What with all the dismay from foreigners that the Outback Steakhouse is nothing but a farcical caricature of proper Australian food, there are those who have been putting the pressure on The Cow to set things straight. So for your edification, a menu from a typical Aussie childhood, featuring the kinds of food that I grew up with. I need to point out here that there is dispute over some of the following items having an exclusive Australian pedigree (the jury is forever hung on the matter of the pavlova), but this is more a tour through nostalgic food than a comprehensive detailing. I am open to additions and illuminations from my Australian readers – I’m sure everyone has their favourite. I didn’t even get to mentioning iced vo-vos, cobbers, White Christmas, Milo, Anzac biscuits and countless other goodies.

For Starters (or entrees as we call them here):

The Prawn Cocktail ~ cooked small prawns (or shrimp) on shredded iceberg lettuce, drizzled with a tomato sauce & mayonnaise dressing, served chilled.

The Vegemite Sandwich ~ two generously buttered slices of fresh white bread with a thin layer of Vegemite. Best enjoyed with milky sweet hot tea.*

A Serving of Fresh Damper ~ a kind of soda bread, not unlike a scone in texture, wrapped tightly in foil and cooked in the hot coals of a campfire.† Served with a slice of cold lamb and some mustard pickles.

For the Main Course:

Roast Lamb Dinner ~ Lamb roasted with rosemary and pepper, served piping hot with baked potatoes, pumpkin and parsnip, and a generous portion of peas and broccoli. Rich meaty gravy on the side, for pouring copiously across the potatoes.

Meat Pie & Mushy Peas ~ A hot steak & luscious gravy pie served with a topping of mashed cooked peas. Optionally served in a bowl of gravy as a ‘floater’, or in pea soup as a ‘Pea Soup Floater’.★

Carpetbag Steak ~ A thickly cut Scotch fillet sliced open and stuffed with oysters and Worcestershire sauce. Served with mashed potatoes and peas.

Rissoles ~ Patties of meat, herbs and breadcrumbs, shallow fried and served with mashed potatoes and peas. A bottle of Fountain Tomato Sauce presented at table.‡

And for the Vegetarians:

Don’t be ridiculous.††

For Dessert:

Pavlova ~ A sweet crunchy-yet-gooey meringue case filled with cream and seasonal fruits. Strawberries are de rigeur if available. Named in honour of Anna Matveyevna Pavlova, after she toured Australia and New Zealand in 1929.♥♥

A Plate of Lamingtons ~ Small cakes made from sponge and coated with a layer of chocolate and dessicated coconut.

Pikelets ~ Small pancake-like flat cakes, served with jam and honey.


Passiona ~ a passionfruit flavoured soda. The taste of summer.

Tea ~ Brewed in a pot (teabags are a heinous crime perpetrated on humanity). Served black, or with milk, sugar optional. No-one drinks it iced; that’s for sissies.

Lime Spider ~ Lime soda with a big scoop of icecream.

Bodgie Blood ~ Cola with a big scoop of icecream and then a generous splash of raspberry syrup.**

The wine list would of course be comprehensive; if there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s making wine.

As I say, this is a menu typical of my childhood but I dare say you would still find any or all of these things served as part of the every day fare in country Australia. These days, though, especially in the major cities, Australian food can be as sophisticated as any cuisine in the world. Our restaurants do, in fact feature some of the world’s most accomplished chefs such as Tim Pak Poy, Damien Pignolet and Tetsuya Wakada, to name only a few. When I was a kid, we never ate pasta or coriander or even garlic. My dad used to think pizza was an exotic dish. Nevertheless, we have always had an abundance of very fine ingredients, and the extraordinary mix of cultures that we have accumulated makes for some of the most spectacular dining you are ever likely to experience.

*Vegemite is, it is said, an acquired taste. I am of course unable to vouch for that because I must have acquired it as a child. If you’ve never had it, it is a salty, yeasty black-as-tar spread that is traditionally eaten on bread, or even better, hot buttered toast. For me, it is always consumed in conjunction with sweet tea, a combination that has about as much nostalgic effect as Proust’s Madeleine.

†When we were kids we used to do a variation on this: the damper dough was rolled out into a long strand about half an inch in diameter and wound in a spiral along a green eucalyptus stick. This was then held in the campfire until cooked. It was peeled off the stick, warm and crusty and doughy, and dipped into Golden Syrup. If you’ve never experienced this, I wish for your sake I could give you some idea of the delicious evil treat it is.

★Famously available at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, a Sydney institution.

‡The secret of the perfect rissole was famously portrayed in the quintessential Australian film, Sunday Too Far Away. I don’t want to tell you too much about this – suffice to say that if you search for “Sunday Too Far Away” and “rissole” on Google, you get one and only one hit. Read it at your peril. It is the ultimate illustration of Australian humour.

††There was no such thing as a Vegetarian when I was a kid. Really.

♥♥As I mentioned, the creation of the pavlova is the subject of heated disagreement. It’s unlikely ever to be definitively settled.

**This concoction was served at The Blue and White Cafe in Goulburn, the small country town where I grew up. Only very few Australians remember the Bodgie Blood, even though it was widespread enough for it to be more than merely a local invention, but there are enough of us that we can vouch reliably for its authenticity.