If you’re venturing into the Land Down Under for the first time, you’ll need to know what to expect when dining in Australia. The smallest continent on Earth is also a massive destination for culture and cuisine that draws millions of visitors each year. To get a taste of true Australian food, you should understand how local foods and international influence combined to create Australia’s modern, multicultural cuisine.
Table of Contents
- A Little History About Food in Australia
- What Are the Most Popular Foods in Australia?
- How Does the Australian Diet Compare to the U.S. Diet?
- Is It Easy for People With Food Allergies or Dietary Restrictions to Travel to Australia?
- Is There Vegetarian Food in Australia?
- Is There Vegan Food in Australia?
- Are There Gluten-Free Food Options in Australia?
- How to Travel to Australia When You Have Severe Food Allergies
- How to Read an Australian Food Label
A Little History About Food in Australia
Since the arrival of European sailor Captain James Cook in 1770, Australia’s food scene has evolved.
For decades, European settlers relied on food, such as salt-preserved meats and flour to create bread, arriving via ship. Local bush foods, such as quondong and wattleseed, were traded to the settlers and provided much-needed nutrition. Like the United States, some of the early international influences of Australian cuisine came from the British and Irish. Farming culture in the country led to dinners consisting mainly of meats and some vegetables. Until the 1900s, Australian cuisine was dominated by these staples.
During the gold rush of the 1800s, Chinese men and women immigrated to Australia and began opening restaurants featuring their cuisine. Eateries representing many Asian countries are quite popular in Australia. Additionally, individuals from other European nations immigrated to the country after World War II and added to the diversity of their multinational menu. Similar to the U.S., there’s a focus on wellness and healthy foods in Australia today. Clean and green foods like vegan and vegetarian options are abundant throughout the country.
What Are the Most Popular Foods in Australia?
What do Australians eat? Like in the United States, Australians dine on food from around the world and their own backyard. With so many diverse tastes and textures influencing their menus, it’s no surprise that this country has offerings that are familiar and exotic. If you have an open mind and empty stomach, you can’t go wrong trying anything on an Australian menu. However, we recommend that you try a few national favorites. Here are 10 common foods that Australians eat:
- Vegemite: Fellow travelers will immediately insist you try Vegemite. This spread is made from a mixture of yeast extract, onion, celery, and other spices, and it’s ideal for putting on toast.
- Meat Pies: Meat pies can be found in nearly every culture, and Australian meat pies are just as hearty. These savory pies are filled with meats, veggies, and cheeses.
- Kangaroo Meat: One cultural difference you may discover as an American is that many countries around the world eat certain meats that are uncommon in our restaurants. In Australia, don’t be surprised to see kangaroo or even emu meat available.
- Balmain Bugs: No — not those kinds of bugs! Balmain bugs are a type of lobster without claws. Though small, their tail meat is delicious.
- Witchetty Grub: Now, these are actual bugs! These grubs have a nutty-taste and have been popular foods around the country for centuries.
- Chicken Parmigiana: The chicken parmigiana is a familiar food that you’ve surely sampled in some form at home. This chicken cutlet is baked in bread crumbs then topped with tomato sauce and melted cheese.
- Beetroot: Don’t be surprised to see an unfamiliar vegetable slid into your hamburger. Beetroot is a favorite topping for burgers and sandwiches.
- Chiko Roll: Picture a Chinese spring roll with an Australian twist. The Chiko roll is deep-fried and contains beef, veggies, and spices.
- Barramundi: Australia is surrounded by water, so you should already expect to enjoy delicious seafood no matter which direction you go. The barramundi is a native favorite you’ll surely find in every chip shop, bar, and restaurant.
- BBQ Snags: Who doesn’t love a good barbecue? Australians sure do, which is why you must try their traditional snags. These pork or beef sausages are favorite features of any BBQ event.
Of course, long before other nations of the world brought their influence to Australian cuisine, the Aboriginal Australians lived off of the land. These foods, referred to as bush tucker, kept them happy and healthy for tens of thousands of years.
Australia is home to nearly 5,000 different native food sources—ranging from nectar-bearing plants to the most exotic of animals. Bush tucker varies from region to region—here are a few of the best Aboriginal Australian foods you can still find today:
- Damper: This simple dish is also one of the most popular. A bread made from water, flour, and salt, was originally baked by Aboriginal Australians before becoming a popular staple for Europeans after they arrived.
- Bunya Nut: Although macadamia nuts grabbed the world’s attention, they’re far from the only nut in Australia. Bunya nuts are wedge-shaped, similar to chestnuts, and can be eaten raw or cooked. They’re also ground into a powder or made into a paste to use when making bread.
