What exactly is Australian food?
While locals dine on fried rice, Thai curries, Mediterranean cuisine and the like, those dishes don’t really belong to Australia. They’re part of multicultural Australia but are often claimed by other nations.
Apart from the homegrown kangaroo – and perhaps the now-American-owned Vegemite – there must be others. Some are cliched, some are obvious, some may surprise. But Australia’s culinary history can lay claim to these 40 Australian food items (with a few Sydney-area recommendations on where to get them).
40. Witchetty grubs
This nutty-tasting grub has been an indigenous mouthful of Australian food for centuries.
The most authentic of bush tucker, the grub is a nutty-flavored bite that has been enjoyed by indigenous Australians for thousands of years. The wider Australian nation has often struggled with eating it raw, but two facts remain – it actually tastes good and it belongs to the land.
39. Anzac biscuits
Associated with Anzac Day on April 25, the biscuit is a crunchy commemoration of the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought in World War I. It’s Australian food with a back story.
The Anzac biscuit was made by wives during the war and sent to soldiers, because the basic ingredients (rolled oats, flour, sugar, desiccated coconut, golden syrup, butter, bicarbonate of soda and water) were able to keep for a long time, even on long boat journeys.
Get it: The Colonial Bakery, 4 Ennis Road, Milsons Point, +61 (0)2 9955 3958
Emu actually has a few times the iron content of beef. It’s virtually fat-free and is low in cholesterol. The Australian native animal works well when smoked and served cold or as a pizza topping. For a modern gourmet twist, have it in a pie made up of emu meat, smoked emu, feta cheese, red wine, sun-dried tomato, onion and Tasmanian black pepper – all in a filo-pastry crust.
Get it: The Australian Heritage Hotel, 100 Cumberland St., The Rocks, +61 (0)2 9247 2229
37. Macadamia nuts
The streets are lined with macadamia nuts around Byron Bay.
Native to eastern Australia, the macadamia nut is eaten raw or included in a variety of dishes. From breads to lamb roasts and cakes, this is a versatile nut. Pick some ‘round Byron Bay during spring.
This iconic, cheap Australian food was the staple of road workers and bushies in days gone by. Originally it was the simplest of recipes. The soda bread is made from wheat flour, water and a pinch of salt, then baked in the coals of a campfire and paired nicely with billy tea or a swig of rum. Today it can be a little more fancy – milk and self-raising flour.
Get it: Baker’s Delight, Shop G02, Level 3, The Broadway Shopping Centre, 1-21 Bay St., Sydney, +61 (0)2 9212 7311
35. Pea and ham soup
The perfect hearty winter meal that arguably has British origins, pea and ham soup is a simple offering that has been served up in farmhouse kitchens for decades. Add sliced frankfurters or smoked sausage to make it even more hearty.
How many do you eat? This high-fiber breakfast biscuit made from whole-grain wheat has been an Australian food favorite since 1930.
It’s smaller, sweeter and more brick-like than the Weetabix that’s found in other countries. Usually has a few Queensland bananas or strawberries or a spoonful of sugar mixed in. And, of course, milk. Aussie kids are Weet-Bix kids, says the brand’s successful advertising jingle. Unless, of course, you’re in New Zealand where, funnily enough, New Zealand kids are also Weet-Bix kids.
This tasty cake can be found at most school fairs and is the pride of many a mother's kitchen.
The lamington is often referred to as the “National Cake of Australia.” The National Trust of Queensland even named the lamington one of Australia’s favorite icons. This square-shaped sponge cake is coated in a layer of chocolate icing and desiccated coconut. It sometimes comes in two halves with a layer of cream or jam in the middle. Found commonly throughout cafes as a perfect accompaniment to tea and coffee, it’s also often baked for fundraisers.
Get it: My Little Cupcakes, 62 Ben Boyd Road, Neutral Bay, +61 (0)2 9909 3908
32. Salt and pepper calamari
Quick and easy to make: the squid or calamari is covered in salt-and-pepper batter, then deep-fried. This pub staple is often served as a snack with a side salad and dipped in sweet chilli sauce.
Get it: Pho 236, 236 King St., Newtown, +61 (0)2 9550 2480
31. Lamb leg roast
Succulent tender lamb.
