I think it’s safe to say American food doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation in Australia. First impressions include: huge portion sizes, lots of fast food, and lots of burgers. But once you spend some time here, there is plenty to love about American food (and not just getting two meals for the price of one when you order take out!)
Each fortnight (that’s every 2 weeks, for the Americans!) Micharne will share what she’s learned about some aspect of the US, from an Aussie perspective.
Mexican food in the US is widely available, even in states far from Mexico. If you’re traveling and want to avoid fast food on your trip, chances are there will be a local, excellent Mexican place. Google Maps doesn’t seem to be quite the “go to” in Australia that it is in the US, but it is absolutely your friend in finding the best local places while traveling.
Mexican food has become more available in Australia in recent years, seen in the rise of the chains Zambrero and Guzman Y Gomez. I loved visiting these places when I was in Oz, missing Mexican food, and in a “full circle” moment, both of these chains are now spreading to the US!
One important thing to note however, in Australia we mostly eat Tex-Mex. The difference between Mexican and Tex-Mex can most coarsely be reduced to the presence of sour cream, lettuce, tomato and sometimes cheese. A Mexican taco for example will let the meat really speak for itself, with cilantro, onion, a squeeze of lime, and minimal other toppings. A Tex-Mex taco will probably have all the other things I listed!
BBQ vs Grilling
The meaning of the word “BBQ” in Australia and America is very different. In Australia I think of the actual BBQ grill, and anything (sausages, steak, seafood etc.) which is cooked on it. This is called “grilling” in the US. This may seem like semantics, but the word BBQ in the US is then reserved for an entire cuisine of food.
While on the subject of grilling, one particularly different item in the US is burgers. I don’t know why Aussies mostly don’t cook burgers on a BBQ, and why we always serve them well done, but it is the opposite in the US. They are a classic BBQ item, and served like steaks, on a scale of well-done to rare. Also in the reverse commute, I wish you all the best convincing an Aussie waiter that burgers can be anything other than well done!
BBQ – The Cuisine
So “BBQ” in America consists of smoked meats including brisket (a cut of beef), ribs, pulled pork, chicken etc. and specific sides including coleslaw, mac and cheese, collard greens (collard is a green leafy vegetable, not dissimilar to kale) and baked beans (yes, like you might eat for breakfast in Oz, but these are usually strongly meat flavored). Then within the cuisine, there are four prominent BBQ styles – Kansas City, Memphis, Carolina and Texas BBQ, each with their own specific dishes and flavors.
Particularly important is the BBQ sauce, which is usually house made and again varies between regions (and is holistically a far cry from the BBQ sauce Aussies serve in a brown bottle, next to tomato sauce in a red bottle).
This is a paragraph about an art form, but I’ll leave you with one fun fact – Burnt Ends are delicious. I know they sound terrible, but they are pieces of brisket that are particularly smoky, and particularly juicy, and famous in the tradition of Kansas City BBQ.
Pie in America is dessert, right on the opposite end of the food spectrum to our Aussie meat pies. I think both countries are missing out in not truly embracing the other’s version of pie. Yes, both are available in both places, but not in the same vibrancy (though in NYC, meat pies/alternatives are available at these places). Two fun American pies to try are a Key Lime Pie, which is surprisingly very tart, and a Pumpkin Pie, which is more spicy in the cinnamon / cloves / nutmeg way than sweet.
On the subject of pumpkin pie, you can get an almost infinite array of pumpkin or pumpkin spice themed products in the US, especially in the Fall, including: cereal, ice cream, yogurt, empanadas, bagels, cookies, beer, candles, air freshener and of course perhaps the most famous, pumpkin spice lattes.
Astoundingly, baked pumpkin is not a thing in the US. Its relative, baked potato, is very common. So for the perfect cross-cultural experience, bake pumpkin for the Americans in your life! Just make sure you seek out cooking pumpkins, or Jarrahdale pumpkin (the grey ones), as they are different to the far more common carving pumpkins.
While we eat plenty of American food in Australia, and you may not think translations are needed, here are some explanations that may be helpful when eating American food in America…
Biscuits: Are actually like scones, and are often served with gravy, which is different to brown Australian gravy. This white gravy is sometimes called sausage gravy, but is referring to American sausage which is actually closer to what we would call mince meat (if you’ve had a Supreme pizza with sausage in the US, the sausage was actually the spicy ground beef like meat). This all sounds very complicated but just try it!
Canned Beets: Known as beetroot in Australia, is possibly the only food that has notably less sugar in the US! This is so random, but they are much less sweet.
Fried Chicken: is elevated at restaurants beyond what you may have had say at a fast food chain in Australia. Also, you get to eat it with waffles in the US, for breakfast!
Grilled Cheese: is a stand-alone meal in the US, often accompanied with tomato soup. It is a sandwich with an excellently large amount of cheese. Curiously it is not made on a grill, but fried. So while it is close to an Aussie toastie, it is not the same. Also while Australians often find it hard to get bread where you can’t taste the sugar in the US, I’ve found rolls from Italian bakeries are the closest thing to Aussie bread. Or if you’re in NYC, here is a complete list of good bread options.
Gumbo / Jambalaya: dishes to try in New Orleans (and beyond!) The difference is gumbo is like a stew, served with some rice, and jambalaya is a rice dish.
PB & J: Peanut butter and jelly. In translating Australian to American, jam is jelly, and jelly is jello. Also Americans find it hilarious we have butter with peanut butter in Australia.
I’m out of time for this week, but please do add all your favorite foods that I missed in the comments! And 10 points to the person who solves the 3 musketeers / Mars Bar / Milky Way confectionery cross-cultural mystery…