There are many things an immigrant to Australia has to wrap his head around. Colourful slang, scraggly bush, Australian Rules Football and marsupials. And then of course, there is the panoply of strange and wonderful snacks, sweets, and other food items that are as much a part of the Australian soul as the kangaroo and surfing.
I’ve taken to shooting some of these items lately and share some of the early results here.
The Lamington is distinctly and originally Australian. A sweet treat found at any bake sale, church or school function the slightly hirsute lamington is as common as muck, down here. And though it may even look like something out of Monsters Inc, it does not taste like muck at all. A light sponge cake cut into squares, iced with chocolate and sprinkled with desiccated coconut, the lamington has a squishy layer of cream in the middle. They go down very easily, indeed.
The history of this Aussie culinary invention is contentious; several stories vie for supremacy.But all agree that the cake is named in honour of Lord Lamington, the once upon a time Governor of Queensland around the time of Federation (1901). My favourite version of history is that his Lordship’s French chef accidentally dropped a sponge cake into some chocolate and to make the thing look more presentable he sprinkled some rather exotic (for the time) coconut on top. Though his name lives on and is spoken by millions everyday, Lord Lamington himself couldn’t stand the dessert. He apparently referred to them as those ‘bloody poofy wooly biscuits.’
These things are taken very seriously; in 2006 July 21st was designated National Lamington Day in Australia.
Liquorice (licorice) Allsorts are not originally or uniquely Australia. They were actually invented in England and have infiltrated all corners of the former Empire, but Australians have made the gloriously hued stack of liquorice a favorite ‘lolly’. I certainly had never encountered them until I came to Australia and so I guess they’ve become emblazoned in my mind as completely Australia. Like the Lamington, this sweet was born through a falling accident. In 1899 (once again, near that seminal Australian year of 1901) a salesman for the Bassett Sweet Company in the UK was showing a tray of sweets to a client when he spilled them all on the floor. Hurriedly, he gathered the spilled lollies together, all sorts of them, and the client liked the new look. The rest as they say…
Victoria Bitter, or simply VB, is the beer that most Aussies drink. Not Fosters. No one drinks Fosters in Australia. Honest. VB, until last year, was the most popular beer in the country, selling a case every second! A local Melbourne brewer, Thomas Moore, devised the recipe for this brewed icon, in the early years of the 20th century but it didn’t become beer-most-popular until a popular advertising campaign on TV brought it to the lips of everyone. The alcohol content was historically 4.9%, but in 2009, the brilliant managers that now control so much of the cultural space of modern life decided that what the punters really wanted was a beer with less alcohol. So the ‘new and improved’ brew hit the shelves and the next day sales slumped. VB was toppled from its supreme position by a Queensland rival (XXXX). In 2012 the brilliant managers quietly re-upped the alcohol in the green bottle and the race to the top is once more on.