Many a wandering son or daughter returns home for Sunday lunch when mum’s cooking a lamb roast. It’s the garlic, rosemary and olive oil that make this piece of meat delicious and tender. It’s then served with enough baked potatoes to end any family feud. Though its origins may be beyond Australian borders, Aussies will proudly say only they know how to put on a good one.
Get it: Victor Churchill, 132 Queen St., Woollahra, +61 (0)2 9328 0402
30. Fish ‘n’ chips by the beach
A kind of schnitzel, but with fish.
If it’s wrapped in yesterday’s news, it’s an Australian version of fish ‘n’ chips. The sun is out, the water’s crisp and you’re hungry. What to go for? Australia has some of the best seafood in the world and that means you’re almost guaranteed fresh fish, served with salt and lemon, wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper or white wrapping.
Get it: Doyles on the Beach, 11 Marine Parade, Watsons Bay, +61 (0)2 9337 2007
29. John Dory fillets
Found commonly in Australian waters including Sydney Harbour, John Dory is a popular fish variety in local cuisine. Battered and fried and served with chips, or pan-fried with herbed oil on a bed of mashed potato with salad, this is a versatile, meaty fish and popular Australian food.
Get it: Golden Sheaf Hotel, 429 New South Head Road, Double Bay, +61 (0) 2 9327 5877
28. Iced VoVo
When former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd mentioned Iced VoVo in his 2007 election speech, he single-handedly cemented the biscuit’s place in Australian folklore.
The wheat-flour biscuit with a strip of pink fondant on either side of raspberry jam and sprinkled with coconut is a sweet, soft and crunchy mouthful. It’s made by biscuit company Arnott’s, an Australian food institution itself and now a subsidiary of U.S.-based Campbell Soup Company.
27. Barbecued snags
Straight from the butchers and straight onto the barbecue.
Nothing is more Australian than getting friends or family together for a barbecue. And at the heart of any good barbie is a selection of good Australian snags – from the traditional pork or beef, to those flavored with herbs and spices from around the world.
There’s something homey about a snag in a roll or a slice of bread covered in your favorite sauce, perhaps with some fried onion on top and some spuds on the side. A sausage sizzle put on outside the local hardware store on Sundays makes a bit of DIY that much more appealing.
Get it: Glenmore Meats, 40-46 Wentworth Park Road, Glebe, +61 (0)2 9660 3522
26. Balmain bugs
A species of slipper lobster that lives in the shallow waters around Australia, the flattened small-scale fish has no claws and only its tail contains edible meat. But like a lobster, it’s worth the slippery fingers and dining dedication.
Get it: Sydney Fish Market, Bank St., Pyrmont. +61 (0)2 9004 1100
Australians will tell you this belongs to the lucky country. Even when laced with kiwi fruit.
Australia and New Zealand have shared rivalries for years, and the pavlova’s origin is another to add to the list. Both countries claim to have invented the dish in honor of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova when she visited Australasia in the 1920s. No evidence conclusively substantiates either claim (unlike Crowded House, Phar Lap and Russell Crowe).
But even if it was finally proven once and for all to hail from New Zealand, Aussies would surely still label it Australian food. Pavlova is a popular meringue-based dessert that has a crisp crust and a soft, light inside. It’s often decorated with whipped cream and fresh fruit and served at celebratory meals.
Get it: Pavlova Pantry, 351 Rocky Point Road, Sans Souci, +61 (0)2 9529 9289
24. Prawn cocktail
A traditional seafood starter, this one is made up of shelled prawns in mayonnaise and tomato dressing, then served in a glass, sometimes with a lettuce leaf. It’s famous the world over, but Australia really embraced the prawn cocktail as its own in the 1970s. It was almost the beginning of fine dining, Aussie style.
Get it: Etch, 62 Bridge St., Sydney, +61 (0)2 9247 4777
23. Tim Tam
Yet another biscuit!
Arnott’s (which produces Tim Tams) say that around 35 million packs are sold each year. That’s 400 million biscuits at an average of 1.7 packs per Australian. The much-loved chocolate biscuit is made up of two layers of chocolate-malted biscuit, separated by a light chocolate filling and coated in melted chocolate. No wonder you can now find them in supermarkets around the world.
22. Dagwood dog
They say the show must go on, but it just can’t without a dagwood dog. For many, when you say dagwood dog you think of the Sydney Royal Easter Show, because this frankfurter on a stick that is battered and deep-fried is found at most carnivals. With tomato sauce on top, of course.
