You are what you eat

Welcome back! And happy New Year!

By Jeremy Ryland


Now I don’t know about you, but I ate too much over the past couple of festive weeks. The holidays are always a time of overindulgence – too much ham, a lot of turkey, a multitude of mince pies and way too much champagne. Although as Mark Twain said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right." 


It is said that “You are what you eat”. That makes me currently a glutton and a complex mix of European, Australian and Asian delicacies. After the festive season, we have likely put on a few kilos and many of us need to slow down and eat a little less. January and February are the time to recoup: try to stick to a couple of the New Years resolutions and generally get back to normal.


And, of course, the real quote by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French lawyer and foodie in the late 1700s/early 1800s, was “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are” (1826).


By this, Brillat-Savarin meant that, what we eat, says a lot about who we are, and where we come from.


Like the clothes we wear, the cars we drive; the food we eat says a lot about our background and how we like to present ourselves… It is part of our personal “branding”. When we choose a restaurant to go to, we are demonstrating to our guests what we like and what we want to be associated with. Dining out is an important part of our self-esteem.


Food is more than just fuel: it is a symbol, a reflection of who we are. And our personal preferences are influenced by our backgrounds and cultural upbringing. Our comfort food identity is usually related to the food we were brought up on. Italians eat Italian. French eat French. The Chinese eat Chinese. “We are what we eat”.


So what do we Aussies eat?


Australia is a multicultural society and we are very lucky here that we have such a huge diversity and many choices of food. Australian cuisine has diversified over time. I have childhood memories of going out to the local Chinese restaurant for sweet & sour pork and deep fried ice cream, which was the height of sophistication in the 70s. In fact, Chinese was the most popular choice for dining out in the 1970s and 80s.


Then, of course, there are the prawn cocktail, Chiko Roll, Golden Gaytime, meat pie, lamingtons, vegemite and avocado – all now being “deconstructed” and presented in interesting ways in restaurants!  Today Thai food is our most popular choice and most Australian-style restaurants have an Asian component.


On most pub menus you’ll find an assortment of dishes: from pasta and laksa, to roast beef and pad thai. In fine dining restaurants, you will also find a mix of cultural influences. But instead of an international menu filled with dishes from all around the world, many dishes in Australia take their influence from many cuisines with flavours and techniques all combined on the one plate.


This diversification can be attributed to Australia’s Indigenous, colonial, and migrant history. Our food is the food of our pioneers - the original Aboriginal society, British convicts and colonists, Chinese gold hunters, European refugee migrants, Asian refugee migrants, other displaced migrants and people who just want to be here.


Australia exhibits a global cuisine, borrowing styles, techniques and recipes from around the world. Australia’s cooking is exciting, dynamic and growing – perhaps as a result of not having a long cultural history. Australia does not seek to retain a traditional regional character, as does Italy, so is free to experiment and create new fusion recipes.


To quote Vicki Wild from Sepia restaurant, “Australian cuisine is celebrated for its diversity and lack of definition. It is not steeped in tradition and this allows us to be innovative.”   


And today, Australia is carving out a niche overseas with our fresh, light, vibrant and innovative cuisine and exporting our café culture, smashed avocado and flat white around the world. We are what we eat: Aussie Cuisine.