to truly establish ourselves as a nation, we really should settle on a menu. Pictures: Supplied
to truly establish ourselves as a nation, we really should settle on a menu. Pictures: Supplied

Australia, we are a culinary disaster

Before we begin the annual ritual of agonising over our national identity this coming Australia Day we should first settle a question we've studiously avoided since Federation:

"What's for lunch?''

We put the cart before the horse 120 years ago when we created a nation before a national dish, unlike the Italians who came up with lasagne 500 years before they came up with a country.

The great philosopher and sometimes rock musician Frank Vincent Zappa once said no country can be a country without an airline and a beer which begs the question:

"Can a country be a country without a cuisine?''

Sorry, but the meat pie is more British than Australian. Picture: News Corp Australia
Sorry, but the meat pie is more British than Australian. Picture: News Corp Australia

In Argentina on July 9 when they celebrate independence from Spain you might get served Locro, a stew made from corn, beans, potato and beef while in Mexico where there's a series of national days to pick from, it's a fair bet you'll find tacos on the table at every one.

The Americans will feed you Turkey at the November thanksgiving and hamburgers on July 4, the French will serve up Quiche Lorraine to mark Bastille Day on July 14 and, if you happen to be in Spain to mark Día de la Hispanidad on October 12, you'll likely get a Paella.

We, however, have no main course which we can place before an international guest and declare, voice quivering with patriotic pride:

"Here is an authentic Australian dish.''

We can't go on pointing to the pavlova because there is overwhelming evidence we stole it from New Zealand.

The meat pie is more British than Australian, the barbecue is claimed by communities from Limpopo to Louisiana and fresh prawns, fish and crab have sworn allegiance to no nation.

Roast lamb is older than the Bible and, marketing genius of Sam Kekovich aside, would probably be more at home in an Edinburgh dining room on a chilly November 30 when the Scottish mark St Andrew's Day than on an Australia Barbecue on January 26.

Even Sam Kekovich’s ardent devotion can’t change lamb’s origins. Picture: Supplied
Even Sam Kekovich’s ardent devotion can’t change lamb’s origins. Picture: Supplied

Australia's original inhabitants should have promoted the pleasures of eating the national emblem before we federated in 1901, when roo would probably have been an attractive alternative to the boiled mutton routinely served for lunch.

But waves of immigration have corrupted our tastebuds, raising the culinary bar to unimagined heights.

Selling seared kangaroo lion smoked in lemon myrtle as a national dish to a country which has tasted the delights of a Vietnamese Pho is a marketing exercise to leave even the talented Kekovich floundering.

I once believed a curry and rice made by my mum based on that bright orange tin of Keens Curry that was an essential item in rural Australian pantries might have passed muster as a national dish.

But the entire Indian subcontinent would inevitably lodge an appeal, alleging cultural appropriation or theft of intellectual property

A billboard advertisement for the Chiko Roll. Picture: Supplied
A billboard advertisement for the Chiko Roll. Picture: Supplied

We could ask celebrated chefs to expand on the concept of the Chiko Roll and employ that "Asian Fusion'' malarky to transform it into our signature dish, perhaps even road tested by the ABC's Annabel Crabb on the next series of Kitchen Cabinet.

But it probably wouldn't take with the fashionable crowd who would dismiss even the "Nouvelle Chiko Cuon'' as an embarrassment best left in the 20th Century, along with the Curried Sausage and the coloured cocktail onions.

You cannot, in all good conscience, serve foreign visitors a lamington for an Australia Day lunch even if a small square of sponge dipped in chocolate and coated with desiccated coconut is a bona fide, domestic culinary creation.

We lack a national dish. Picture: Brett Lethbridge
We lack a national dish. Picture: Brett Lethbridge

Same goes for Weet-Bix, Vegemite and the Iced Vovo which, even if they do have an Australian pedigree to rival the wombat, cannot be realistically served as a main course.

Think Italy and you think pizza, think America you think hamburger, think Indonesia you think Nasi Goreng, think China and you think Peking duck if you're cashed up, fried rice if you're not.

Word association games linking countries to main courses are easy until you reach Australia.

Forget the annual identity crisis, forget the "are we Asian or are we European?'' diatribe, forget even the tortured discussion that's coming this year about the arrival of Captain James Cook 250 years ago, and the devastating impact of subsequent colonialism.

To truly establish ourselves as a nation, we really should settle on a menu.

Michael Madigan is a journalist with The Courier-Mail

@madiganm

 

Even the pavlova doesn’t belong to us. Picture: Supplied
Even the pavlova doesn’t belong to us. Picture: Supplied


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