Best food in Australia: The meals and foods we miss most when overseas

For the record, this isn't purely rose-tinted nostalgia. There are things I definitely do not miss about food in Australia. Those things, in no particular order, include: the insane cost of everything; restaurants that don't take bookings; the wanky scene-driven nature of Australian dining; natural wine bars; wildly varying levels of service.

Those things I do not miss. I don't even miss the classic tokens of foodie Australiana either, mostly because I'm travelling with a tube of Vegemite, and Tim Tams are just chocolate biscuits that don't excite me that much.

There is, however, plenty that I do miss. There are dishes and ingredients that I would really love to have access to when I'm travelling overseas, things I take for granted back home but which are so difficult to access in other countries.

This must happen to every Australian who's been away from home for any decent amount of time. Our food might be hard to define – in fact quite often the dishes I miss are those of another culture entirely – but the diversity of cuisine we get used to in our homeland means there are always plenty of dishes you'll be denied when you travel, regardless of your destination.

I've been away for almost a year now, and there are definitely foods I miss, foods that will probably reveal me as the tragic inner-city hipster that I am. Still, this is my current list.

Coffee

Unless you're in Italy or possibly New Zealand, you will surely miss Australian coffee. Ours is just better than everyone else's. Our flat whites are thick and creamy; our espressos are rich and strong. Plenty of other cities around the world have one or two or three cafes that do really good coffee, but in Australia you can go anywhere and get a great cup.

Pho

04/09/19 The Sliced Beef Pho at Lam Lam 2. For Lunch with section. Photograph by Chris Hopkins

Photo: Chris Hopkins

A fellow Australian asked me a few months ago which foods I missed from home and I said, "Vietnamese. Definitely Vietnamese." She was surprised: "Oh. What about, like, a roast?" The thing is, I can cook a roast. But I can't make pho, the famous and delicious Vietnamese noodle soup that's becoming so ubiquitous in Australia. When I get home that's the first thing I'll have.

Brunch

Australian brunch culture is spreading around the world, but it's still not often you can call past a cafe at 11am in some random city and find a long and varied list of amazing gastronomic creations to choose from. One of the benefits of Australia's fledgling food culture is that pretty much anything goes, and you can get some amazing stuff for brunch back home. No one else really even eats at this time, let alone creates a special menu.

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Pizza

Good pizza. Delicious pizza. Neapolitan pizza with a thin, almost soupy centre and a fluffy, singed crust. You can get this sort of pizza in Italy, obviously. You can get it in a few other places with a history of Italian migration. Mostly though, pizza overseas is nowhere near as good as it is in Australia.

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung. Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St. The Age Good Food Guide 2016.

Din Tai Fung at Emporium Melbourne.

I hadn't planned to mention any specific restaurants in this story, but I really miss good, Shanghai-style dumplings, and Din Tai Fung does extremely good Shanghai-style dumplings. Plus there are now 11 outlets of this Taiwanese chain spread across two cities in Australia, so when I get home there's a good chance I'll be close to one, which means I can order about a thousand xiao long bao immediately.

Dodgy neighbourhood Thai

Obviously really high-quality Thai food is ideal, but right now I would most definitely settle for a $10 pad Thai lunch special from any old neighbourhood local. Being in Australia you get used to Thai food being available all the time, everywhere. That doesn't happen in many other places in the world, and it certainly doesn't happen in Europe.

Pubs with more beer

The beer taps at Mr West in Footscray.

**Additional pictures to be added to photo assignment from 31 Aug 2017**

Photograph Paul Jeffers
The Age EPICURE
31 Aug 2017

Photo: Paul Jeffers

Here in Spain, where I'm currently based, most pubs just have one beer on tap. That's it. That's their beer. That's fine to begin with – even kind of charming. After a while though you feel like it would be nice to have some sort of choice. Maybe a craft brew or two. Maybe an IPA. Maybe a dark beer. Maybe a pale ale. Maybe just two or three different lagers. Australia has that.

Brickfields bacon sandwiches

Good Food Under $30 - Brickfields Cafe and Bakery. 
Photo Edwina Pickles. 13th March 2013.

Brickfields Cafe and Bakery. Photo: Edwina Pickles

OK, this one is very specific, and I apologise to those outside Sydney who are maybe not familiar with one of the greatest sandwiches on the planet. Brickfields, a bakery in Chippendale, does a seeded ciabatta roll with manchego cheese, chopped kale, pickles, lemon aioli and streaky bacon, and it's amazing. I also just looked it up and it costs like $15 for a sandwich which almost makes me cry, but still: gimme that.

Banh mi

Good Food. Pork Banh Mi roll with fried egg at Bay Ngo in Bankstown, Sydney on August 8, 2019. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

More Vietnamese! I used to live just down the road from one of Sydney's best pork-roll joints, and I miss it. A banh mi is a thing of beauty, a crusty roll filled with unidentifiable pork products, pickled vegetables, coriander, chilli and various sauces. You can get them everywhere in Australia, and nowhere in Spain.

See also: What made the banh mi the world's best sandwich

Chicken parma

The Age 20/9/07 EPICURE  rlh070920.003.001  Change of the counter meal.  Chicken breast crusted with panko and napoli sauce - parma, from Windsor Castle, 89 Albert Street, Windsor.  Pic by Rebecca Hallas

Photo: Rebecca Hallas

Despite the slanderous shellacking dished out to the chicken parma recently, I miss it. I don't so much miss the dish itself – a schnitty with tomato and cheese is easy enough to throw together – but the pub culture around the parma, the schooner, the beer garden, the friends. That's more difficult to replicate.

Sourdough

That's it – just sourdough. It's good bread, and it's not the easiest thing to get outside of Australia. I don't eat a huge amount of it back home, but just enough to miss not having it around.

Which foods do you miss from home when you're overseas? What does Australia do better than anyone else?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: The freedoms Europeans have that 'uncivilised' Australians don't

See also: The world's 14 greatest snack foods every traveller needs to try

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