Our national dish: a big pile of meat
Much discussion has been had recently – mostly media engineered discussion to coincide with Australia Day and the launch of News Ltd’s new nationally syndicated Taste section – on the subject of Australia’s national dish.
In years past dinner meant a slab of charcoaled fatty steak and three kinds of over-microwaved veg. Food was once the subject of much inattention and is now our newest obsessive interest. However, no one is sure exactly what Australia’s national dish is – or if we even have one – and there has been an awful lot of to-ing and fro-ing about it.
Traditionally lacking in a food culture to call our own that doesn’t involve a well-done steak (and with the majority of the Australian population having little knowledge of indigenous eating habits beyond the witchetty grub) generations of immigrants to our shores have introduced stir-fries, pastas, curries and many more culinary masterpieces that make up the wonderful multicultural cuisines eaten across Australia.
Salt and pepper squid should have been a serious contender, according to Masterchef runner up culinary prodigy Poh Ling Yeow. Other past celebrity suggestions included Pavlova, lamingtons, spaghetti bolognese and prawns.
News Ltd put it to the vote earlier this year and roast lamb came out on top as Australia’s national dish after almost 24,000 votes, very closely followed by the meat pie then the barbequed sausage in bread, with salt and pepper squid hardly rating a mention. Meat was the clear winner here (surely to the delight of Meat and Livestock Australia), and we should all be proud that our national dish also doubles as an entire food group.
I always thought that the national dish of a country (or region) wouldn’t be something decided by popular vote (which is proving itself a useless way to decide anything – I’m looking at you Cheesybite), but would be a reflection on our actual eating habits. If the top three dishes in this survey are consumed at a level of excess, Australia can look forward to a healthy does of heart disease and high cholesterol caused by a diet rich in saturated fats and whatever else is in a meat pie or the humble snag (but don’t take my word for it, I’m not a doctor or a scientist).
Why do we so desperately need a national dish to cement our identity as Australians? Considering the best we can manage is a roast or a snag in bread, perhaps we shouldn’t be so desperate to have one. Not all national dishes are worth writing home about. Ireland for example, is still sporting the national dish of the potato after hundreds of years, although I am sure they are very proud. Russia on the other hand is still championing the liquid lunch with a national dish of Vodka mopped up with blini.
Our top three national dishes of meat must delight the vegans and vegetarians in the nation. While statistics surrounding the number of vegetarians in Australia are vague, a national dish with one main ingredient – meat – surely isn’t a true representation of the socially inclusive and supportive community we live in. Or perhaps vegetarians should just stick to Vegemite on toast for their edible patriotism.
I too am just as patriotic as the next person. I just don’t think eating lamb makes me more Australian, anymore than eating Yum Cha makes me less Australian. And no, I am not a vegetarian.
Judging from the News Ltd survey results, Australia’s top three choices for our national dish fill a certain criteria – in that they can all be eaten with one hand. Although considering our rapidly ageing population, with nearly 25 per cent of our nation to be aged over 65 by 2050, we may eventually have to claim stewed apple as our national dish as most of us probably won’t be able to chew solid foods or stand up by 2070.
If we MUST have a national dish to stamp a sense of identity onto our gawky teenage country, why don’t we make it a national cooking method instead? My vote goes for barbeque, as a noun and a verb. You can put anything on it: lamb, fish, veggies, even Tandoori chicken if you fancy. The barbeque represents what it means to be Australian with a steady mix of good mates, good food and a good dose of burnt chop while incorporating the wonderful international cuisines that have contributed to making food in Australia what it is today.
We could even re-name Australia Day “Barbeque Day” and have it sponsored by Weber. And what’s more Aussie than that?
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