What to feed my guest from Australia?
September 30, 2008 3:52 PM   Subscribe

What should I feed my Australian house guest?

A friend of my husband's is coming to stay with us for five days next month. My husband seems to think it would be weird to ask his guest about his food preferences in advance of his trip. So, I'm wondering how comfortable an Australian would be with typical American food.

I realize that I'm generalizing here, but assuming that the guy has a "normal" diet in Australia, would he be freaked out if I served dinners like spaghetti and meatballs, chicken piccata, baked salmon, etc? Will soups and sandwiches be okay for lunch? I typically stock yogurt, fruits and cereal for breakfast. Will any of this seem bizarre to a 20-something Australian? Is there something I should definitely serve to make him feel at home?

Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. I am going to do my best to get my husband to ask our guest about his tastes, but if I can't get that to work out, I'm sure some generalized recommendations will be helpful.
posted by shesbookish to Food & Drink (49 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, some Australians are adventurous and are willing to try new and exciting foods like spaghetti, and some aren't and only like meatpies with mushy peas, vegemite and beer. To make him feel really comfortable, trying barbecuing up some kangaroo.
posted by b33j at 3:59 PM on September 30, 2008 [10 favorites]

What exactly do you think people in Australia eat that is so different from the US? The cultures are fairly similar, from what I understand...
posted by MadamM at 3:59 PM on September 30, 2008

Whatever you do, get him some Vegemite. While seemingly incomprehensible to anyone with a functioning sense of taste, every Aussie I've met loves the stuff.
posted by Nelsormensch at 3:59 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

i second to 'roo
posted by dawdle at 4:03 PM on September 30, 2008

Response by poster: MadamM,

I'm actually not at all familiar with Australian culture, so I didn't want to assume that they're just like the U.S since that seemed very "ugly American."
posted by shesbookish at 4:05 PM on September 30, 2008

Australians eat the same as every other Western culture, generally speaking. There's unique dishes in every country, but he isn't going to vomit in fear and confusion if you don't present him with freshly flayed 'roo meat and a pint of Fosters.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:06 PM on September 30, 2008

Australian or no, I think it's always polite to ask a guest if they have any food allergies, if they are vegetarian, and if there is any local cuisine they are particularly eager to try. The list you made of your standard diet sounds pretty much identical to what I served our New Zealand houseguests last year.
posted by kate blank at 4:07 PM on September 30, 2008

I think you guys shouldn't harsh shesbookish so much for just trying to be polite.

I don't have any specific suggestions for you, other than to say the Australians I've met seem to drink barrels of beer in a single setting. Get more than you think you need.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:10 PM on September 30, 2008

Vegemite and nothing but. It's all they eat down there!

Seriously, Australian and American mainstays are similar enough (with a few quirks, like putting sliced beets on hamburgers, to differentiate them) that soups, sandwiches, baked salmon, pasta, etc. shouldn't pose any sort of difficulty.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:11 PM on September 30, 2008

You should definitely throw some shrimp on the barbie, mate.

I guess you could ask in case he is vegetarian or something, but no, typical Aussie fare is much like US fare. He is not going to be freaked out by anything on your list. Buying some vegemite would be a kind and thoughtful gesture. Wait until he arrives before trying some yourself though :)
posted by Joh at 4:11 PM on September 30, 2008

When you think Australian diet, it's really a mix of two things: the extremely British meat and two veg or a more American-ish fusion cuisine. But they've been exposed to many American staples like pasta and tacos and such -- even if what they've eaten are only shadows of the real thing. Also, there's a lot of American fast food available there.

So, as far as guidelines go, you'd probably be safe with providing some type of meat with one or two vegetables. I would probably go with something like that the first day and then kinda gauge how picky an eater he is.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 4:12 PM on September 30, 2008

When I was entertaining someone from our Australian office recently, he seemed thrilled by the prospect of hitting up the taco trucks and pupaserias. He was much more fun to eat with than most Americans I know.

