5 Aussie foods to try

If you happen to find yourself in Australia for a holiday, long-term stay or a big fat life change, here’s a helpful list of things you should try at least once.

The list is a collection from my own observations as a Canuck of some exciting Aussie foods that are a little different from the typical Canadian/North American diet. Not everything made the list: noble shout outs to damper bread (an Australian soda bread that’s best served warm with heaps of delicious Australian butter), the multitude of yummy treats like melting moments, Iced Vo Vos (sounds dirty but it’s not), Monte Carlos, and the patriotic ANZAC biscuit, meat pies, bircher muesli and of course crocodile. For a more, ahem, exotic listing of Australian foods to eat, check out CNN’s travel blog “Australian food: 40 dishes locals like to call their own”.

  1. Vegemite

    Vegemite ... yummy  salt bomb

    Vegemite … yummy umami salt bomb
    Image: Kraft foods

    So my first description of what Vegemite tastes like, might not have done it justice but I think for a non-Australian who hasn’t grown up on the stuff, it was pretty accurate. There’s a definite umami flavour happening and chef, traveller and good geek Ben Starr writes a great post on describing the taste from another non-Australian. I liked Vegemite when I first tasted it. Despite the majority of items on this list being sweet, I tend to favour more savoury/salty foods. I would have it for breakfast on buttered toast and pair it with another piece of buttered toast but this one was topped with strawberry jam. The combination of salty, sweet and buttery was an awesome way to start your day and to top it with a perfectly brewed cup of tea … well I could have eaten that for breakfast for the rest of my life. No problem. I mean no worries, mate! I told a coworker about my salty-sweet morning breakfast and she looked at me in horror. I’m not sure if I committed some sort of national incident but other Australians that I’ve shared this with don’t see the genius of the dish and only tend to pair it with other savoury items like cheese, tomatoes, scrambled or poached eggs. All good choices to pair with Vegemite, but I still think my dish is a winner.

  2. Tim Tams

    A package of the most delicious biscuit in the world, Tim Tam. Image courtesy of Arnott’s

    The original – Tim Tams. Image: Arnott’s

    Two chocolate biscuits covered in chocolate and sandwiched between a delicious chocolate cream make this biscuit and Australian icon. Read about the Tim Tam Slamprevious post on how to enjoy these delightfully decadent treats.

  3. Lamingtons

    Lamington Image: wikipedia.org

    Lamington
    Image: wikipedia.org

    Named after the wife of a Governor of Queensland, Lady Lamington, these delicate little cakes are made from a vanilla sponge cake, coated in a layer of chocolate, then a layer of shredded coconut. Variations include strawberry jam or cream-filled or my personal fav both with jam and cream. When we first arrived in Brisbane,we ate so many of these that we haven’t been able to touch them since, but since writing about them now, I think I might make a trip to the grocery store and pick some up. They’re perfect with a cup of tea or coffee as an afternoon treat.

  4. Kangaroo and kanga bangas

    Kangaroo Image: Lindsey Lumsden

    Australia’s national animal: Kangaroo
    Image: Lindsey Lumsden

    I previously wrote about kangaroo. It’s flavourful and best served medium rare, maybe crusted with dukkah (a dry rub consisting of nuts, usually sesame seeds, pistachios, cumin, etc) and paired with a great glass of cab sauv or merlot. If chowing down on a kangaroo fillet isn’t your thing but you still want to try it as a dare, cross it off your bucket list, whatever the reason, then try it as a banga! Kanga Bangas (aka kangaroo bangers, as in sausages) is a pretty decent way to ease yourself into trying the national animal of Australia. Familiar enough to put you at ease but exhilarating at the same time because you’re eating kangaroo!