- Quandong: A species with wild peach relatives, the quandong tree bears shiny scarlet fruits that were used for food and medicine. Today, you can eat quandongs alone or you can find them as pies, sauces, or jams.
- Goanna Meat: These Australian monitor lizards are found throughout the country. Cooked whole, their taste is similar to that of chicken and were eaten by Aboriginal Australians regularly.
- Pythons: The Aboriginal people ate two different types of pythons—scrub pythons and water pythons. Typically found in the northern part of the country, these reptiles were a great food source.
- Warrigal Greens: Another native Australian food that became popular with Europeans, Warrigal Greens is a spinach-like plant that is rich in antioxidants.
- Bush Tomato: Found in the desert, the bush tomato is usually collected when it’s dried out, closely resembling raisins.
Hungry for more? Here are a few favorite snacks foods that Australians love:
- Lamingtons: This square-shaped, spongey cake is covered in chocolate and coconut.
- Pavlova: This light pie made with meringue crust, fruit filling, and whipped cream, and it is the perfect after-dinner dessert.
- Fairy Bread: White bread plus hundreds of sprinkles equals a tasty treat that brings back childhood memories.
How Does the Australian Diet Compare to the U.S. Diet?
Diets often differ from region to region. Just by looking at the foods listed above, you can already tell that there will be similarities and differences between the United States and Australia. For example, Australians love their snack foods — more than one-third of their average diet is made up of these tasty treats. Americans also eat junk foods regularly. Fast food and packaged food are frequent daily meals for nearly one-quarter of the American population.
The United States tends to eat nearly 40 pounds of meat per person per year more than Australia. And for breakfast, Australia ranks as one of the healthiest countries in the world. When it comes to sugar, Australians eat more each day than all but four other countries in the world — including the United States which ranks first.
Australians and Americans both eat sugary snacks and junk foods. Like in the United States, where more Americans are eating healthier, a similar trend is occurring in Australia where more people are becoming vegetarians and vegans.
Dining Culture in Australia
As a visitor in any country, you always want to practice proper etiquette. This is especially important when dining out in Australia with locals or if you’re invited to share a meal in someone’s home. Of course, a universal rule is to always be polite and appreciative of everyone who cooks and serves you — no matter which country you visit. Food is often much more than nourishment. It’s also a representation of the history, culture, and heritage of a place and its people.
Whether you’re dining at a laid-back restaurant or joining someone for a barbecue, you should always be aware of how you dress. Presentable, casual attire is a good starting point. Leave the sweatpants, flip flops, and t-shirts at home. Instead, wear closed-toed shoes, a shirt with a collar, and pants that don’t have holes or fraying. Although their mannerisms may be easy-going, Australians are not fond of under-dressed patrons dining at their establishments.
When ordering in Australia, you should know a couple of key differences to the menu. For example, the typical meal will consist of an entree followed by the main course and dessert. Entrees, however, are not the same as those in the United States. If you order a steak that comes with a side salad, for instance, both are considered part of the main course. An entree is a separate term you could liken to an appetizer or small order.
We’re positive that no matter what you order, though, chances are high that you’ll want to take a taste of the different meals your friends choose. Thankfully, sharing is commonplace in Australia. Australians love sharing-style dinners that break multiple courses into a communal experience. These family-style eateries are becoming more popular and act as a great way to get the table talking.
When you’re ready to settle your bill, you should keep a few things in mind. First, you’ll need to request the bill from your server — they won’t automatically bring it out to you even if it looks like you’re finished with your meal. Splitting the bill between diners is easy, so be sure to request this separation when you ask for the bill. A 10% tip is the standard gratuity for service.
Is It Easy for People With Food Allergies or Dietary Restrictions to Travel to Australia?
Whether you’re visiting a major city or trekking to the farthest reaches of a continent, you’re going to work up quite an appetite. Many of our travelers wonder if it is easy for people with food allergies or dietary restrictions to find tasty dining options in Australia. Don’t worry — even if you have a food allergy or if you require dishes that are vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free, you’ll discover plenty of great options.
Is There Vegetarian Food in Australia?
Veggie-lovers rejoice — vegetarianism is growing rapidly in Australia! This nationwide trend is seeing an increase in the number of available vegetarian options on menus around the globe. New South Wales, Sydney, and Tasmania are three areas boasting high percentages of vegetarians. If you prefer to cook during your stay, you’ll discover many great vegetarian and vegan brands in the supermarket.
Is There Vegan Food in Australia?
Vegetarians aren’t the only meat-free group enjoying delicious cuisine in Australia. Vegan food is also becoming a popular menu item throughout the country. In fact, Australia is the third-fastest growing vegan market in the world. Many companies are going out of their way to refrain from using animal ingredients when possible. Those living a vegan lifestyle will be pleased to find everything from biscuits and sauces to alternative milk products and breakfast cereals available during their travels — even in fast-food chains and chef-driven restaurants!