He might be interested in going to an American football game, too.
posted by milkrate at 4:16 PM on September 30, 2008

Christ, whatever you do, don't serve Foster's. Honestly, he will think you are taking the piss. Nobody in Australia drinks that godawful swill. I took a survey.

On top of that, the bloke's overseas. He likely wants to try some overseas stuff.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:17 PM on September 30, 2008 [4 favorites]

When my Australian cousin visited, he ate snickers and hostess cupcakes, mostly.

Seriously, I'm sure whatever you have in your house will be fine.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:23 PM on September 30, 2008

I agree with turgid dahlia - when I went to Sydney, none of the locals were drinking Foster's Lager. Mostly, it was Victoria Bitter, which I became quite fond of.

I was there during the Melbourne Cup and saw quite a bit of drankin'.
posted by shino-boy at 4:31 PM on September 30, 2008

He may want the spaghetti on toast FOR BREAKFAST. Seriously. Apparently Australians eat it.

But yeah, he'll probably be fine with whatever you serve him, barring other dietary restrictions like needing to eat kosher/halal/vegetarian/vegan/whatever food.
posted by GuyZero at 4:32 PM on September 30, 2008

Hmm, sorry about my first response. My Australia is a pretty multicultural place, particularly in terms of food. My fussy son makes and eats pizza, pasta and tacos, for example. My slightly less fussy daughter makes and eats fried rice, stir fry, sushi, fish & chips and so on. Ordinary food courts in semi-urban areas have well patronised kebab shops, salad bars, Japanese, Thai, Chinese eateries (serving soup among other things), as well as KFC, McDonalds and the Australian version of Burger King, Hungry Jacks.

Kangaroo, while a really lean meat that is awesome when barbecue quickly, is not eaten typically at the places I go to. Prawns (what you call shrimp) are very popular, as is most seafood, including shark. Do ask (as for any other guest) about allergies. Otherwise, what you're having is fine.
posted by b33j at 4:33 PM on September 30, 2008

If he has a "normal" diet for Australia, it's a "normal" diet for the United States, with one difference I can think of: portion size. If you serve him American-sized portions, don't expect him to finish the plate.
Personally I've always been fascinated by the idea of a taco truck, that'd be one of the first things I'd try if I travelled.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:53 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We eat food, generally; much of Australia (especially the cities) has a strongly Asian-influenced cuisine, and many people are quite used to Thai/Vietnamese food; but we also have a lot of Mediterranean-influenced cooking, so Italian/Greek/Lebanese-based dishes are very common. We have a great love for seafood (we're surrounded by the stuff, after all).

We *cannot* get decent Mexican food, though! It just doesn't exist. The thing I miss most about not being in the Bay Area any more is that I can't get a decent burrito, taco, enchilada and so on.

We also don't have the variety of microbrewed beers that exist in the US now; if your guest likes beer (most of us do), perhaps lay in a few local brews as well? Variety is the spice of life, after all.

You'll be fine. What you're suggesting not only looks great to me, but it looks perfectly normal too.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 4:56 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

It is not likely he eats roo steaks... (What do you think we eat??) But yeah, if all else fails it is VERY likely you can just feed him vegemite.
Ha-ha! My SO is sitting there happily munching away on some right now! Yep. Vegemite will work.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 4:59 PM on September 30, 2008

Best answer: Oh, also: if he's on a long, long trip and hasn't been home for a while, then the idea of what to serve to help him feel at home is very thoughtful and nice; Vegemite (just use a very thin scrape on toast with butter) and Tim Tams (a kind of chocolate biscuit) are a great start if you can find them.

But if he's only been away from Oz for a little while, and hasn't been in the US before, give him local variety: you're in LA (I see), so you can get good Mexican, sushi (we can't get sushi here like in California), and great beer.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 5:02 PM on September 30, 2008

The only american foods that really freak me out (I'm Australian, duh) is that god-awful looking orange cheese slices, and Twinkies and Crispie Cremes.

