Australia is a land of contradiction, but nowhere is that more apparent than in the realm of food (hey, I know it's a trite, grandiose, and presumptuous statement, but it sounds good.) Seriously though. Australia is a multicultural nation with booming immigrant populations from Asia and the Meditarranean. It's also a former British colony. When good food floods into a nation with a lackluster historical cuisine, you get pretty interesting results. You can't shake a stick without running into a cafe serving espresso and gelati (or the Australian national coffee drink, a 'flat white,' which is basically a no foam latte), but in homes people drink nescafe, if they drink coffee at all. Breakfast, if not weet-bix (a bran cereal that in theory sounds like shredded wheat but isn't), is tea and toast or crumpets. Afternoon calls for another cup of tea, as does post dinner TV watching. Dinner can be meat and three veg (the meat done on the "barbie" and one of the three vegetables invariably being the potato) or it can be green curry, and it's just as likely one or the other. Of course, when Australians eat out, there's a wide range of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Greek, Lebanese restaurants to choose from, but I've yet to see a British restaurant. (I did, surprisingly enough, see an "Australian" restaurant, with flags tacked up in the windows along with akubra hats (the ones with the corks tied to them) and pictures of Crocodile Dundee. I thought that level of outlandishness was just reserved for America.)
Now, Gyros (or Yiros) and chips is just as common as a 'pie floater' for a greasy late night snack. Of course, if you're not looking for dim sum or shwarma, you can always turn to the innumerable bakeries selling meat pies, pasties, and hot cross buns.
A case in point. Last night I had fair dinkum Aussie fish n' chips from a fish n' chips shop. However, everyone working in the shop appeared to be of Mediternanean ancestry, and besides various combos of fish, chips, and coleslaw, there was an equally long list of Yiros and shwarma sandwiches. And something that was called sausage on a stick. Mmmmm....
Speaking of mmm, South Australia, the state I am in, is famous for two regional dishes. The first one is the Pie floater, which I have yet to try, but consists of a meat pie floating in a bowl of pea soup. If that doesn't sound appetizing, then stop reading, because the next dish (and seriously, if you are easily offended, STOP reading NOW) is even less aptly named. It is called an Abortion, or AB for short (and seriously, that is the name posted up in the shop) because of its unfortunate resemblance. It consists of a plate of fries (or chips) covered with shaved lamb topped with yogurt cucumber sauce and ketchup. It's actually quite tasty in a greasy hangover-remedy sort of way, but the name, and the appearance, are incredibly revolting.
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And speaking of ketchup, or tomato sauce, as it's called here, as someone who normally finds ketchup inedible, I was surprised that Australian 'sauce' is far superior to American ketchup. It's much less sweet and more vinegery, which gives it much more of a tangy tomato-y taste. Not that I'd voluntarily put it on my chips mind you, but in small quantities it's really not bad.
Other pleasant food surprises is the quality of fresh produce and the emphasis on organic foods. A few days ago we bought eggs and milk at a gas station supermarket where milk was bgh free, and the eggs were from free range chickens. (The reason we had to go there was it was after 5 pm on a sunday, and, of course, all the supermarkets were closed. They close at 5 as well on a saturday. I suppose I should be grateful that they're open at all on a sunday though.) I know it shouldn't be that surprising though, I suppose it's an example of my silly American stereotype as Australia as the land of grilled meat.
But anyways, given it's abundance of fresh produce and seafood, Asian and Mediterranean immigrants, and Australia's upwardly mobile aspirations in the cuisine department, it should really be no surprise that there is seriously some tasty food here.