Bush tucker has come a long way from its origins as the traditional fare of Australian Aborigines. The past few decades have seen an upsurge of interest among modern Australians for the rough and ready cuisine which sustained not only native inhabitants of the antipodes, but which also formed part of the diet of early European settlers, who were forced to experiment with local foodstuffs to supplement their provisions in the days before large scale importation and farming of more familiar products. Today bush tucker is becoming more and more integrated into the everyday experience of Australians from all walks of life, and as a tradition of healthy food which can be locally sourced it is easy to see why.
As one might expect, bush tucker is traditionally tied to foraging and hunting, but increasingly it is becoming accessible to food lovers of all kinds. The experienced bush tucker enthusiast will can be counted upon to know his warrigal greens from his bunya nuts and real devotees will be able to easily identify exactly those wattle seeds which are not toxic to humans. Bush tucker focuses on indigenous Australian ingredients- those one might find in the Outback, so a typical meal might well include kangaroo meat (legalised for human consumption in 1980), crocodile meat, or even emu, flavoured with native pepper, lemon myrtle. Like Australia’s unique wildlife, the herbs on this continent have developed flavours which can’t be found elsewhere; strawberry gum for instance is described as a mixture of strawberry and passion fruit.
To the outsider some of the typical bush tucker ingredients sound slightly arcane- but there’s more to bush tucker than eating goanna and witchetty grubs. Real aficionados know that many of the food they prize are highly nutritious, and there’s a significant overlap between nourishment and traditional herbal medicine. The exceptional climactic conditions in Australia have created plants with properties which are still not fully understood by Western medicine, but which Aboriginal practices suggest have a huge range of beneficial effects when administered properly.
However for the uninitiated there are several excellent cookbooks on the market which will help the bush tucker novices to experiment safely in their own kitchens, among the best of which are ‘Uniquely Australian’ by Vic Cherikoff, and Richard Eastwood’s ‘Outback Bushtucker Cookbook’. Likewise, for city dwellers or those sceptical about the safety of foraging, many bush tucker ingredients and products can be found in supermarkets. Alternatively, a wider range can be bought from speciality shops, or ordered online from dedicated suppliers. This last also provides a great option for bush tucker lovers outside of Australia who want to get their hands on ingredients from inside the country.
The public interest in bush tucker has not bypassed Australia’s restaurants, with many incorporating native Australian ingredients into their dishes. Bush tucker gastronomy allows chefs to blend their own methods of cooking with bush tucker elements, and many also incorporate features of the vibrant Asian food culture which is part of the country’s social and culinary melange. The result looks- and tastes- like a fusion cuisine, but it is definitively Australian.