What to Bring Back From Australia

It is a universal truth that, however hard you try to clear the table before you take a trip somewhere, you will come home to several pressing deadlines. Add to that the general vertigo of readjusting to your own continent, time zone, hemisphere, language, driving side, and opposing season — the latter is probably the most disorienting –, and an entire week may slip by before you find your footing and report back on said trip.

Let me first express my gratitude to the C&Z readers who took the time to answer my request for edible recommendations in Western Australia: thank you! Your tips and notes proved immensely helpful, not to mention fun to collate.

They really built up my anticipation, too, and I’m pleased to say the actual experience managed to surpass my expectations: WA (pronounced “double-you-ay”) has a lot more going for it than most people realize, and during my stay in both Perth and Albany, I was impressed by the variety and quality of local foods.

Here are a few highlights, in no particular order. (Not everything I sampled was strictly local, I should note, but when you’ve come all the way from France, the notion of “local” can span four thousand kilometers.) Here we go.

Things I’ve tasted

[View pictures on the moblog.]

~ Kangaroo meat: because it is super lean, it is best cooked super rare. The good people at Little Creatures make a mean marinated and grilled version, served with bush tomato chutney and a view out onto the harbour. This alone may be worth the twenty-hour flight.

~ The last of Gabrielle Kervella’s biodynamic goat’s milk Rondelet cheese. She has sadly stopped producing it, but it is still served — while supplies last — at Must Winebar.

~ Plenty of seafoodmarron and yabbies (two varieties of freshwater crayfish), Australian salmon, gigantic tiger prawns, soft-shell crab, trout, beefy mussels

~ Some of the best mangoes I’ve ever had — juicy, soft, floral, acidulated, and not in the least stringy. (The ones sold in Paris are okay, but they’ve been flown in from Pakistan or Peru, poor things, and this obviously has an impact on their flavor.)

~ A lemon poppyseed friand, cute as a button and the ideal plane snack, purchased from David Jones‘ food hall. Friands are to Australia what financiers are to France, i.e. butter-rich almond teacakes, only they’re baked in high-sided oval molds, as opposed to shallow rectangular ones. And this, believe it or not, changes the personality of the cake entirely.

~ I’ve sampled (perhaps more than) my share of excellent, excellent wines, chiefly from the Margaret River and Great Southern regions. I’ve also had the opportunity to try some sparkling shiraz (E&E from the Barossa valley), an Australian exclusivity that takes some getting used to — “Waiter! There is red mousse in my wine!” — but quickly grows on you.

~ And, let’s see. There was also some very tasty lamb and duck, superior olive oil and artisan bread, and yes, a few Tim-Tams: with so many supporters, how could I pass? But I regret to report that, without the magic pinch of childhood nostalgia, well, they’re just supermarket cookies — sorry. (You would no doubt feel the same about the Pépitos and Barquettes à la fraise that fueled my teenage days.)

Things I’ve brought back

French customs agents couldn’t care less what edibles you’re bringing back into the country — bless their chocolate-covered hearts — but, had they been curious about the contents of my luggage, here are some of the things they would have found, in between clothes and an unreasonable number of books purchased during the writers festival:

~ Roasted ground wattleseed (extraordinary coffee/cocoa flavor) from the Bush Tucker Shop,
~ Ground lemon myrtle (v. lemongrassy, not unlike the handwipes you get with seafood platters, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it — homemade handwipes?) from The Grocer,
~ Dried and ground bush tomato (tangy and sweet), also from The Grocer,
~ Murray River pink salt flakes,
~ Dukkah, an Egyptian mix of ground nuts, seeds, and spices that was new to me, but seems very popular in Australia (“Yeah no, it was really big fifteen years ago,” Melbourne restaurant critic Stephen Downes informed me with a grin),
~ Pistachio butter (not particularly Australian, I know, but oh-so-tempting),
~ Unrefined macadamia oil,
~ Raw macadamia nuts,
~ Crystallized ginger,
~ Dried muscatel grapes (with seeds, and still attached to the stem),
~ Delicious dried “fruit salad” from Whisk & Pin (also a great plane snack),
~ Elixir raw honey — I got the smallest jar available and it happened to be wildflower honey,
~ Rose-flavored pashmak, a.k.a. Persian fairy floss (not particularly Australian either, but just as irresistible),
~ Organic chocolate-covered macadamia nuts from Chadwick’s,
~ A few bars of Carmel Valley chocolate,
~ Shiraz chocolate from Cocoa Farm,
~ Organic cow’s milk feta from Over the Moon,
~ And a stack of magazines — Spice Magazine, Vogue Entertaining + Travel, Delicious., Donna Hay Magazine, and Gourmet Traveller — that have proved quite inspirational.

Things you can’t eat

~ Spending ten fun-filled days in the company of writers, festival organizers, and bloggers,
~ Going on a mini-cruise down the Swan River, drinking white wine on the deck of the boat, and jumping in for a swim,
~ Having Pam Lincoln show me around her organic vineyard, Oranje Tractor, and considering spending the rest of my days in her orchard (if you’ve been searching for the Garden of Eden, look no further),
~ Attending a performance of The Moth,
~ Learning new words and expressions (capsicum, eschalot, over East, good on ya, Sunday sesh…) and finding solace in the fact that Australians, unlike my American friends, use the word “entrée” correctly, to mean first course, not main (hint hint),
~ Visiting the Perth art gallery and being transported by the early settlers’ paintings and the Roger Ballen exhibition.

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