiddly. Overcook it and it’s a tough as doing PR for Osama Bin Laden. That said, I’ve tried kangaroo and vegemite stir-fry by Hong Kong chef Alvin Leung and it’s surprisingly good.
Emu exists only to make turkey appear moist and soft and the only reason you’d eat crocodile is to beat it to the punch. If circumstance conspires to deliver me to a croc’s jaws, then I hope I’m as tough, rubbery and flavourless as my nemesis.
Meanwhile the humble prawn cocktail withstood the test of time to become an iconic Australian dish. It’s enjoyed a revival in recent years, seasoned liberally with retro chic at restaurants such as Neil Perry’s Rockpool Bar and Grill. If you’re looking for proof that God is Australian, then surely it took Divine Intervention to figure out a way to legally get tomato sauce on seafood. And forget micro-leaves and fancy lettuce, a good crisp iceberg still does the job like a Crownie on a 40°C day.
But there are no prawns inland. Perhaps we could tuck into feral animals.
The goat curry and rabbit pie at the Prairie Hotel are my favourites. Between Nyngan and Broken Hill on the Barrier Highway, you’ll see so many feral goats that every Aussie could take one home for dinner and come back for second helpings the next day. And just as I was about to say, if only I had a recipe for cane toad, would you believe this story about a Queensland bloke who wants to serve them up to the Chinese popped up.
I’m thinking toad spread between two Weet-Bix, rolled in chocolate and sprinkled with coconut. Imagine picking up a gift box of six at the airport to take home to relatives. What’s more Australian?
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