By Renata Gortan
Australian palates are being introduced to a whole new world of flavour as native ingredients such as sea succulents, karkalla, samphire, coastal saltbush and wattle seed make their way onto menus.
While Aboriginals have always feasted on indigenous ingredients, they are finally being embraced by chefs and the dining public.
The inaugural Sunset20°North festival, which runs Fridays-Sundays in February at Barangaroo, also shines a spotlight on native ingredients.
Culinary director and chef at Newtown’s Bloodwood, Claire Van Vuuren wanted to highlight the bush foods that grow in and around Barangaroo Reserve.
Dishes include barbecued bug with wattleseed and creme fraiche, pork and pickled muntries tacos and bamboo-roasted snapper with karkalla salsa.
Chef Claire van Vuuren is photographed holding pigface, one of the native ingredients that will be on the menu as part of Sunset 20 North Festival, Barangaroo. Picture: Bob Barker
“It’s a smorgasbord of ingredients with very different flavours. Sea succulents are salty and fresh and taste of the ocean then you have the nuttiness and earthiness of wattle seeds,” she said.
“Then it’s taking standard cookery methods and changing a dish to make it something completely different, I used muntries in a chutney instead of apple which gives you a tartness you don’t expect.”
Aboriginals traditionally foraged for food, only taking what they needed rather than cultivating crops, which makes it difficult to secure large volumes of these ingredients for a commercial kitchen.
“They’re making their way into more and more menus, but they’re hard to source,” van Vuuren said.
“Also, they’re quite expensive. When supply and demand prices catch up, you’ll see them a lot more and they will be used just like other spices.”
Darwin-based indigenous chef Zach Green will be cooking with native ingredients in Sydney at a pop-up dinner in March. A Night at Waremah, held at the Contained pop-up on Cockatoo Harbour, will celebrate indigenous culture through food.
“I think indigenous ingredients are quite marketable right now,” he said.
Indigenous chef Zach Green will be popping up at Cockatoo Island. Picture: Glenn Campbell
“A lot of people forget that with food comes stories, comes connection to culture.
“Those wanting to experience indigenous culture see it as a way forward for reconciliation.”
Last Friday’s Carriageworks Night Markets curated by Kylie Kwong featured 60 stalls of some of Australian’s best chefs creatively cooking with bush foods. Dishes included LuMi’s Kangaroo mortadella and Biota’s prawn and myrtle doughnuts.
Kwong likens it to “discovering a whole new culinary alphabet” and says the possibilities are endless.
Carriageworks Night Market curated by Kylie Kwong. Picture: JacquieManning.
“It’s a whole new variety textures and flavours to play with,” she said.
“It’s a reflection of our country, there is nowhere else in the world where you can find these ingredients.”
Kwong started combining Cantonese cuisine and bush foods eight years ago after hearing Noma’s Rene Redzepi talk about the importance of native ingredients.
“In the last five years I’ve seen a real increase in restaurants and chefs and specialty food places offering native ingredients,” she said.
Celebrity chef Kylie Kwong. Picture: Penny Lane.
“I dream about seeing them on the supermarket shelves — they are so delicious and so unique.
“Learning about native ingredients has been a huge revolution in the way we cook and it’s like discovering a whole new culinary alphabet.”