I've long known that Australians were serious about food. Years ago, while consoling me about a terrible breakup I was enduring, my friend Holly made me ricotta hotcakes from Bill Granger's cookbook Bill's Open Kitchen. I promptly recovered from the failed relationship and went out and bought the cookbook. I'd pore over it, open-mouthed, entranced by the practically-Asian recipes and the exotic photos of Sydney Harbor.
This was my first introduction to the cuisine of Australia, which is known for its Asian-Western fusion made with fresh, locally-grown ingredients. I'll admit, I was impressed. Soon after, I decided that I was probably trans-racial (likely Asian trapped in a pale, white girl body) and began to shift the focus my cooking efforts to the East, forgetting about Australian cooking almost entirely. However, I will always fondly remember that cookbook for expanding my horizons to the Southern hemisphere.
In Cambodia, I have had my first contact with Australians en masse. They're lovely people, mostly. But one of my Australian friends spends an awful lot of time making comments that are meant to be interpreted as well-meaning and sincere, but are mainly just jibes about the ignorance and inferiority of Americans. This person also told me that Asian food in Australia is just better than it is in Asia because the ingredients are "better" and "fresher." Not just Asian food, really, but all food. I chafed at this, and it was the beginning of a serious nugget of resentment towards not only Australians but their food as well.
Now that I'm here in Australia, I've managed to keep my grudge against its people at a low simmer and I've fully embraced its food. There's no denying that I've been eating well here; my few days in Sydney left me full of flavors I can only dream about in Cambodia. On my first night we had tasty tapas made with succulent meats and Spanish cheeses and bottles and bottles of relatively cheap wine. Phnom Penh this was not. By the time the bill came, I was almost drunk enough to not notice that it was nearly the price of my monthly apartment rental.
The next night we went to a Japanese restaurant chain, Wagaya, with more than 200 seats and a half hour wait even with a reservation. That may sound horrifying -- and in some ways it was -- but they were serving the freshest sashimi I've had outside of Japan, at prices that were almost reasonable by Australian standards. Plus, they have a BYO policy, which is hard to argue with.
Even on our touristy ferry trip to Manly, I was greeted on shore with a delicious roast beef sandwich that puts stringy Cambodian beef to shame. I don't know if Australia considers itself to have a sandwich culture, but I had another great one today in Melbourne. And the beer! They've got great beer that even my unrefined beer-palate can sense.
Last night, though, I ate at a Thai-Lao restaurant, and while it was delicious, I was pleased to see that contrary to what my so-called Australian friend in Phnom Penh had assured me, it was neither better or fresher than what you'd find in Thailand or Laos.
But then today, as I was browsing at a bookstore in Melbourne I came across a couple of Bill Granger's cookbooks. As an adult, they aren't quite as entrancing as they were back then (apparently he's a big time celebrity chef in these parts) but I'm still tempted to buy one so I can go home and cook like an Australian.