Are There Gluten-Free Food Options in Australia?
Yes! Many restaurants do have gluten-free options. You can even use the country’s online resource provided by Coeliac Australia to find restaurants that serve gluten-free meals. Australia food and products must list if they contain ingredients like wheat or oats. Many products may also feature the phrase “may contain gluten” if there’s a chance of cross-contamination. If you require a gluten-free diet, make sure you read all food labels before purchasing and ask servers at restaurants if they have gluten-free options before you order.
How to Travel to Australia When You Have Severe Food Allergies
While all dietary requirements are important, it’s especially vital that anyone with severe allergies know what’s they’re eating. Responsible preparation involves more than simply knowing which foods to avoid. If you’re traveling on a Rustic Pathways program or if you’re venturing around Australia on your own, there are a few protective measures you should take.
If you’re unsure whether food in Australia or another country might be a problem for you, schedule a call with one of our Global Program Advisors who can help you figure out whether we can accommodate for your allergies. After enrolling, we’ll ask you to provide info about your allergies that we can share with our Country Teams and Program Leaders, who will help make sure you’re not exposed to anything that might cause an allergic reaction. You’ll be expected to bring allergy medication including an EpiPen. Your Personal Travel Advisor will provide more info about how to prepare for your program after you enroll.
No one wants to suffer a medical emergency during a trip. Unfortunately, an allergic reaction can occur even when you’re being as careful as possible. One significant safety precaution you can take to prevent accidentally ingesting a substance you’re allergic to is to learn how to read an Australian food label.
How to Read an Australian Food Label
When you travel to a different country, it’s easy to forget just how many small details may be different. The Australian food label is slightly different than the labels listed on products in the United States. These minor changes are important to be aware of, especially for measuring ingredients or if someone in your group has severe food allergies.
Nutritional Information on Australian Food Labels
Let’s start with a similarity — the standard measurements for nutrition will be listed on an Australian food label in a similar way to how it’s listed on U.S. packaging. This includes:
- Fiber, which will be spelled as Fibre
Ingredients will also be listed in descending order like they are in the United States. The main ingredient will be listed first and the ingredient with the least amount of presence will be listed last. You should also know how to read the serving size measurements. The label will list two columns — for listing the amount of nutrition per serving and one listing nutritional amount per 100g. A rule of thumb is to only use the per serving column when cooking. When comparing products, use per 100g.
A major difference is calories. Instead of listing the calories per serving or per 100g, the label lists energy in kilojoules. A kilojoule, abbreviated by the symbol kJ, is a measure of how much energy people get from food or drink. One calorie is equivalent to 4.2 kilojoules.
Additional Tips on Australian Food Labels
Here are a few other tips on reading Australian food labels that are helpful to know:
- Food labels are also required to show a percentage indicating the amount of key ingredients in the food. For example, if a product is officially referred to as an “orange” or “grape” product, it must list how much of the ingredients are composed of oranges or grapes.
- Allergens will be listed below the nutritional information box. They may list ingredients like wheat, soybeans, sesame, eggs, milk, fish, nuts, and crustaceans.
- Expiration dates may be listed near the top or front of a product. Use-by and best-before dates are different. A use-by date lists the date you should consume food before potential health or safety issues arise. Best-before dates are required on all food that have a shelf life of less than two years. Bread can have a date listed if its shelf life is less than one week.
- Country origin labels are mandatory. These labels will show where ingredients are sourced from to give consumers more information about where their food is coming from and may be listed toward the bottom of the package.
Experience an Australian Adventure With Rustic Pathways
Australia may be quite a distance from your home in the United States, but its multinational culinary cuisine enables you to sample new foods and taste familiar dishes that you’ve grown up loving. We invite you to join us on an adventure to the Land Down Under. Rustic Pathways offers several amazing programs that take you from the ocean to the Outback. You’ll dine on unbelievable food, make extraordinary friendships, and learn more about the lives of those who call Australia home.
Do you already have a Rustic Pathways trip picked out? Enroll today to save your spot! Enroll today to guarantee the dates of your choice. Get a taste of an Australian adventure and experience the trip of a lifetime with Rustic Pathways. Contact our team today to learn more.
Jack has spent his professional career as a writer and editor. Before joining Rustic, he worked as a journalist in Kansas and Colorado, taught English in Swaziland, and transitioned to marketing roles in the Boston and New York startup worlds. Jack is excited to channel his love of storytelling and his appreciation for education as Rustic’s Content Production Manager. When not working, Jack is either watching baseball or planning his next adventure. Jack and his wife, Blythe, live in Brooklyn.