21. Sausage rolls
Sausage meat wrapped in pastry and oven-baked is the lunch of choice for many Australians. Though many countries appreciate the taste of a good sausage roll, Australia leads the way in modern adaptations of the simple scoff. Here, culinary influences from around the world have been infused to create unique taste experiences and a genuine Australian food.
Get it: Bourke Street Bakery, 633 Bourke St., Surry Hills, +61 (0)2 9699 1011
20. SAO biscuit
Founded as a charity biscuit, it used to be handed out by Salvation Army Officers (thus SAO). SAO is a light-textured square biscuit that’s made by rolling dough into thin sheets, then cutting it into squares. It’s often used to make a crispy sandwich by smearing on a layer of topping, such as Vegemite and butter.
For generations, the SAO sandwich has then been squeezed to create “worms” that pour out of the holes in the pastry, then eaten. It’s kid’s food as art.
19. Cherry Ripe
Australia’s oldest chocolate bar is still one of its best-sellers. The Cherry Ripe consists of coconut and cherries smothered in Cadbury’s Old Gold dark chocolate.
18. Fairy bread
Remember your childhood when nothing could beat a bit of fairy bread? Sliced white bread is cut into triangles, smeared with butter or margarine and covered in hundreds-and-thousands, which sticks to the bread for a bright and multicolored treat. A staple at kids parties. And easy to make, following the oh-so simple instructions above.
17. Chicken parmigiana
An Italian name, but a bona fide Australian pub classic, the parmigiana started as an eggplant dish in Italy and has since evolved into a chicken schnitzel topped with an Italian-inspired tomato sauce and melted cheese. A perfect marriage.
Sometimes it will also be topped with ham or prosciutto. Usually comes with a beer on “parma night” at the local pub. Another wonderful union.
Get it: Pyrmont Point Hotel, 59 Harris St., Pyrmont, +61 (0)2 9660 1908
16. Pigs in a blanket
The perfect accompaniment to any roast dinner. In the United States, the term often refers to hot dogs or sausages wrapped in dough or even a pancake. But in Australia it’s all about wrapping meat in more meat – a double meat sandwich without bread.
15. Chiko roll
This Australian food icon was inspired by Chinese spring rolls. The deep-fried snack contains beef (despite its name, there’s no chicken), celery, cabbage, barley, carrot, onion, green beans and spices in a battered tube. Probably some offal, too.
Some brands of chiko roll often contain ingredients that are simply unidentifiable. This adds to the experience. Chiko rolls are generally eaten on the go and served at local fish ‘n’ chip shops or by snack vendors at train stations.
14. Spag bol
Sure, this entry will raise some eyebrows and, of course, spaghetti bolognese is a quintessentially Italian dish. But when made with delicious Aussie beef and mushrooms, spag bol takes on an Australian feel.
Get it: Fratelli Fresh Waterloo, 7 Danks St., Waterloo, +61 (0) 2 9699 3161
13. Meat pies
I think that I shall never spy a poem as lovely as a pie ...
You can’t tell anyone you’re Australian unless you’ve eaten a meat pie. More than once. The flaky package that contains this guilty pleasure is the epitome of Australian food. Colloquially referred to as a “dog’s eye,” the ingredients of the parcel have long been debated in Australian cuisine.
It’s on the menu at every house party, sporting venue and morning after a big night. Nowadays, the meat pie has many up-market and gourmet variations, but if you like to keep it reasonably simple have the one with mashed potatoes and gravy.
Get it: Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo, +61 (0)2 9357 3074
12. Seafood pizza
Everyone knows that pizza is Italian. Kind of. For a marinara, mate, come to downtown Sydney.
Smother your pizza with the freshest and tastiest seafood available in Australian waters. Sprinkle on some chilli flakes for a kick (and to bring out the amazing flavors) and don’t forget a glass of beer or chilled chardonnay. No Australian has ever worked out why Americans use “marinara” to mean tomato sauce.
Get it: Made in Italy, 104 Miller St., Pyrmont, +61 (0)2 9518 8182
Eat it before it eats you.
Although not unique to Australia, film character Mick Dundee ensured that the crocodile became synonymous with the country. Although crocodile leather is made into wallets, belts and handbags, its meat is consumed by locals – though it’s definitely more of a delicacy and not widespread.
Get it: The Australian Heritage Hotel, 100 Cumberland St., The Rocks, +61 (0) 2 9247 2229.
