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The history behind Australia’s most iconic cultural foods

Guest Post
13 December 2017 4 minute readShare

Australia is a multicultural nation and the influences of global cultures can be seen in everyday Australian food. Over time, we have somehow made them our “own”, yet their foreign origins remain nonetheless. Our British heritage certainly has played a big role in shaping our food, along with our American, European and Asian connections, which have all played a major part as well.

Whether food can be classified as Australian or not has been a contentious issue recently, with food labelling in the spotlight. A look back at the introduction of some Aussie favourites, however, will show that very little of what we eat can really be called Australian.

Just taking a cursory look at the history of food in Australia will highlight the influx of new and exotic foods that were brought into the country through large-scale immigration. Gold rushes brought many from all over the world, however, a large portion came from China, Thailand and Malaysia and we began to see Chinese restaurants open as early as the 1920s.

Following World War II, an increasing amount of Europeans decided to make Australia their home.  Notably, Italians and Greeks began to open up shops and introduce their traditional cuisine. Asian immigration continued to grow through the 1970s and 1980s and more restaurants began to open as Australians became accustomed to the Asian cuisine.

The value that Australians place on multiculturalism can be seen in every aspect of the country’s culture surrounding food, with many of the quick recipes from HelloFresh being inspired by some of our most prevalent cultural groups. You will also frequently see food businesses that make authentic food from other cultures thriving.

The evolution of multiculturalism in Australia has given the country a range of unique food options, which has expanded our culinary experiences. And, as Aussies do, we have made modifications to such food creations and now claim them as iconic. Here are some of our Aussie staples and the history behind them:

Roast Lamb

The Sunday roast originated in England and was no doubt introduced in the very early days of the Australian life. Traditionally, this dish is made with beef but it is evident that Australians have made closer friends with the roast lamb, which has since become an Australian staple.

Nowadays, a lamb roast is more common than a beef roast and has become synonymous with many Australia Day celebrations and our sense of national pride.

Meat Pies

Another British invention that many Australians claim as their own is the meat pie. The meat pie often divides people, especially Americans, due to its savoury nature. Americans are used to having sweet pies as a dessert or treat but Australians have taken on the British version.

What we have done to make it “ours” is introduce many different varieties featuring lots of different fillings - from chunky steak, to curry pies and even chicken pies. Pies can be found at almost all service stations around Australia and many corner stores will sell them too – a true Australian icon.

Sausage on a Roll

There is nothing more Australian than cooking some snags on the barbeque, throwing them in some fresh bread rolls and topping it all off with tomato sauce. It pays direct homage to the American hotdog; however, we’ve opted for a snag over a hotdog.

Seen regularly at local sporting events around the country with available additions such as egg, bacon and barbecued onion, the sausage in a roll is now a classic Australian favourite.

Chicken Parmigiana

The chicken parma is a staple of Australian pubs. The dish has origins in both Italian and American cooking with a chicken schnitzel being topped with tomato sauce, prosciutto ham and melted cheese, often served with chips and salad. The meal is an Australian favourite and one of the most popular pub meals alongside the classic steak and chips.

Fish & Chips

The Australian summer and our amazing beaches make for the perfect fish and chips weather. We are surrounded by sea and have great access to some of the most delicious fish in the world. But, unfortunately, the Brits also beat us to the fish and chip idea. There is no doubt we all love a fish and chip dinner by the beach with some friends but we can’t claim it as our own.

Hamburger with the Lot

Now, this certainly isn’t saying that hamburgers were an Aussie invention or that we try to claim them as one. What we can claim though is the burger with the lot. That includes a traditional hamburger with egg, bacon, pineapple and beetroot, making it one hell of a meal and a serious challenge to get your mouth around.

Whilst this one may not be as common around the cities, venture into any regional or country town and you can be sure that they will have a burger with the lot on the menu.

Chiko Roll

The Chiko roll is an Australian fair and carnival classic. Many people probably have fond memories of attending the Royal Easter Show and their parents getting them a Chiko roll to have on the go.

Originally introduced in 1951 by Frank McEnroe, it was designed as a food that could be eaten at football matches: Chiko Roll in one hand and a cold beer in the other. The roll takes its inspiration from the Chinese spring roll and is essentially a larger version still containing cabbage, beef, carrot and onion before being deep fried.


The lamington is another Aussie icon which may not be as Australian as we think it is. The chocolate and coconut-coated sponge cake was thought to have originated with Lord Lamington, the eighth Governor of Queensland.

However, new research based on evidence supplied by a 19th century painting suggests that the lamington is actually a New Zealand invention. Supposedly, the lamington was originally called the ‘wellington’, and Lord Lamington stumbled across it on a trip to the country!

While we don’t always want to admit it, there is a huge multicultural history behind our iconic Australian foods that we love to share. This is good, as it reflects the beauty and complexity of our multicultural nation – even if not all the ingredients can be marked as Australian any more. And we’re lucky that we get to enjoy such a variety of delicious food!

The history behind Australia’s most iconic cultural foods
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