How Multiculturalism Helped Reshape Australian Cuisine

It’s no secret that Australian put a lot of love and effort into making some of the most delicious treats, both savoury and sweet. From delightful pavlovas to the iconic anzac biscuits, Australian foods have something to satisfy every type of palate. And one of the main reasons for this is the gradual evolution the cuisine has seen thanks to the heavy influence of the many cultures that have migrated to the continent.

Up until the 1950s, Australian cuisine was heavily influenced by British and Irish eating habits. Meat pies, pudding, and stewed vegetables were a common sight on dinner tables, and herbs for seasoning were at the time imported from the homeland. Meat has always been a staple, especially considering the fact that the country has been described as “riding on the sheep’s back” to prosperity. Visit any Australian home and you can expect to get a large helping of lamb or beef served with a side of mash or veg. While Australians do take a lot of care in preparing their meats, an increased awareness of nutrition is seeing the proportion of vegetables in the plate slowly increasing.

Another important trait Australian’s brought over from their British ancestors was their love for evening tea and beer, two things that have remained the beverage of choice even today. Italian immigrants introduced the wonderful magic of espresso coffee, making instant coffee a staple beverage. However, unlike in Italy, where cappuccino is traditionally considered a breakfast drink, Australians love to drink it at any time of the day!

Australia’s first foray with Asian food was when Chinese gold prospectors in the 1800s—yearning for some tastes of home—decided to open restaurants that would serve authentic Chinese cuisine. Fortunately for food lovers, most prospectors found that opening an eatery was a much more lucrative business that panning for gold. Fast forward to the 1980s, which saw a huge influx of Asian migrants, and suddenly there were Chinese and Thai restaurants in every little town and suburb.

Some chefs have helped revolutionize Australian cuisine by infusing elements of multiculturalism in their cooking. Balazs Varga, the owner and founder of the now closed Decca’s Restaurant on Melbourne Street, North Adelaide, fled his home country of Hungary in 1956 to escape the regime that had taken everything from him and his family. His restaurant, which he opened in 1965, was famous for its Hungarian delicacies and slowly turned into a meeting place for celebrities and the elite, up to its closing in 1985. Varga claims that people who came to his restaurant to try Hungarian food also found an appreciation for cultural diversity. “Food introduces people to the habits and ways of life of other people and it can break down barriers as they learn more about each other,” he said.

Australia being such a huge melting pot of cultures, it was never a doubt that it would eventually also become a literal “melting pot” for people of different diversities to experiment and bond over their shared love of food. So the next time you take a bite into your favourite dish, try and see if you can taste the all different flavours that have shaped and reshaped the culinary landscape of Australia.

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