On the other hand, those Reeses Peanut Butter things are the bomb!

If you like, maybe ask him to cook you dinner one night!
posted by robotot at 5:14 PM on September 30, 2008

You just can't go wrong with a good spag bol.

Man, I really want some spag bol.

Also, Heinz baked beans on fresh, thickly-sliced toast with artery-clogging real butter? Oh hell yeah.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:16 PM on September 30, 2008

Decent Mexican food is hard to find in most parts of the world. I have seen half way decent fake Thai and other Asian food but a decent taco, burrito or enchilada were rare, like a unicorn rare. LA is a great food town and so give him a flavor for the local food. Australians have great food and wine and the only thing I noted was that they can tolerate artery clogging foods and copious amounts of beer. The only people who I thought could party more were Brazilians.
posted by jadepearl at 5:20 PM on September 30, 2008

Not processed cheese.
posted by mattoxic at 5:27 PM on September 30, 2008

I moved to the US from Australia about 6 weeks ago. In order, I miss: Flat white (espresso shot + hot milk, 55% +/- 15% times the total volume of a latte), Milo (Ovaltine is close but not close), and Australian chocolate (chocolate tastes different in different places, I was alarmed to learn). I don't miss Vegemite but I think that's an anomaly.

Oh and if he tries to eat Special K for breakfast, make sure to warn him first: "Special K is made of Rice Bubbles here!"
posted by hAndrew at 6:02 PM on September 30, 2008

Amongst my Aussie friends, lamb seems to be a common love. If you're looking to make a special meal, see about finding a good lamb rack and plan to grill it with liberal olive oil, salt and pepper. Sides can include hummus, mint, yogurt, etc.

We have a good Australian restaurant here in San Francisco -- the site has a pretty explicit menu and several recipes, too.

Here's an easy one to try for your guest's first breakfast: Eggs & Soldiers

If you're really looking to make an impression, and your guest is a drinker -- find some Bundaberg Rum. Tricky to find at a local liquor shop, but not something you can't plan around via shopping online or ordering ahead.
posted by cior at 6:03 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, sweet lamb. Yeah I miss lamb too.
posted by hAndrew at 6:04 PM on September 30, 2008

"delicious." is a great Australian cooking magazine that is available at good newsstands in North America. I guarantee that you won't find anything in there that you would be surprised to find on a plate in your own home city, with the exception of uniquely Australian food like barramundi or Moreton Bay bugs (although perch and lobster are reasonable US substitutes for both).

If you want to introduce your guest to something they might not ever have had, Mexican, Central American, South American or Indigenous North American cuisines would be good options. Adds are that they've never had a proper mole negro, or purple potatoes, or cabritos, or bannock. Sockeye salmon, Saskatoon berries, proper maple syrup, buffalo, any of the amazing freshwater seafood varieties we have that they've never seen -- pike, sturgeon, etc.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 6:08 PM on September 30, 2008

ten pounds of inedita: we have proper maple syrup (from Canada, even!) and purple potatoes, the latter mostly due to the increase in interest in heirloom variety vegies. The rest are all great suggestions.

Lamb doesn't have to be a rack -- and most lamb that you get in the US is from Australia or New Zealand, so that's an extra homely touch. You can make a quick and easy mint sauce to go with roast lamb by mixing 1/2 cup malt vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, and about 1/4 cup finely chopped mint leaves (leave overnight for proper infusion).

hAndrew's mention of a flat white brought up another thought, too: if he asks for a "long black", he is *not* asking for a tall (or otherwise well-endowed) African-American. It's coffee: single or double espresso shot plus some hot water (the shot goes on top of the water to keep the crema).

Ok, that's enough thinking about this plate of (baked) beans.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 6:17 PM on September 30, 2008

When I was in the states, I loved:

- Root beer! That stuff is awesome!

- Any peanut butter/chocolate combination. Hell yeah.

- Pickles on things. We don't really do that here.

