Beyond the BBQ: Exploring Australia’s Culinary Influences

A stereotype it may be, but when we think of indigenous Australian cuisine, bronzed twenty-somethings enjoying a barbecue on the beach tend to spring to mind. But while many Australians undoubtedly enjoy a sunlit ‘cookout’ every now and again, the nation’s palate goes far beyond the BBQ grill, with a foodie heritage shaped by culture, identity and a resurgent interest in food.

Australia is unique in that it has inherited no staple national dishes in the traditional sense, but rather cherry-picked its favourite tastes and flavours from the recipe books of arriving settlers. The country relies not on a long agricultural heritage, but on a catalogue of international dishes which it has adopted, adjusted and fallen for over a period of decades. This has gifted the country one of the most diverse, colourful and inspiring cuisines on the planet, with all tastes, palates and budgets suitably well catered for.

For those journeying down under as part of a luxury escorted tour from Scenic, a world of culinary adventure awaits. During your trip, you’ll have the opportunity to taste and savour some of Australia’s finest dishes and delicacies, unearthing the gastronomic spirit of this enthralling destination.

To give you but a taste of the gastronomic pleasures available, here we explore the culinary influences of Australia, and the fabulous dishes each settling culture has helped to inspire.

Colonial Classics

While Australia’s Aboriginal culture relied on a basic hunter-gatherer diet, the nation’s collective cuisine shifted after the arrival of European settlers. As these settlers began to set up small towns, villages and outposts on the coast of this impossibly large country, they developed ingenious dishes and cooking methods designed to exploit the native game, vegetables and seafood.

Applying popular European cooking techniques, these early settlers created original dishes from locally-sourced ingredients. Exotic local fruits, like lilly pillies, rosellas, hibiscus and quandongs were used alongside fresh meat and fish, giving rise to the birth of Australian cuisine as we know it today.

Given the coastal position of most colonial settlements, seafood became an early staple of Australian cuisine. Salmon, oysters, prawns, barramundi, crab and mullet were among the most popular types of fish favoured by Australia’s European settlers, and this passion for seafood continues to this day.

australian cuisine

During the gold rushes of the 1850s, the influx of migrants from Europe and the US brought yet more dishes, flavours and delicacies to Australia’s shores. Coffee became widely available across the country, leading to an influx of new cafes and dedicated coffee drinking houses. There was also a rise in street food vendors, with Cornish pasties and meat pies becoming particular favourites among the colonial settlers.

Other European flavours arrived in Australia too, most predominantly French, Spanish and Italian cuisines. Many of the country’s most popular restaurants and cafes are of French origin, due in part to the wonderful amalgamation of French fine dining and fresh seafood plucked from the Tasman Sea.

Today, Australia’s colonial culinary heritage has evolved into a sophisticated cuisine favoured by top chefs and passionate epicures. Restaurants like The Boathouse in Sydney, The Grain Store in Melbourne and The Playford Restaurant in Adelaide have taken traditional colonial fare and elevated it, creating elegant dishes that exude the flavours and tastes of colonial Australia.

A Taste of the Orient

After European settlers had left their mark on Australia’s culinary output, it was the turn of Chinese, Thai and other Southeast Asian settlers to bestow their colour and spice on the island continent.

The aforementioned gold rushes of the 19th century saw a huge influx of migrants travelling to Australia from the Orient, keen to share in the wealth of the discovery of this precious metal. Chinese settlers, in particular, moved into large towns and cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, where they established unique boroughs which would go on to be labelled ‘Chinatown’.

australian cuisine

It was here that Australians fell in love with the spice, zest and colour of exotic Asian cuisine, with Chinese, Thai and Japanese dishes rapidly becoming some of the country’s best-loved food — particularly when eaten in the great outdoors from a street food vendor.

Stir fries, sushi rolls and curries are now considered staples of the Australian diet, but it’s the country’s Asian restaurants which continue to push the envelope in the merging of Asian and Australian flavours. Fusion restaurants like Testsuya’s in Sydney and Mae-Ping in Perth incorporate Australian produce with traditional Southeast Asian spices, flavours and cooking methods — creating dishes which represent the very best of both Australian and Asian cuisine.

A Proud Harvest Heritage

From fine wine to irresistible cheese, Australia has cultivated a proud heritage for producing its own versions of classic world-foods. The distinct climate, and sheer scale, of the country means that just about any food group can be produced here, giving Australia a unique foodie heritage in spite of its relatively short timeline.

While the northern territories of Australia remain too inhospitable for sustainable food production, the south is teeming with new and emerging food businesses which have developed inline with the country’s resurgent interest in food. Victoria, New South Wales, southwest Australia and Tasmania have seen a growth in the number of grassroots food producers, and this has had a big impact on Australia’s local cuisine.

australian cuisine

From the finest cuts of marbled wagyu beef from the tablelands of New South Wales to rich blue cheese from the dairy fields of the Gippsland, Victoria; Australia is no longer reliant on importing fine foods from abroad. Indeed, the tables have turned so that Australian produce is now coveted across the globe, with its wine, cheese, beef and dairy produce now exported to hundreds of countries across the world.

Travel to Australia as part of a luxury escorted tour from Scenic, and you’ll be given the opportunity to explore some of Australia’s best-loved producers. Celebrate the winemaking heritage of the Margaret River, sample the wonderful cheddars of Tasmania, or taste the succulent Sydney rock oysters of New South Wales. With Scenic, you’ll discover the depth of Australia’s culinary renaissance.

If you’ve an appetite for adventure and long to travel the dusty trails and culture-rich cities of Australia, click here to browse our complete collection of luxury escorted tour itineraries. Alternatively, call us on 0808 278 7197.

Laura Barlow-Edwards
Laura Barlow-Edwards
Laura is Scenic's Digital Marketing Exec. She loves travel; her first river cruise was on the Danube, and she fell in love with Budapest at first sight. In her free time, Laura is usually reading, travel blogging, or planning her next adventure.