Viewpoint from Aussie Cuisine
This is the first appearance in the discussion and argument to find a recipe of our beloved Pavlova on which most of us could potentially agree.
by Lee Tulloch
My first diner experience in New York didn’t go so well.
After we’d been seated in a booth and handed menus, the super-friendly waiter introduced himself and asked us for drink orders. My husband wanted a “short black” coffee and I ordered a “flat white”. The waiter’s demeanour went from chirpy to offended in a nanosecond. He was African-American and his stormy look made it clear he thought we had said something insulting. We backtracked a bit and ordered “regular” coffees but got frosty service from that point on.
New York is full of Australian-run cafes and Australian baristas, who introduced our national coffee culture to New York about 15 years ago. That was 1985 and I doubt an order for a “short black” would pass as racist these days. For a start, downtown New York is full of Australian-run cafes and Australian baristas, who introduced our national coffee culture to New York about 15 years ago. Ruby’s Cafe, which opened in 2003 in NoLita, was one of the first and since then the Aussie influence has spread to London, Paris and even outposts such as Valparaiso in Chile, where there’s a Melbourne Cafe.
Starbucks are now serving flat whites – I rest my case.
Consider the humble avocado toast or “smashed avo” as it is colloquially known. It was recently in the news when demographer Bernard Salt, a self-confessed “middle aged moraliser”, was critical of the spending habits of Millennials.
“I have seen young people order smashed avocado with crumbled feta on five-grain toasted bread at $22 a pop and more,” he observed. “How can young people afford to eat like this? Shouldn’t they be economising by eating at home? … Twenty-two dollars several times a week could go towards the deposit on a house.”
Correlating the humble smashed avo (albeit at $22 a serve) with the real estate affordability crisis brought on the expected outrage. Millennials argued that with a median Sydney house price of $995,000, requiring a deposit of about $200,000, smashed avo fans would have to give up 10,000 toasts.
Salt does have a point about the popularity of avocado toast, though. I’m no fan of this dish, but I’ve noticed it popping up on menus not only in inner cities in Australia but elsewhere in the world, including London, New York and Hong Kong.
Bill Granger, who first served avocado on toast in his Sydney cafes in the early 1990s, is often credited with bringing smashed avo to the world via his London restaurants, although the Californians might argue they did it first. Bill’s other popular breakfast dish, corn fritters, a lighter, contemporary take on a soul food standard, has also broken out all over the world. It’s a good thing – you now can get a healthy breakfast, offering farm-sourced and/or organic ingredients, in places where breakfast wasn’t breakfast unless it induced a heart attack.
The pavlova is another Australian classic I’ve spotted on menus internationally. It may be from New Zealand, but we’ve done a better marketing job, and New Zealand is hardly free of guilt anyway, having usurped the Chinese gooseberry, renaming it the “kiwifruit” with great success.
My issue with the pavlovas I’ve tried outside Australia is they’re not true pavs at all. They’re often crunchy meringues with a bit of cream, and usually not topped with traditional passionfruit. A genuine pavlova, as purists know, has a thin crust of meringue and a thick body of mouth-melting marshmallow and it’s such a delicate balancing act, between egg white, sugar, vinegar and cornflour, that it doesn’t survive for more than a day.
The lamington is yet another Australian culinary icon that now can be found in cafes in London, Singapore and Dubai. The chocolate and coconut-dipped sponge cake is truly our own, an invention of the chef to Lord Lamington, who was the governor of Queensland from 1896-1901. The first one was hastily put together from kitchen scraps.
Back in the 1990s, and hungering for traditional lamingtons and cakes like vanilla slices and neenish tarts (also Australian), I had the idea of opening an Aussie cake shop in downtown Manhattan. At that time there was a cupcake frenzy with the popularity of the Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village. I thought our Aussie cakes were far superior.
I might have made my fortune from pavlovas, but alas I never got very far with the plan. Ironically, with the demise of so many traditional Australian bakeries, these days I’m more likely to get a home-made lamington or neenish tart in London or New York than at home.
“My issue with the pavlovas I’ve tried outside Australia is they’re not true pavs at all. They’re often crunchy meringues with a bit of cream, and usually not topped with traditional passionfruit. A genuine pavlova, as purists know, has a thin crust of meringue and a thick body of mouth-melting marshmallow and it’s such a delicate balancing act, between egg white, sugar, vinegar and cornflour, that it doesn’t survive for more than a day.”