- Granola and yoghurt for breakfast.

- Mexican food! So that's what a taco is meant to taste like!

Things I didn't love:

- Plastic, liquid cheese squelched out of sauce bottles... *shudder*

- Lurid orange 'American Cheese' slices.

- Anything from 7-11 that required microwaving.

And in terms of what you can make him at home, I presume anything you serve will either be a) something he's used to (pasta, asian food, indian food) or b) something he's keen to try (mexican, cajun).

No Fosters. Kangaroo is fine if you can get it and cook it right (it's easy to turn into a lump of horribly tough meat).
posted by twirlypen at 6:25 PM on September 30, 2008

It's very nice that you're so thoughtful, it sounds like you must be a great host.

You can serve whatever you like, if it's good food he'll like it. (Of course if your cooking is shit house, it doesn't really matter what you serve.)

There are only like 6 countries in our little English Speaking Western Nations Club, and we're all fairly comfortable with each other's food - because for the most part, it's all pretty similar. None of us eat dog ribs or whale steaks or monkey brains.

Granted that some people are just plain picky, or come from weird families that only ever ate what mum cooked, but if he's even remotely neopolitan he'll probably be more comfortable with a wider variety of food than *you* are - down here in Oceania we're exposed to a lot of different food types. Australia more in the Greek/Turkish/Leb stuff, New Zealand more into the South & Asian foods (but both with both, and all sorts of others, of course).

We do have Mexican food over this side of the Pacific, but it's quite uncommon, so that might be a nice idea for a meal.

Don't obsess on the vegemite thing. It's not a religion, it's a spread. (I don't understand why people think it is. Maybe 'cos it's an acquired taste you alien folk just don't have?)

He may want the spaghetti on toast FOR BREAKFAST. Seriously. Apparently Australians eat it.

It's usually a different kind of spaghetti than you're probably thinking of - crappy, soft, out of a tin stuff. Though a bit of leftovers from the spag bol the night before doesn't go amiss in a nice fryup.
posted by The Monkey at 6:32 PM on September 30, 2008

I don't know if this is a concern for your guest, but I have a few fairly health-conscious Australian friends who complain that American food is terribly greasy compared to what they ate back home. Maybe you should ask him if he'd prefer that you go easy on the butter/donuts/fried zucchini?
posted by arianell at 7:01 PM on September 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm from the States and lived in Australia for 3 and a half years. I can't be much help with what to serve, but based on my experience, I can give a list of things you might want to avoid serving. This list is made up of the things people routinely complained about to me in regards to food/drinks in the US, like I was the friggin' US food ambassador or something.

Here you go: chocolate (takes like vomit), beer (tastes like piss water), cheese (apparently all cheese in the US is orange), peanut butter and jelly (really, how can we?), bread (too sweet) tea (too weak), iced tea (huh?), coffee (too weak), half and half (it's disgusting!)...hmm...I think that's it...or maybe I've just blacked out entire portions of these sorts of conversations.

My Australian husband says that with all these items, it's important to say that the tourist can be corrected and educated by being provided with counter examples...a good microbrew rather than Bud, etc. I say it that it sounds like you're a wonderful hostess and I wish you a guest who is appreciative of your efforts, rather than snarky. If he asks what *he* can bring *you*, though, go the Tim-Tams and some Natural Confectionery!
posted by toodles at 7:07 PM on September 30, 2008

Five days is really not long enough to want to offset any homesickness with Vegemite and Tim Tams (though you could get them from World Market if you wanted, along with Heinz beans and spaghetti-in-a-can). Visiting Aussie may want to try The Food He Won't Generally Get At Home, which includes Mexican or Latin American / Caribbean (most Aussie cities have large SE Asian and European communities, not so much ) and things like BBQ. So: taco stand, Tex-Mex, local beer. If he didn't want to try something new, he'd pick up the phone instead.
posted by holgate at 7:12 PM on September 30, 2008

I'm not sure if anybody's mentioned this yet, but Australia really doesn't have any particular cuisine of its own. The most anybody could really point to might be Vegemite, Tim Tam biscuits, Lamington cakes etc - basically just individual things that have gained a kind of "brand" status as typically Aussie.