10. Vegemite on toast
Happy little vegemites enjoy it for breakfast, lunch and tea, so goes the much-played anthem. This is as Australian food as it gets.
Although it looks like Britain’s Marmite, locals will tell you Vegemite is very different. And substantially better, more savory than sweet. Although the ingredients are much debated, the dark brown food paste is made from yeast extract (as opposed to Marmite’s vegetable extract).
Instructions are simple: spread the toast as soon as possible and apply an even spread of vege.
So popular is it, that reports that U.S. Customs had banned the importation of Vegemite caused a furor in Australian media, which urged protests aimed at the White House. The reports turned out to be false and now are something of an urban legend.
9. Vanilla slice
This pastry originated in France, though there it is called mille-feuille, which translates to a “thousand sheets.”
In English it’s a vanilla slice, and Australians claim ownership of the vanilla-custard-filled, multi-layered pastry that’s dusted with icing sugar. The slice can come with many flavoring options. Cream it up.
Like pavlova, New Zealanders also claim the vanilla slice. Although they call it the custard square, which is arguably more accurate. Aussies have the vanilla slice, Kiwis the custard square. Both winners.
Get it: La Renaissance, 47 Argyle St., The Rocks, +61 (0)2 9241 4878
8. Cheese and bacon roll
Not one for the health enthusiasts, but a favorite among those suffering from the effects of the night before. The cheese and bacon roll is, quite simply, a bread rolled topped in bacon chunks and cheese. A popular Australian food lunchbox filler.
Get it: Baker’s Delight, Shop G02, Level 3, The Broadway Shopping Centre, 1-21 Bay St., Sydney, +61 (0)2 9212 7311
7. Grilled kangaroo
Kangaroos abound in Australia.
Why not eat the national animal? In some areas ‘roos overpopulate the terrain. Plus, the methane-free kangaroo is low in fat. This is not for lovers of well-done meat as it’s prone to drying out. It’s generally cooked rare to medium, often primarily on one side.
Kangaroo goes well with garlic, pepper, juniper, rosemary and fruity flavors such as plum, red currant and orange. And no, Australians don’t eat deep-fried koalas.
Get it: I’m Angus Steak House, The Promenade, Cockle Bay Wharf, Sydney 1300 989 989 (in Australia).
Perhaps the most Australian of all fish varieties, Barramundi gets its name from the Aboriginal language meaning “large-scaled river fish.” It’s served in restaurants across the country. Best pan-fried or seared skin-side first (rarely battered or deep fried), it’s often dished up as a fish steak with a herbed oil.
Get it: Pier, 594 New South Head Road, Rose Bay, +61 (0)2 9327 6561
5. Crab sticks
They’re called crab sticks, but do they contain any crab? Crab sticks are an indispensable part of the culture, a dish in which processed, pulverized white fish flesh is shaped and cured to resemble crab leg meat. And that’s still more crab-like than the deep-fried version from the local chippie.
Get it: Zushi Darlinghurst, 239 Victoria St., Darlinghurst, +61 (0)2 9357 3533
A favorite Australian food, the delectable bite-sized treat is made up of chewy caramel coated in milk chocolate. It’s renowned for yellow and blue wrapping scribed with movie trivia, a marketing move that has endeared the treat to DVD groupies and movie goers.
3. Chicken and corn soup
Australia has embraced Chinese food. There’s an abundance of Chinese restaurants dotted throughout every city and town. Chicken and corn soup is a staple of these menus and it’s so good, we call it Australian.
Get it: Saigon Bay, 249 Oxford St., Darlinghurst, +61 (0)2 9360 3220
2. Green chicken curry pie
Australians love Thai food. They also love pies (a lot). Put a Thai chicken green curry inside a pie casing and you get the Aussie variant of a green curry.
Get it: Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo, +61 (0) 2 9357 3074.
1. Hamburger with beetroot
You can eat burgers all over the world, but nothing is more Australian than slinging a piece of beetroot on top a pattie made with Aussie beef. That soft bun, all-beef pattie and cheese is simply not properly done without the finishing touch of beetroot.
It’s so good that Ronald McDonald tried to jump on the bandwagon with a McOz many years back. But it’s natural home is the local take-away joint or local pub.
Get it: Burgerman, 116 Surrey St., Darlinghurst, +61 (0) 2 9361 0268
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2011. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.