An Aussie man has found it hard to stomach US attitudes to Australian cuisine, as they label our food “boring”.
I’ve just come back from a trip around California and the very southern part of the American South – the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
And I’m shocked I wasn’t slugged with an extra baggage charge for all the extra kilos I’ve piled on, Escape reports.
This isn’t a criticism. Eating five figures worth of calories every day is part of the US holiday experience. I love American food. It’s mind-blowing – especially southern food. And even more especially Cajun southern food. The crab cakes. The beignets. The biscuits and syrup. The catfish and the redfish. The étoufée – a spicy shrimp stew. The cheesy grits, the crawfish in butter, the carrot cake, the foster bananas, the jambalaya. Not to mention all the burgers and nachos and tacos and moles. It will all send you to an early grave but it’s all delicious and you just have to do it once in your life.
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But what I find a little harder to stomach is hearing about the way Americans feel about our food.
Time and time again I heard Americans dismiss Australian food – usually from people who’d never been to Australia, but even sometimes from people who had.
Americans seem to think our food is far too dull and understated. Or that it’s basic, backwards and derivative. Or that we’re simply not a country that understands much about food at all.
And that sticks in my craw (fish).
In California, a hotelier sniffed to me: “Australian food is pretty boring. It isn’t exactly a food country, it is.”
I was shocked. Boring? Australian food isn’t boring. It’s just more restrained.
Obviously I’m generalizing here because both the USA and Australia take their food influences from hundreds of different regions and cuisines but one overarching difference is pretty clear.
Australian food looks to minimal, and often fresh or fermented ingredients for its flavor – fresh herbs, lemon and lime, miso, chilli. A restaurant plate in Australia tends to be small, beautifully composed and elegant.
Where’s American food? The mantra is: “Why use five ingredients when you can use 29?”
I saw it over and over and over again wherever I went, from Los Angeles to Louisiana. A typical menu item would read: ‘Tender smoked brisket sandwiched between a double order of crispy hash topped with cheddar fried jalapeño rings, pico, sour cream, two eggs your way, finished with house barbecue sauce and green onion.” And then, you know, add some sides. Maybe a waffle, some syrup and grits.
It wasn’t bad. It was amazing. But it was a lot. And their smash-you-in-the-face flavor assaults (which tend to be fairly one note) don’t make our comparatively low-key food – which focuses on technique, and a subtle distinction of flavor in any way inferior.
Interestingly, one of the most south of all the southern states, Alabama, is starting to eat a little bit more in the Australian way. Oysters are native to North America, but until fairly recently the southern states have grown their oysters wild, dragging them up from the silt in the bay. Their oysters tend to be large, which means they’re not great for serving raw. Instead, they get the full American treatment – either served breaded and deep fried, or piled with cheese and bacon and grilled.
Now, various oyster farmers in the region have traveled to Australia to learn about the ‘longline’ oyster farming method that was invented in South Australia and that we’ve been using here for decades. It allows farmers to control their stock better and farm smaller, more manageable oysters that are much more delicate, and better for eating raw in one gulp – eg the way most Australians eat oysters all the time.
So Alabamians are, perhaps for the first time, beginning to see oyster on their menus served the restrained Australian way, often with nothing more than a little mignonette dressing or lemon juice. I was thrilled when I saw this on a Mobile Alabama menu for myself, and even more thrilled when my Alabamian companions tried their first ever raw oysters and declared them “delicious”.
Don’t like to say ‘I told you so’ – but maybe eating the Australian way every now and again isn’t so boring after all.
This story originally appeared on Escape and has been reproduced with permission