There's a bit of a cliche about bland meat-n-three-veg dinners, but I think that's more of a stereotype used to sneer at "uncultured" suburbanites, who may or may not actually exist.

If restaurants are any guide, I'd say we eat a lot of Spanish, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese & Korean, as well as anything broadly European. There's plenty of modern / fusion cuisine to be found, as well.

African food is quite rare, and good Mexican is very hard to find.

Depending on the person, they mightn't think much of overly processed food, like that sickening American cheese (real cheeses in all their varieties are very popular). If they're a coffee drinker, chances are they'll find American coffee to rank somewhere below weak & flavourless dishwater, from what I've heard, so if you have any kind of specialist cafes around, they'll probably be appreciated.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:19 PM on September 30, 2008

I was in the USA recently and was delighted to try everything and anything. As mentioned above, Mexican cuisine is uncommon in Australia, so I was happy with that. I was also delighted to try a real down south breakfast - sausage, biscuit and grits!

Pretty much everything I ate in peoples homes or in restaurants was much the same as at home. Ask your guest about allergies and preferences (say, a dislike for something or vegetarianism) and you should be fine.
posted by tomble at 8:54 PM on September 30, 2008

What 5MeoCMP said- he's here to try out American food! Though it might be nice to find out what he likes for breakfast. When I'm travelling, sometimes it's too much to deal with "exotic" food at 6 am, especially if there's no hot tea.

Why don't you go shopping with him? Foreign grocery stores are always really interesting the first time you go, just because you can see which things are important to a culture. For instance, why DO we Americans have an entire enormous aisle dedicated to toilet paper and paper towels? Also, this Onion article.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:54 PM on September 30, 2008

Maybe Australians have aisles dedicated to toilet paper, too. I don't remember because I was too in love with Australian drug stores. I came home with 4 hot water bottles and some fuzzy covers for them. How did I ever use to live without hot water bottles? Now I even enjoy camping because I don't wake up frozen at 2 a.m. I just wish I knew where to buy more fuzzy covers because mine are getting all ratty.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:00 PM on September 30, 2008

As an Aussie:

Don't stress. The bloke's travelling. New experiences are half the point. He's probably a big enough boy to point out that, say, peanut butter and jam together is disgusting.

Maybe lay in some decent beer though.
posted by pompomtom at 9:10 PM on September 30, 2008

...peanut butter and jam together is disgusting.

As an Australian also, I just want to point out that pompomtom doesn't know what the hell he is talking about!
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:19 PM on September 30, 2008

On the last night of my visit to Australia four years ago, I ate lamb brain encrusted with walnuts at what had been recently voted Sydney's best restaurant.

A mod-Greek place; I don't remember the name. Your guest's tastes may vary....

Really though, nthing everyone who says serve what you usually eat.
posted by brujita at 11:26 PM on September 30, 2008

As a Brit, I would say what everyone else has served, serve whatever you would normally serve. the only thing I would say is that a lot of American breakfast cereals are far too sweet for Brits and Aussies, the bread tastes very artificial (but I've never tasted Australian bread, so maybe it's the same), and as most others have said - American cheese is wierd, not nice and orange for foreigners. However, I got great Irish cheddar from bigger supermarkets when I was there, so I got by. Similarly, yogurt is of a totally different consistency there (something to do with pasteurisation laws my American friends resident in the UK tell me), and difficult for foreigners to get used to. I guess this is why the cheese is different too. Never noticed any difference with milk or butter though!
posted by nunoidia at 12:22 AM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would say most Australians have a similar diet to Americans except that Australian food is of better quality and less processed. We don't eat that awful orange stuff the US claims is cheese.

oh and whoever said:
But they've been exposed to many American staples like pasta and tacos and such -- even if what they've eaten are only shadows of the real thing. Also, there's a lot of American fast food available there.

since when i pasta American? I think what we eat is actually better and closer to the traditional italian.

