Historically, Australian cuisine was based on traditional British cooking brought to the country by the first settlers. This generally consisted of pies, roasted cuts of meat, grilled steak and chops, and other forms of meat generally accompanied by vegetables (the combination known colloquially as meat and three veg).
These origins have been mostly overtaken by the growing multicultural emphasis of Australian culture over the last forty to fifty years, with Australian cuisine now influenced by a variety of Mediterranean and Asian foods originally introduced by immigrants. Indeed, restaurants whose cuisine tends to demonstrate contemporary adaptations, interpretations or fusions of these multicultural culinary influences are frequently labeled with the umbrella term Modern Australian. British traditions still persist to varying degrees including in the takeaway food sector, with pies and fish and chips remaining popular.
A native Australian cuisine movement has also emerged, evolving out of the Australian themed restaurants of the mid-1980s. The discovery of the spice-like qualities of many native Australian plant ingredients formed the basis of a gourmet cuisine. This contrasted with the Bush tucker or foraged food unfamiliar to gourmets.
Modern Australian cuisine has been heavily influenced by its Asian and South-East Asian neighbors, particularly Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese, and by the many waves of immigrants from there, and all parts of the world. Similarly, Mediterranean influences from Greek, Lebanese, Moroccan and Italian cuisines are very common with many of these influences arriving in Australia during the 1950s and 1960s. Fresh produce is readily available and thus used extensively, and the trend (urged by long-term government health initiatives) is towards low-salt, low-fat healthy cookery incorporating lean meat and lightly cooked, colourful, steamed or stir-fried vegetables.
Australia’s wide variety of seafood is also popular and barbecues are common at weekend family gatherings. Barbecues are also common in fund raising for schools and local communities, where sausages and onion are served on white bread with tomato sauce. These are most often referred to as Sausage Sizzles.
Some English trends are still evident in the domestic cooking of many Australians of Anglo-Celtic descent. Among these is the widespread tradition of having roast turkey, chicken and ham with trimmings followed by a plum pudding for Christmas lunch or dinner, despite the fact that Christmas is at the height of the Southern Hemisphere summer.
The typical breakfast of Australians strongly resembles breakfast in many Western countries. Owing to the warm weather in some parts of Australia, generally breakfast is light but in the colder regions porridge or meals similar to the full English breakfast may be consumed. The light breakfast commonly consists of, cereals, toast (with a spread) and fruit. A heavier cooked breakfast will frequently include, fried bacon, egg, mushroom, baked beans, sausages, tomatoes, toast with spread. Drinks taken at breakfast include, tea, coffee, flavored milk or juice.
A popular breakfast food in Australia is Vegemite, a black salty spread similar to Marmite, applied to toast or bread.
The evening meal is the main meal of the day for most Australians, and when consumed at home, is often eaten with members of the immediate family or household. The dishes served will vary widely according to the tastes and/or background of the family. Common choices would be roast meat and vegetables; pasta; pizza; casseroles; barbecue meat; vegetables and salads, soup, stir-fries.
A typical ‘Australian’ cafe or restaurant (not adhering to any particular ethnic cuisine) might offer sandwiches and foccacias; a range of pasta, risotto, salad or curry dishes; steak, chicken or other meat-based dishes; cakes or other desserts; and juices, soft drink, beer and coffee.
Take-away food in Australia
There is a wide variety of takeaway food available in Australia. Two of the most traditional takeaway dishes are the meat pie and sausage roll. These come in varying grades, ranging from the mass-produced factory outputs of Four-and-Twenty, Mrs Macs, Balfours and Big Ben, through to gourmet pies sold by specialist pie shops. There is an annual competition to find the ‘Great Australian Meat Pie’.
American-style chain stores are common; including, Subway, Pizza Hut, KFC, Hungry Jack’s (the local Burger King franchise name), Domino’s Pizza, and McDonalds (commonly called Maccas by locals). An alternative to the US imports is offered by the Australian chicken fast food chains Red Rooster and Chicken Treat, pizza chains Eagle Boys and Pizza Haven, the Portuguese chicken franchises Nando’s and Oporto, and by the corner Pizza shops, charcoal or fried chicken stores, stores selling items such as kebabs and gyros, and fish and chip shops. Many of these sell high-quality food for reasonable prices. Typically found in many takeaway shops is the ‘Australian Hamburger’. This is mainly distinguished from other hamburgers by the range of fillings available. An order with all fillings is known as a ‘Hamburger with the Lot’. The fillings include lettuce, tomato, cheese, beetroot, grilled onion, bacon, a fried egg and pineapple.
A very wide variety of Chinese, Indian, and various Asian restaurants provide eat-in and take-away services, and are very popular in the cities. With the high levels of immigration from the Middle East, South and South East Asia, Korea, China and other countries from all over the world to Australia, many authentic and high-quality restaurants are run by first and second generation immigrants from these areas. Chinese cuisine, however, ranges from a long established very Australian-Chinese style based on the cooking of the Chinese community established during the gold rushes of the late 1800s, to quite different cuisine only very recently imported from different regions of China. Asian bakery stores are also a source of fast food, for example savoury rolls, examples including cheese and bacon, cheese and pineapple which are toppings over a thick piece of bread, and the pork/chicken roll(Banh Mi Thit), which is a crusty baguette, cut with sliced pork or chicken, carrot, spring onion, soy sauce, pate, coriander, cucumber and often chilli. Australians also love Aussie Meat Pie, and Vegemite.
Unique and Iconic Australian foods
One food regularly associated with Australia is Vegemite (ironically now owned by the American Kraft Foods).
Other unique or iconic national foods include the Chiko Roll, a deep-fried savoury roll akin to a spring roll; Violet Crumble, a honeycomb chocolate bar; Jaffas, an orange flavoured, candy-coated chocolate; Tim Tams, a chocolate biscuit; and the breakfast cereal Weet-Bix.
Australians also enjoy their own small, hand sized meat pie, generally made with meat and gravy. In South Australia this is sometimes served upside down on a bed of pea soup, covered in tomato sauce, and called a Pie floater.
Damper is a simple and traditional type of bread, traditionally made by wrapping bread dough around a stick, then roasting it over an open fire; though it is not often found commonly in Australia in modern times.
The Boston bun is a spiced bun covered in coconut icing popular in Australia and New Zealand.
There are a small number of desserts and sweet dishes that are popularly thought of as being unique to Australia:
* Anzac biscuits
* Frozie cup
* Vanilla slice
* Musk stick