Differences between American cuisine and Australian cuisine
An Australian has a hard time digesting the attitude of the United States towards Australian cuisine, as they call our food “boring”.
I have just returned from a trip to California and the southern part of the southern United States – the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
This is not a criticism. Eating five digits of calories every day is part of the vacation experience in the United States. I love American cuisine. It’s mind blowing – especially the southern food. And even more specifically Southern Cajun food. Crab cakes. Donuts. Cookies and syrup. Catfish and redfish. Etoufée – a spicy shrimp stew. The cheesy grits, the crayfish in butter, the carrot cake, the feeder bananas, the jambalaya. Not to mention all the burgers and nachos and tacos and moles. All of this will send you to an early grave, but it’s all delicious and you only have to do it once in your life.
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But what I find a little harder to digest is hearing what Americans think of our food.
Time and again, I’ve heard Americans reject Australian food – usually from people who’ve never been to Australia, but sometimes even from people who have.
Americans seem to think our food is far too dull and understated. Or that it’s basic, inverted and derived. Or that we’re just not a country that understands much about food.
And it sticks to my throat (fish).
In California, a hotelier sniffed at me: “Australian food is pretty boring. It’s not exactly a food country, is it.
I was shocked. Boring? Australian food is not boring. It’s just more sober.
Obviously, I’m generalizing here because the United States and Australia draw their food influences from hundreds of different regions and cuisines, but one overall difference is pretty clear.
Australian cuisine looks to minimal and often fresh or fermented ingredients for flavor – fresh herbs, lemon and lime, miso, chilli. A restaurant plate in Australia tends to be small, beautifully composed and elegant.
So what about American food? The mantra is, “Why use five ingredients when you can use 29?”
I saw it again and again and again everywhere I went, from Los Angeles to Louisiana. A typical menu item would read: “Tender smoked brisket sandwiched between a double order of crispy hash topped with cheddar-fried jalapeño rings, pico, sour cream, two eggs your way, all with homemade barbecue sauce and green onions. And then, you know, add some sides. Maybe a waffle, syrup and oatmeal.
It was not bad. It was amazing. But it was a lot. And their face-smashing onslaught of flavor (which tends to be more of a note) doesn’t make our food relatively understated – which focuses on technique and a subtle distinction of flavor in no way inferior.
Interestingly, one of the southernmost states of all the southern states, Alabama, is starting to eat a little more the Aussie way. Oysters are native to North America, but until fairly recently southern states farmed their oysters in the wild, pulling them from bay silt. Their oysters tend to be large which means they are not ideal to be served raw. Instead, they get the full American treatment – either served breaded and fried, or piled high with cheese and bacon and grilled.
Today, various oyster farmers from the region traveled to Australia to learn about the “longline” method of oyster farming which was invented in South Australia and which we have been using here for decades. This allows farmers to better control their stock and grow oysters that are smaller, more manageable, much more delicate and better to eat raw in a single sip – for example, most Australians eat oysters all the time.
So Alabamians may be starting to see oysters on their menus for the first time, served the Aussie way, often with nothing more than a little mignonette vinaigrette or lemon juice. I was thrilled when I saw this on a Mobile Alabama menu for myself, and even more thrilled when my fellow Alabamians tried their first raw oysters and declared them “delicious.”
I don’t like to say “I told you so” – but maybe the occasional Aussie meal isn’t so boring after all.
This story originally appeared on Escape and has been reproduced with permission