Welcome To Australia

By Elizabeth Greenberg, Staff Writer

Jennifer Lee quips in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, "If our benchmark for Americanness is apple pie, ask yourself, how often do you eat apple pie? Now how often do you eat Chinese food?”

 

Welcome To Australia

By Elizabeth Greenberg, Staff Writer

Jennifer Lee quips in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, "If our benchmark for Americanness is apple pie, ask yourself, how often do you eat apple pie? Now how often do you eat Chinese food?”

Australians seem to be more honest than we are about Chinese food's role in their national cuisine.  As in the United States, Chinese food in Australia is very popular and can be found pretty much anywhere; but unlike in the States, several Chinese-inspired treats are considered iconic national foods and are found, not just in Chinese restaurants, but in local fish and chip shops. 

Chiko_rollChiko Roll

So what's Australian Chinese food like?  As it turns out, much like American Chinese food, which is to say not much like traditional Chinese food at all.  It's generally heavy on the deep-fried foods, and sweet-and-sour sauce abounds.  According to Harley Spiller of Flavor and Fortune, one of the main differences in the cuisines is the terminology: " 'Long Soup,' for example, means noodle soup and 'Short Soup' means wonton soup."  Interestingly, though, despite Chinese food's history of adaptation to local tastes, Australian Chinese cuisine rarely includes indigenous meats like kangaroo or emu, although lamb is frequently used. 

Chinese food came to the Australian market soon after the first organized group of immigrants came to Australia in 1840.  By 1858 forty-two-thousand Chinese had entered the country, most of them with the intent of panning for gold.  Chinese food was quicker to catch on in Australia than it was in the United States, though; in the United States, Chinese food was greeted with suspicion and hostility.  There were even newspaper articles containing serious editorials on whether Chinese people ate rat like chicken!  In contrast, by 1891, just 51 years after the initial immigration, an estimated one of every three cooks in Australia was Chinese.

With such a long history of popularity, it shouldn't be too surprising that in the twentieth century, two adaptations of Chinese foods became so popular in Australia that they are now far more associated with Australia than with their Chinese roots.  The Dim Sim, also known colloquially as a 'dimmy,' is a snack similar to a Chinese dumpling, but larger, with an unusually strong ginger flavor and a different, thicker skin that is usually deep-fried.  It was invented in 1945 by a Chinese chef named William Wing Young.  The Chiko Roll, on the other hand, was not invented by a Chinese chef at all but by Frank McEnroe, a boilermaker from Bendigo.  Chiko Rolls are a pastry like an egg roll, but larger, with a thicker skin, and containing some less traditional ingredients like barley.  The prototype Chiko Roll was created in a sausage maker, and used mutton as a main ingredient rather than beef.  Chiko Rolls were designed to be a meal you could eat on the go that would be durable enough to hold up at football matches.  They were most popular in the ‘60s and ‘70s, though they are still famous today: in the ‘70s, 40 million rolls were being sold annually in Australia. 

Best Restaurant Worldwide?

The Flower Drum in Melbourne represents founder Gilbert Lau's small backlash against Australian Chinese food as interpreted by the mainstream.  It emphasizes healthy, simple Cantonese-inspired food, a contrast to all of the deep-fried Chinese-inspired foods popular in Australia.

Next week we'll take the next step on our journey through the world's Chinese food-- only this time, you get to plan the trip!  Send me an e-mail (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) with your ideas. The first e-mail I get will tell me where we're going.


 

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