In a previous post from last month, I talked about how I first came to Australia in 2005 and figured out that there were some differences in U.S. vs. Australian English. I promised that the second edition in the series would be about food, so in this post I’ll talk a little about some of the differences between eating in the U.S. and Australia, and share some Aussie food-related vocabulary.
Yes, we speak the same language and thus Americans will not experience difficulties ordering, buying, or cooking food in Oz. Australia does so much right with food, especially if you’ve recently been posted somewhere like Central Asia! Australia is a big island, so the seafood is incredible, and there are many, many world class restaurants, in addition to plentiful farms, grocery stores, local shops, and farmers’ markets. In addition to most of the standard familiar fare you’d expect, you may be adventurous like me; in 2006 I took a tour to the Red Centre and Uluru with my dad and stepmom where we tried “bush tucker” delicacies like rabbit, crocodile, and kangaroo.
Here are a few U.S. vs. Australia differences from my time down under in 2005, 2006, and 2017.
- Coffee: Americans tend to drink a lot of what Australians call “filter coffee”. I just call it drip coffee, but I’m no exception – I make and drink at least a few strong cups of coffee each weekday. I drink it black, without milk or sugar. Going to an Australian café or coffee shop, I can find myself stumped by drinks like “long black” and “flat white”, and generally find Australian coffee to be a lot milder than what I would make or grab from a café at home. When my dad came to visit in 2006, he was dumbfounded by the idea of ordering $4 Americanos one at a time, and soon after our food came he asked me, “Where’s the gal with the coffee pot?” FWIW, once you find the coffee you like, you’re all set, and Australians rightfully pride themselves on being purveyors of very high-quality coffee.
- Restaurants: “Bookings” (or reservations) are essential in many restaurants. My husband and I have spontaneously strolled into empty restaurants fairly early of an evening and been confronted with our least favorite question: “Have you made a booking?” When we look at each other, and then back at the hostess, she usually gives us a worried/disappointed look. This can be annoying, especially when they’re hesitant to seat you and there are so many unoccupied tables! I have felt more than once that restaurant staff acted like they were doing us a favor by seating us at their smallest table when by and large the restaurant stayed mostly empty through a weekday night. I later came to realize that when you get a table by 18:30 or so, it’s considered your table for the night (there isn’t tipping in Australia, which is probably a topic for another post in itself). But many restaurants are closed in Canberra on Mondays, too, given the lack of demand. So I’m guessing the soft booking requirement is either a bid to boost an establishment’s purported exclusivity (looking at you, Tashkent) or maybe more reasonably, simply trying to gauge the evening’s work.
- Beets: Aussies are keen on beets and call them “beetroot”. They are a standard ingredient that sometimes still takes me by surprise. If you order a sandwich or a burger, regardless of what type, it will likely contain beets unless you specifically ask for no beetroot.
- Bacon: OK, this is a minor thing, but after living in a Muslim country for two years I thought I was going to come down here and have all the bacon I could afford. Little did I remember that Aussie bacon tends to be prepared to stay soft and fatty, and not crispy like American bacon (which for Aussie taste is “burned”). Of course, you can cook your own bacon at home to your heart’s content.
- Condiments: If you want ketchup (what they call tomato sauce) with your French fries, prepare to ask for it, and get an odd look (and sometimes charged extra). And across the pan-Asian food spectrum soy sauce is extra, and they’re stingy with it!
- Mexican food: I’m sorry, but I have to say it: I have never had good or remotely authentic Mexican food in Australia. Never. Not even once. And Lord, have I tried. It’s not necessarily bad food, but contains random ingredients or things that are more Turkish or Spanish (or Australian!). What’s wrong with it? I could make a list: the spices, the meat, the rice, the beans, the sauces, the cheese – pretty much everything about it screams “I want to be Mexican food, but I don’t know how!” And “smashed avo” does not guacamole make. I recently ate at a trendy Mexican restaurant in Canberra that I’m pretty sure was bested by this past Cinco de Mayo in Central Asia. To be fair, I’m from California and am very particular about my Mexican and Tex-Mex food. (Note: I have also resoundingly dissed most of the attempts at Mexican food I’ve tried in the American south and up and down the eastern seaboard, so this is not an Australian problem. I asked my colleagues when I first came to Post where the best Mexican food in Australia was, and they said at the Mexican Embassy, which is not a restaurant, so…) And let’s be serious, the Australians brought Tim Tam cookies to the world, so I’m gonna make my own tacos at home and give them a pass.
Sure, there are other differences that the discerning palate will note – with some salad dressings, pasta sauces, mayo, chocolate, peanut butter, cheese, baking ingredients, and various kinds of meats. However, this is in no way a criticism, and at least if you’re an American diplomat in Oz, you can order all your favorite brands and have them shipped via DPO!
Or, do as we try to do and just enjoy the local offerings. Compared to our previous posting, grocery stores are a dream come true (we used to drive to Kazakhstan across scary borders for Brie cheese). You may just find that you’re a fan of the yeasty and legendary Vegemite spread! Even if not, there’s plenty on offer down under that’s worth a try, and because of its location, Southeast Asian food is cheap and plentiful. We have found some of our Aussie favorites that we like and that we will probably miss when we leave someday.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but some differences in food-related words that I’ve come across so far.
|Australian English||American English equivalent|
|BYO (bring your own)||restaurants where you bring your own alcohol|
|capsicum||green or red peppers|
|cordial||concentrated liquid juice drink (add water)|
|cuppa||cup of tea|
|entrée||appetizer (not main course)|
|essence||extract (e.g. vanilla, almond)|
|flagon||2 liter wine|
|floater||a meat pie in stew/soup|
|grog||booze, beer, wine, spirits|
|Hungry Jack’s||Burger King|
|ice blocks||ice cubes, popsicles|
|icing sugar||powdered sugar|
|Marmite||No translation! A uniquely Australian sandwich spread|
|mince meat||ground meat|
|plonk/goon||super cheap boxed wine|
|slab||case of beer (24)|
|take away||takeout, to-go order|
|tall black||double espresso|
|tea||tea, or supper/casual evening meal|
|tinnie, stubbie||can of beer|
|tuck shop||canteen, school/campus snack shop|
|Vegemite||No translation! A uniquely Australian sandwich spread|