  5. Dairy

    Delicious creamy Australian dairy

    Delicious creamy Australian dairy
    Image: thewellnesswarrior.com.au

    Australian and New Zealand cream, yoghurt, and butter is delicious. I haven’t visited the UK in a long time and can’t remember how good their dairy was but I know it’s up there. The cows, the grass that the cows eat (if they even eat grass), the process – I’m not sure what it is that makes Australian dairy taste so good. Like their English counterparts, they have a ton of variety that we just don’t see every day in Canada. Regular thickened cream, light thickened cream, extra light thickened cream, pure cream, double cream, dollop cream, cooking cream, double thick custard, pouring custard (yes, they sell eggnog-like containers of pouring custard all year long!), and a super thick sour cream. I needed cream for an Alfredo sauce one night after work and stood in front of the dairy case looking and acting like a mouth breather. How hard could it be to pick a cream? I finally put my half Italian pride on the side and asked a lady next to me. My Canadian accent must have thrown her because it looked like she took a moment to figure out what I had just asked. At least I hope it was my accent and not the fact that I was asking what cream I should be cooking with. That would have been awwwwkwaaard.

What are you up for tasting? Anything you would add to the list?

Falling Back to Earth : Cai Guo-Qiang

I don’t consider myself an “artsy” person. The closest I’ve come to being artistic was when I was 11 years old and painted a picture of a flower for my parents. I was very proud of it. They must have been equally proud because they hung the painting in the laundry room, where all fine art pieces are displayed. I like art. I think. I like art for the reasons why other snooty people like art – it makes me sound like I’m smart, cultured, sophisticated, a lover of all the finer things in life and more in touch with the world. I’m a self-actualized human being sitting proud at the top of Maslow’s pyramid where creativity, morality, and lack of prejudice reign supreme. Yup, that’s the most honest and unbiased description of myself I’ve ever heard. I appreciate art for the skill that goes into each piece. The blood, sweat, tears and years of torture involved in an artist’s life. I spend way too much time trying to decide what my iPhone wallpaper is going to be so I can absolutely sympathize with artists on the labour of love aspect.

Cai Guo-Qiang's "Heritage 2013" at Brisbane's GOMA

Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Heritage 2013” at Brisbane’s GOMA

Contemporary art has never really been my thing. I went to an exhibit once at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) but was drawn more to the old masters where in my opinion, antiquity brings credibility. But on my last visit to the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, I walked through Cai Guo Qiang’s (pronounced Tsai Gwo Chang) art piece, called Heritage 2013, which depicts 99 life-sized models of animals from around the world gathered around a drinking pond. Check out the video on Cai Guo-Qiang’s amazing exhibit Falling Back to Earth and hear from some of the top art experts about his work.

It was something that I’ve never seen before and something that I don’t know if I’ll ever see again. It was surreal to walk around the pond and see the meticulous detail that went in to all 99 animals. This was definitely something that I couldn’t replicate and I admit I was impressed.

Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition, Falling Back to Earth is on display at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) running until May 11 2014.

In praise of singing in cars

Brisbane is a commuter’s paradise.

Its smaller population and small town vibe allow for an easy and short commute. Driving into the city in the mad rush of the mornings is an easy 20 minute drive. Yup. 20 minutes.

Let me put that in Toronto, Mississauga, and Brampton terms. That would be like driving from the corner of Bathurst and Bloor to Yonge-Dundas Square. In Mississauga, it’s the equivalent of starting at Burnhamthorpe and Hwy 10 and making your way to the QEW. And from Brampton’s corner of Steels and Hwy 10 to Bovaird. Congratulations! You made it to the QEW in 20 minutes but you now have to battle the traffic with the rest of the cogs heading downtown which could put another 30-40 minutes on your drive time depending on your final destination. I might be giving the benefit of the doubt to some of these, but you get the idea. Time is precious and you can’t travel very far during morning rush hour.

Don’t get me wrong. A short commute is ideal and there’s plenty of research showing a correlation between commute times and physical health and your relationships with loved ones. The negative impact commuting has on environmental issues like pollution, CO2 emissions, etc., all point to the solution that we should be using more public transportation, carpooling, walking or biking to get to work. But there’s something to be said about the alone time you have when it’s just you – and only you – in the car and faced with a 20 minute or more drive ahead of you. Taking public transit, carpooling, walking or biking just doesn’t cut it. You need the feeling that no one is watching, no distractions from other people, no eavesdropping, nothing. Just you, your car, a cup of tea/coffee from Tim’s, a cup holder, and the stereo.

Here’s why commuting to work is awesome by yourself if you have a long enough drive (and a car).

Pondering life’s mysteries.

