What Even Is Modern Australian?

By Sophie Colvin
9th Aug 2016

We’ve noticed “Modern Australia” popping up more frequently on menus around the country. But what does it even mean?  Is it just some wanker-ish term for all the cuisines that Australia has adopted and called its own? Or is it an actual, legit cuisine?

My mum recently quizzed me on this very topic, and I couldn’t really answer without just waving my hand about and dismissing it as ‘inventive stuff’.

We did a little digging to really nail down exactly what Modern Australian is. (Cue: Knowledgeable foodie chat) After all, some of Melbourne’s most impressive restaurants, including The Town Mouse, Ezard, Lume, Amaru and Attica all describe their dishes as Modern Australian.

What better place to start than our mate Google, which sums it up pretty nicely, saying “Modern Australian cuisine involves the mixing of completely different ethnic traditions. Potent Asian flavours such as lemon grass, coriander, chilli, and cardamom can be blended into many European dishes.” Basically confirming our suspicions that we were pinching the best culinary bits from everyone else and calling them our own.

Don’t be fooled by the ‘Australian’ part. We’re not talking roasts or the humble lasagne. Think inventive dishes with fresh flavours. There are spices used, but not in any particular format or with any real consistency. Curries feature, but not in the way you’re used to. There are no ‘traditional recipes.’

Instead, Modern Australian is an all-encompassing cuisine of inventive dishes that don’t really fit into any other bracket. Think mushroom arancini with haloumi and pine nut tarator, or pork served with braised red cabbage, fermented black garlic, malt oats and cider. See what I mean? There’s no way dishes like that could legitimately fit under another cuisine headline.

Sure, great Australian chefs have long been borrowing from other cuisines, but they’ve also completely transformed traditional ingredients to make them their own, something they’ve been able to do over time thanks to Australia’s melting pot of cultures. So they’re not completely thievin’.

So whether you’re still erring on the side of wanker term, or you’re totally on board with Modern Australian being a legit cuisine, next time you find yourself at some trendy, inventive restaurant, order the most far-out thing on the menu. You can be pretty certain that it’ll be delicious.

Image Credit: Neiyo Sun for The Urban List

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