What is Australia’s national dish?

In 2019, the Vietnamese-Australian chef Luke Nguyen and the Malaysian-Australian chef Adam Liaw announced – quite independently of each other – that Australia’s national dish is salt and pepper squid.

This surprised me, but these are big-name chefs so I’m not doubting them. I just think that YourLifeChoices readers will have their own opinions, so I took to Facebook to ask for your thoughts.

Australia is so diverse, with so many cultures, I’m sure everyone has a different answer, depending on where they are from, but there were some answers that popped up again and again.

Roast lamb
The most popular suggestion was from Barbara who said:

“I grew up in the early 1950s with a Sunday lunch of roast leg of lamb and vegetables. Self-saucing pudding and cream for dessert. Lamingtons for afternoon tea. Sandwiches and Swiss roll for morning tea. Shepherd’s pie for tea, using up the leftover lamb, which was minced.”

Lynne agrees “This sounds as if you lived at our place, except we had the roast lamb on Saturday and cold meat on Sunday. We had roast rabbit once a week, stew with dumplings, then fish and chips on Friday. My gran was a great cook.”

In 2013, a study conducted by the Continental crowned roast lamb as ‘Australia’s National Dish’. More than 8000 votes were cast in the three-month nationwide campaign and over two-thirds of votes were for meat items.

In the end, roast lamb came first, second place was claimed by the meat pie and the classic seafood staple barbecue prawns finished in third place.

David Thomason, general manager of marketing at Meat and Livestock Australia, said that most people in mainstream Australia still want to sit down to dinner at the table as a family.

“We’ve been eating roast lamb in Australia since the arrival of Arthur Phillip because he brought 44 sheep with him,” he said. “I’m sure they weren’t just for wool.”

“When a lamb is in the oven, it’s aromatherapy for the home,” he said. “It’s an aroma that gets people salivating and one sure way of getting people around the dining table together.”

Read: Slow-Roasted Harissa Lamb Shoulder

Meat pie
We had more than 100 comments hailing the humble meat pie with tomato sauce. Vicki said, “I may be wrong, but the meat pie isn’t anywhere else … closest thing is a pork pie in England. Failing that, a Vegemite sandwich!”

Joan agreed, “Pie and tomato sauce. I have only seen this in Australia not anywhere else.”

The pie arrived in Australia with the first colonists. They were on the menu of Sydney’s first official banquet held to celebrate the king’s birthday in June 1788, although what they contained is not recorded.

Now, Melbourne is home to the iconic Four ‘n Twenty pie and the factory apparently churns out 12,000 pies an hour, 24 hours day.

Pie floater
Sue said, “For South Aussies it’s a pie floater.” Rosemary agreed, “When I was a young girl, living in Adelaide a pie floater after a night out was the best.”

Now, I had to look this one up …

The pie floater is an Australian dish particularly common in Adelaide. It consists of a meat pie in a thick pea soup, typically with the addition of tomato sauce. The National Trust of Australia recognised the pie floater as a ‘South Australian Heritage Icon’ in 2003. Sounds interesting, but I’m not sure that one’s going to take off everywhere though!

The barbecue
I was hesitant to include this because it’s not really one dish – more an assortment of dishes. But it was a very popular suggestion, with it popping up almost 100 times across 500 comments.

Carol said, “Easy, the barbecue!”

Wendy agreed, “Barbecue with lamingtons and pavlova for dessert.”

Read: Barbecues through the decades

It seems Australia is a land of early adopters and easy adapters; we borrow good ideas and tinker with them till they fit our needs. But we still have our good old Vegemite. Aussies love it, most overseas tourists hate it, but there’s no denying Vegemite is one of Australia’s most popular and iconic brands.

Ginny nominated, “Vegemite on toast!”

Sausage in a piece of bread
John said, “A Bunnings sausage on bread.”

Comedian and radio personality Dave O’Neil is another fan of the snag in bread.

“It’s a handheld dish that goes with the active Aussie image,” he said. “It was probably introduced for convict gangs, so they could eat and keep working. It’s now the natural addition to any occasion, be it a fete, ceremony or funeral.”

“The sausage in bread is an Aussie icon like the esky or the beer stubbie. If we didn’t invent it, we certainly own it now. “

Read: Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova

Noelene votes for the sweet stuff, “Anzac biscuits, lamingtons, and pavlova.”

The early history of pavlova can be traced back to 1906 where recipes for a very similar dish have been found. Though this dish was only called a ‘cream cake’ and did not yet bear the name ‘pavlova’.

A 1922 book Australian Home Cookery by Emily Futter contained a recipe for “Meringue with Fruit Filling”. This is the first known recipe for a food entirely resembling the modern pavlova, though still not yet known by that name.

Nowadays, it’s a popular holiday dessert that many people enjoy.

Over to you, what do you think is Australia’s national dish? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.
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