Should you try Nepalese food? What is Nepalese food? Do you really like pad thai or do you think it’s weird to have peanuts with noodles? Why does everyone like garlic? Why are the other drivers idiots? Why is Two and a Half Men so popular when it’s not funny? Why aren’t I a millionaire? All these questions can be answered during your drive to work.

Career coaching.

The time commuting to and from work was usually when I thought about my career journey, where I pictured myself working in two, five and ten years, how I could have handled a work situation better, female leaders I admired, how/when/where to network, etc.. This sometimes turned into a negative tangent about colleagues, their skills and abilities, and I’ll admit some colourful language was used to describe these things. However it was a valuable learning lesson for me to stop all those negative feelings and it’s still a work in progress. It’s very easy to blame everyone else for why things went wrong but the challenge is to find your part in it and how to approach it next time so that the end result is successful. Did you effectively get your message across? Though they’re colleagues, did you make sure you knew your audience and how best to communicate to them? Did you make sure they understood what you were saying? Instead of getting uptight about others, I looked at it as an area where I could improve.

Checking out other people and what they’re doing.

Everyone’s curious and does it. What are people eating for breakfast? By looking at their wardrobe (and car) you could guess where they worked and the title they held. But this has the potential to be harmful to your health because we’ve all seen it: the nose picker. As I mentioned before, you need the sense of being alone for self-discovery and alone time, but that does not mean discovering that the huge cranial booger needs to be immediately removed in the middle of the Gardiner. Cars have windows, people. Others can see you and all your grossness. Leave personal grooming and disgusting habits for the privacy of your bathroom. I really can’t stress that enough. Even seeing women putting on eyeliner and mascara irritates me. Don’t get me started on plucking eyebrows in public. Don’t.

Singing.

Now this is the reward for driving by yourself. You could probably do it with others in the car but they’d have to be your partner/best friend/parent/child under the age of whatever it is before they learn to talk back. And there’s really no going back once you’ve open this can of talent on a work colleague. Belting out your version of Adele, Beyoncé, or any of the top 40 hits, is cathartic, empowering and boosts your mood. Awkward Moments has a story about what happens when someone sees you singing like no one’s watching.

Remember this? Don’t lie … you know you rocked out to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Image courtesy of Collection of Awesome.

Is there a perfect amount of commuting time that facilitates and aids self-discovery, mental health, and the self-indulgence of singing at the top of your lungs to your favourite songs? For the last two years, I’ve walked to work which took no more than 10 minutes. That’s just enough time in the hot sun when it’s 8am and the temperature has already reached 28 C degrees. Make-up ruined? Check. Hair a big ball of frizz? Check. Look like a hot mess? Check and double check.

Make-up ruined? Check. Hair a big ball of frizz? Check. Look like a hot mess? Check and double check.

I’ve decided for me the ideal car ride to work is around the 20-35 minute mark. That’s just enough time to solve all of life’s mysteries for one day, sing about five to ten really good songs but not be in the car for an excessive amount of time. There’s evidence that anything longer will make you miserable and it’s even worse if you take public transit.

What’s your ideal commute time and what do you do to pass the time while idling in traffic?

From maple syrup, double-doubles and beavers to Vegemite, flat whites and kangaroos

My guy and I moved from Mississauga to Brisbane back in April 2012. Our plan was to live in Brisbane for two years then head back to the Great White North where we’d again face the realities of family and non-family commitments, four distinct seasons and possibly a polar vortex. Living in a tropical climate has its perks for sure.

Brisbane’s population just surpassed 1.8 million making it the third largest city in Australia. Not as many as Toronto’s 2.7 million, but they’re getting there. Despite the third from the top ranking, there’s still a sense of small town living that you don’t experience in Australia’s largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and which you certainly don’t experience in Toronto. Is it the noticeable lack of commuter traffic, really quiet neighbourhoods and plenty of sandy, beautiful beaches that lends to this sense of space?

Here’s a promotional video from VisitBrisbane.com.au

For those of you contemplating a move to Brisbane, here’s the nitty-gritty from an insider ex pat.

The good

The weather in Brisbane is simply amazing. Countless days of nothing but blue skies. Seriously. Not even the white fluffy kind in the distance. Same with the beaches. They’re breathtaking. There are so many beaches that there’s no need to cram everyone onto one so there’s always space to spread out and get comfy.