Oh and Australians love Thai food. Its everywhere.

The few thigns that are better in USA than Australia are:
1. New york Style Pizza (most pizza in Australia sucks)
2. Mexican/Tex Mex - as mentioned above you simply cannot buy US style Burritos anywhere in Australia.
posted by mary8nne at 2:58 AM on October 1, 2008

Best answer: As an Australian, let me say that your desire to be a courteous hostess is noted and appreciated. I sometimes think Aussies could learn a thing or two about hospitality from our friends across the lake.

Your Australian guest will likely be much the same as an American guest - they my have some particular preferences, but will generally be happy to eat or at least try most anything. If they're picky, it's not because they're Australian, and they'll likely not enjoy the same things a picky American won't enjoy. The dishes you've suggested are very, very safe and familiar (though meatballs with spaghetti will be an interesting twist - we do a lot of pasta, but meatballs, not so much).

If they're anything like my family, they'll be fascinated by the variety of products on the supermarket shelf. They may want to try foods that don't seem particularly interesting to you - bread, peanut butter, jelly, soda, cheese, cereal, cookies, ice cream, pizza - to see how different they are to what we have here (the answer is 'very different').

They may be amazed by portion sizes. They will order an entree expecting an appetizer and be shocked to receive enough food to feed two people with enough left over for lunch the next day.

They may be surprised by how elaborate day-to-day American food is. From my experience, you seem to use a lot of ingredients for even simple recipes. In Australia, a sandwich with a couple of fillings is lunch. In the US, it's soup, a sandwich with ten different fillings, a side salad with another ten ingredients and a dressing we've never heard of, potato chips, a pickle and a soda. When my American dad comes here, he seems frustrated by our simple menus and orders a handful of appetizers to get the variety (and portion size!) he's used to.

Perhaps ask if there are any American dishes he's keen to try? I know I was desperate to eat real Mexican food, American pizza and American barbecue. Anything Asian, Middle Eastern or European will likely be run-of-the-mill.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:50 AM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Great question shesbookish, with some great answers. I lived previously in the Bay Area and Chicago. I would agree with most of what has been said. When I was there I was blown away by how generous US people are when they invite you into their houses. I don't think most Australians would be offended whatever you gave us... even the orange cheese.

Some things I found interesting and different are:
1. Chicago Deep Dish Pizza - This sounds horrible when described to you but tastes great.
2. As has been said, real Mexican food. I can't eat the stuff that we get in Australia.
3. Pork Ribs - These are getting more common here, but are still a novelty to most Aussies.
4. Street food - We generally don't have street vendors in Australian cities, so having a hot dog with all the condiments on a street corner is new. I'll have to try a Taco stand next time.
5. Thanksgiving meal. If your guests happen to be there at the right time of year for one of your special holidays, just about everything you have on your menu will be interesting to them. Same goes for anything to do with Halloween.
posted by CaveFrog at 5:12 AM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Entree up here means main course rather than starter.
posted by brujita at 5:13 AM on October 1, 2008

Re: Aussies complaining about cheese out of a bottle. Y'all have Tasty Cheese in a bottle, and I made the mistake of ordering nachos somewhere outside of Cairns. Not good.
The MeFi demographic is not the demographic for 'American' processed cheesefood, so pipe down. We know it's awful too.

Everything that I would have really wanted to mention has been mentioned, so I'll add:
-- American BBQ. Sure, they grill things, but Texas-style? Not so much.
Are you interested in cooking? Any of that 'Slow Food' style will be very different.
posted by msamye at 10:06 AM on October 1, 2008

Response by poster: In case anyone's checking back, our guest was perfectly happy with the food I served. I think he'd seen it all before.
posted by shesbookish at 2:06 AM on October 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

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