As Anthony Bourdain said, in Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly,
“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico, and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald’s? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”
And in that same sentiment, so do I…well almost everything! One of the fun things about traveling around the world is the opportunity to try native dishes. Checking out the local cuisine is a part of experiencing the culture of a country. If you happen to be “down under” and are keen to experience some delicious native cuisine flavored with bushtucker (indigenous ingredients), go for it!
Old Man Saltbush. The familiar perennial shrub is found over large areas of Australia’s dry inland. It’s so widely eaten by the sheep that it’s thought to give Australian lamb it’s subtle salty savor. Today you can find saltbush in stuffings, stir-fries or as a wrap for meats. It can also be seasoned and deep fried or dried and ground into flakes as a seasoning. Often times it is used as a substitute for sea salt in soups and hotpots.
Warrigal Greens. This succulent is nutrient rich and packed with antioxidants. The leaves are packed with high levels of vitamin C and they were used by early natives to fight scurvy. It grows wild near the coasts and is used in the same way as spinach. The leaves must be blanched to remove the oxalic acid before eating. Warrigal greens are used in stews, soups, dumplings and other savory dishes.
Lemon Myrtle. Lemon Myrtle has gained some popularity in the last few years. Its lemongrass-y flavor is added to dishes for a delicate finish or to cocktails as a light, refreshing note. You might even get it lightly sprinkled on salads. As an added benefit, lemon myrtle is said to be rich in antioxidant and contains minerals like calcium, zinc, magnesium, as well as vitamins A and E.
Muntries. These little pink berries can be found in the dunes of Australia. They are thought of as native cranberries…even though they taste more like spicy dried apples. As one of the oldest bush foods, Muntries are a favorite among the Narrindjeri Aboriginals. Muntries have up to four times the antioxidants of Blueberries. The berries are used in salads, jams, chutneys, and desserts.
Bunta Nuts. Each January the Bunya pine trees begin to drop their cones. The huge pine cones weigh up to 10 kg and contain large edible seeds. The nuts are reminiscent of an oversized Brazil nut. Traditionally they were roasted in coals and ground into flour or meal for thousands of years by the Aboriginals. They have several culinary uses including as an ingredient in pestos, pizza toppings, or salads.
Finger Limes. These limes come from a thorny understory shrub of lowland subtropical rainforest along Australia’s the coastal border region. Considered a “gourmet” bushfood, the caviar-like pulp is a mainstream ingredient in marmalades, sherbets, and creams. It’s also used as a bright citrus note on top of oysters, scallops, and grilled salmon. For vegetarians, the lime “pearls” are delicious on avocados and papayas.
Wallaby. Only in Tasmania is it legal to harvest wallaby. The meat then is exported to restaurants across Australia. Wallaby has been a source of sustenance for aboriginal Tasmanians for thousands of years. Like other native Australian ingredients, it has been regaining popularity in the culinary world. Wallaby is a more environmentally friendly source of meat compared to beef or lamb. You can find it served up as a steak or in stews and savory pies.
Go! Adventure. Take a page from Tony and don’t be afraid to try new things. What tasty native ingredients or dishes have you eaten down under? Share with us in the comments below, we’d love to know about your culinary adventures!