There’s nothing quite like the taste of Vegemite. Really. Having never tried it before coming to Australia, we heard a lot about it and made sure it was one of the first items on our grocery list. I like it. I like it a lot. It’s salty, savoury, and yeasty. My guy describes it as “super concentrated, salty pan drippings”. That’s a pretty good description. It’s actually quite healthy as it’s made up of all the B vitamins. All in a salty flavour bomb.

Vegemite ... yummy salt bomb

Vegemite … yummy salt bomb

Kangaroo is delicious. It’s lean, flavourful and best served medium-rare. That’s all I’m going to say.

I don’t drink coffee, but I hear a flat white is the best coffee. Ever. If you want to order one in North America, it’s a ‘no-foam cappuccino’. It’s from Australia/New Zealand. Many Aussies who visit North America are heart-broken (and sometimes fuming) when they can’t get a decent flat white abroad.

The bad

Despite being geographically located near many Asian countries, Brisbane’s cultural diversity is nothing like Toronto’s. This is probably one of the things that disappoints me most about being here. We were so privileged to have lived in one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world. We saw a diverse view of different cultures and had access to any and all type of cuisine. Brisbane is just starting to embrace the different cultures which reside within but it’s a long road to get to where Toronto is. Melbourne and Sydney are up there with decades of immigration from all over the world contributing to its diversity in food, landscape, and architecture. It took ages to find a Vietnamese restaurant who could make a decent phở and it’s still not as good as the one we get back in Toronto. They have Mexican and Italian restaurants here, but they’re more “Mexican’ish” or “Italian’ish”. I think the issue is that they’re catering to the Brisbane palate, where their idea of cheesecake is cream cheese and sugar spread onto a pre-baked cookie base. I’m sorry but that’s not a cheesecake. That’s what I throw together when I’m craving something fast and sweet to eat and don’t mind being ghetto. Same with hot dogs or sausages. They deserve the respect of a proper sausage/hot dog bun, not a slice of white bread.

Television and movies are far behind that there’s no wonder people download movies illegally. If you want to watch shows as they air on regular cable in North America, you have to pay for premium cable or wait weeks, months sometimes even years before you can watch it. Australia just aired the first season of their version of The Bachelor. Welcome to 2002!!! The movie 12 Years a Slave is only just being released this week.

Need I say more?

The ugly

Chauvinism is alive and well here. And it’s accepted. That’s right, not just tolerated, but accepted. I once had a supervisor tell me that the next person they hired in the department would have to be male because the group they would be working with didn’t want to work with a female. The supervisor was male. Is that even legal? I put it forward to HR but nothing came of it. A male was hired for the role, just in case you were wondering. Is this due to the small town mentality where men run businesses and women get together with other women only for coffee catch ups and brunch all while wearing pricey yoga gear and full make-up? This whole ‘full make-up yoga outfit wearing’ thing kills me. Are you going to the gym or out for eggs benny? Does that crazy expensive shiny watch have a timer so you know when to transition from a run to a walk? I don’t get it.

Australia has a drinking culture unlike anything I’ve seen in North America. It’s as though people want to find any excuse to drink and drink to excess. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people stumbling out of bars completely drunk off their faces. The route I walked to into work in the morning had me passing by three bars and after a football, rugby or cricket match, there was always remnants of someone’s sick on the sidewalk. Not pleasant and not pleasant to think about as Australia loves sports so there’s always a game on and yes, another reason to drink. Melbourne Cup is a notorious event for people drinking to excess. The horse race, held annually in November, is all about drinking. The main race is held around lunchtime and only lasts for 10 minutes… tops. People get dolled up in their finery, ladies wear fascinators, men wear suits and they look fantastic. The drinking starts at 10:30am and doesn’t stop until 8pm. I’ve seen extremely large men stumbling home, walking out in front of traffic and almost causing accidents because they were too intoxicated to walk. Tragically, there has been a number of alcohol-fuelled deaths. The number of ‘king hits’ (what we call a sucker punch to the head) are on the increase as a result of booze-fuelled violence.

So, having gone through the good and the bad of living in Brisbane, I can honestly say it’s been a great experience; one that I’ll cherish and remember for the rest of my life. We’re set to head back this June and I’m sure it will be difficult to leave such a wonderful and beautiful place.