The foreign foods Australia needs
April 3, 2013
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Choripan Bibimbap Shakshuka Esfahan
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Beer food … currywurst. Photo: Penny Bradfield
So I get back to Australia after a long trip away, and everyone’s eating banh mi. Which is fair enough, because banh mi is awesome.
But it’s a bit like the band you were listening to years ago that’s suddenly popped up on Nova. You want to tell everyone, “Yeah, I was eating banh mi years ago. In Vietnam, before it was cool.”
It’s interesting the foreign foods that suddenly become popular in Australia. Kebabs, I guess, were once cutting edge foodstuffs. Spanish-style small plates had their go. Tacos are still de rigueur. Ramen is everywhere. Ceviche is cool. We’re all hungry for sliders.
Ethiopian injera … more please. Photo: Marco Del Grande
But what’s next? What are the foreign foods that deserve their time in the Australian sun? Or at least in the pub?
We could do worse than these…
I was eating banh mi before it was cool.
Germans know how to do good beer, and they also know how to do good beer food. Currywurst is simple: just a bratwurst sausage grilled, sliced, then covered in a sweet curry sauce and sprinkled with curry powder. Served with chips it’s the ultimate beery fast food – not sure why it hasn’t made a splash in Australia yet.
Choripan is a basic thing: a chorizo sausage (chori) in bread (pan). But then think about the smoky, spicy flavour, and the sauce, the finely chopped chimichurri, and all of a sudden you’ve got the kind of snack you could see upmarket bars peddling to the inner-city masses in no time.
Batata Vada (India)
If you’re the sort – er, definitely not me – who wanders around Sydney at 2am looking for an “Indian kebab”, then this is the snack for you: a spiced potato cake served in a small bread roll with chutney. This Mumbai specialty doesn’t sound like much, but wait till you taste it. The kebab guys would be out of business.
Pork tea (China/Malaysia)
The name is a misnomer, as there’s no tea in this dish: just some hardcore pork bits, cooked in an intensely flavourful sauce that gives it its name. It’s spicy, sweet, porky and delicious. Like many of the dishes mentioned here it can appear to be simple food, but is deceptively complex.
Forget a kebab, or even a banh mi – this is the foreign sandwich of the future. A cake made of black-eyed peas is fried in oil, then split in half and filled with small prawns that have been cooked in their shells in chilli and cashew paste. It’s street food in the beachy Brazilian state of Bahia, and it would work here.
Like currywurst, this is bar food, plain and simple. A good Dutch kroket is a thing of beauty: it’s like the filling from a meat pie has been formed into a cylinder, crumbed and deep-fried. Add a little mustard and all of your drunken dreams have just come true.
Fried liver sandwiches (Morocco)
On the narrow streets of Fez they serve these amazing sandwiches: round bread rolls split and stuffed with a mixture of sausage meat and liver that’s been chopped and fried in spices. These snacks go for about $1 each, and they taste incredible. (Though, admittedly, they may not taste quite as incredible when not surrounded by Fez.)
Soba noodles (Japan)
We’ve got sushi, we’ve got ramen, we’ve got tempura, but there’s still not a lot of love for the delicate awesomeness of soba noodles. Served cold or hot, in soup or dipped in an equally delicate sauce, soba is not for midnight devouring. It’s for – ahem – sober appreciation.
Halim Bademjan (Iran)
How beef and the humble eggplant is cooked to become this pale, molasses-thick soup I have no idea, but the result is delicious. Dusted with spice and served with a huge flatbread, this specialty of Esfahan deserves a go in the cafes of Australia.
This one is already beginning to find its way onto trendy café menus, and with good reason. When I wake up in the morning, the thought of eggs poached in a spicy tomato and capsicum sauce, served with bread, is about the best thing I could picture.
It’s the new nasi goreng! Bibimbap has everything that makes a rice dish good, including egg, chilli paste, mince, and some sautéed greens that you won’t find in any other cuisine. It’s also cooked (properly) in a stone bowl, giving the outer bits of rice a beautiful crunchy texture. I’d eat it every day.
Bobotie (South Africa)
There’s some weird food in South Africa – like a salad made of baked beans, banana and mayonnaise – but bobotie is fantastic. It’s comfort food: a baked casserole of mince, curry spices, dried fruit, and Mrs Ball’s chutney, with an eggy white sauce on top. You wouldn’t exactly expect to see it at Tetsuya’s, but for pub grub it works.
There’s maybe two Ethiopian restaurants in Melbourne, and one in Sydney, but there should be more. It mightn’t be to everyone’s taste, but injera – a sort of sour, spongy pancake – served with wats (stews) could easily find its place on the Australian dining scene. To some it tastes like eating your napkin, but I love it.
Which foreign foods would you like to see become popular in Australia?