Grocery Shopping in Australia

Perth Travel Blog

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, popular international cuisine differs from country to country. By that I mean, that the average Joe wanting to broaden his usual culinary horizons might pop out for Chinese, or Indian, or perhaps buy some Greek dips and pitta bread for tea. He might not even call it tea, but there I digress from my point. My point is, that grocery shopping in Australia when I first settled down and began to LIVE in Australia, started to COOK in Australia, and stopped backpacking about with a tin of baked beans and a pot of $2 noodles, was disappointing in odd and frustrating ways.

Things Australia doesn't have in a regular supermarket:

1. Marmite - I don't even need to go into this. Bushmen in remote tribes in Africa know about the UK vs Australia debate on Marmite vs Vegemite.

2. Pre-prepared sandwiches - They have some, but not many, and those they do are not factory-packed in vacuum-sealed containers, they are clingfilmed (or Gladwrapped) like Mum used to make for school packed-lunches. This is explicable, and owes itself to the American-style food courts that pervade every city. Here, a group of shoe-clicking sharp-suited office staff can all choose whatever food their heart so desires on any particular weekday and eat it together at a central table. And what's more it's cheap. Unlike the lunch-times of bored, grey English businessmen, eating their soggy cheese sandwich at their desk every day for 30 years. Sandwiches here are not the lunch staple of office workers, so supermarkets don't sell them.

3. Pre-prepared fruit salad - see above. In my experience, those over-priced pots of fruit that can be found, few and far between, are more often than not almost ready to explode with fermented gas from being on the shelf so long. And why would you buy them? When delicious tropical fruit is cheap and plentiful in Australia? It's a novel idea, but use a knife and cut your own?

4. Pitta bread - See instead, Lebanese bread. When you think about it, it stands to reason: in UK, we are closer to Europe, and therefore we have become used to greek bread. In Australia, they have many very different influences, not least from the Lebanese, who are known here not only for their supermarket bread, but also for their mafia-style of kebab shop management.

Which leads me onto 5. Taramasalata - for those that don't know (I never thought I'd have to explain, it being such a basic feature in my home grocery shop) it's cod roe spread, and it's nicer than it sounds. Like pink, fishy mousse.  I know your mouth is watering now eh? Er, yeah. Anyway, it's a problem, because I crave it, so now I have to go to an expensive greek restaurant just to get meze.

6. Chutney - now they say they have chutney, but they don't. The aisle says chutney, and the vertical labelling around the shelves says chutney, but chutney it is not. Relish is not the same thing at all. You need fruit, and sultanas, and spices to make chutney. Puried tomato and fruit chunks, or the ubiquitous Branston pickle, does not a chutney make.

7. Mild curry powder - I swear to god, I could not find this anywhere. Mexican spice, South American spice, Texan spice, hot chilli powder, all other spices a-go-go. Ironically, Qantas gave me some today. Go figure, but thanks to the universe for creating such a random sequence of events as to bring me curry powder by way of an international airline.

8. Curried meat - Now before you screw your face up like that, wonder at the marvel that is Coronation Chicken, and Minted Lamb.  Unfortunately, it was the need to create the former that led me to discover the omission of number 7. from the grocery store. In short, no curry powder, not coronation chicken. Boo.

9. Fresh ready-roll pastry - Only frozen stuff.

10. Lamb fillet. Wtf?

Anyway, the list will no doubt get longer as I discover more strange absences, especially since I am teaching myself to cook while I am holed up in Perth while all my friends wave at me from across the seas. But just to end with a similar observation, it is noticeable how proximity to other continents, and different cultural history, has changed the balance of take-away restaurants in Australia. At home, Indian and Chinese rule the high-streets, with maybe each town having only one Thai place. Here, Chinese and Thai food is predominant, while it is almost impossible to find an Indian, far less a decent one. In fact, Brisbane doesn't even have one, just two in the distant suburbs. Brisbane!

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photo by: cimtech