Monday, 3 August 2009

Fused and confused

Last week we decided it was time to acknowledge the season the English refer to as summer and introduce some new dishes onto the menu.

English people often ask me whether Lantana’s menu is Australian and I don’t really know how to answer them. I am Australian, our chef is Australian and the food on our menu is very typical of the food you find in cafes in Australia. But what is Australian cuisine?

In countries like Italy, France, India and China, cooking is a cultural institution where recipes are passed down from generation to generation and remain authentic and virtually unaltered for hundreds of years. This is not the case in Australia, or at least not in my family, where I was fed a varied diet of spaghetti bolognese, stir fries, and curries as my mother and father experimented with new recipes that they were learning from cookbooks and magazines rather than their mothers.

The Australian diet has constantly evolved in response to the arrival of different migrant groups: the British followed by the Chinese, Italians, Vietnamese, Greeks, Turkish, Indians, Thais and so on. The cuisines of our migrants met the same fate as the migrants themselves; thrown into the soup pot called Australian multiculturalism and confidently blended together. One of the legacies of this assimilation immigration policy is Australian cuisine.

Today, breakfast at a café in Australia could include miso porridge, a scrambled egg burrito, french toast with labne and orange blossom syrup or toasted pide with vegemite. Chefs and food writers created the label ‘fusion cuisine’ to describe this eclectic approach to cooking which, while well intended, can sometimes be more confused than fused.

The finest exemplar of Australia’s confusion cuisine is the chiko roll where we took a centuries old dish, the Chinese egg roll, and gave it the assimilation treatment. The result?

A greasy deep-fried chewy spring roll filled with mushy vegetables and mutton that has become a national icon; immortalized in the movie Puberty Blues where a surfer tells his girlfriend to “Get me a chiko roll…and don’t take any bites on the way back”.

Which brings me back to the summer menu at Lantana. I think the best way to describe it is Australian multicultural confusion cuisine at its most delicious.


Brioche french toast w caramelised plums and berries served w pistachio ricotta

Grilled haloumi, mushrooms with herb pesto, poached egg, sautéed spinach, and roast tomatoes served w sourdough toast

Thai beef salad

But perhaps the most quintessentially Australian item on the menu is the steak sandwich with sliced beetroot. I don’t know whether you’d call that fusion cuisine or just pure genius.


catty said...

Whatever the cuisine, i LOVE Lantana. In fact, am going there for brekky tomorrow - see you then! :)

Gregory said...

As a fellow countrymen, I remember the "aussie works" style burger with bacon, cheese, pineapple, egg and beetroot.

Rarely seen anywhere else on the planet......... probably for good reason too.

Caitlin Ryan said...

I'm coming in for lunch today with a horrible hangover - I am definitely having steak sandwich with beetroot.

mathew said...

I had the pleasure of spending a couple of weeks down under in november, and was truly impressed by quality of this confused Australian food (barring the few nights we spent in redneck and deep in the outback towns). In addition to the influence of the immigrant communities, they say it has a lot to do with great fresh produce from the farms and sea. Hmmm...those Barramundi cod were fantastic!

Steak & beetroot sounds like a fantastic combo.

From rainy Melb said...

Hey Shelagh
Hope the brioche french toast is still on the menu when we get there next month. Lester, Alexis and I in London for a few days last week of Sept. Staying not far from you in Bloomsbury.
Also thought you'd like this comment from my friend Ros who was in L recently and tried the Lantana fare ...
"oh and your friends coffee shop in london is going off -- packed and talked about" 

Chew said...

Don't forget to wash that Chiko roll down with an ice cold Big M!

catty said...

Hey Lantana! I normally love you to bits but... I went there on Saturday (I made my hungry friend wait past breakfast and well into lunch time) so that I could try your steak sandwich but... you don't serve that on weekends. Why? WHY? I wish you would :(

Mowielicious said...

Hey Shelagh! How's it going? It's been ages since I've been to Lantana, but now that you've added these beauties to the menu, I'm going to have to visit soon! P.S: If you ever need photos of your food, let me know, it's what I do now - take a look at my blog if you're interested. See you soon, Mowie x

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Tell your truth said...

Oh Chiko, one of the greats :)
Great entry and explanation on Australian fusion. Feel so lucky to be Australian and experience all those cusines, somehow feels less food ignorant!

Shelagh Ryan said...

Hi Catty, The omission of the steak sandwich on the Saturday brunch menu was actually a mistake which you will be happy to hear has now been corrected.

Shelagh Ryan said...

Thanks Chew, I had forgotten about those quality Big M ads. But nothing can quench an Aussie thirst like a solo.

Shelagh Ryan said...

Hi Pia, great news that you will be coming to London with the family. Look forward to seeing you soon. x

bigdaddy said...

Are you going to introduce Chiko Rolls? I'm ready!

Geoff said...

Wow new menu food looks the steak sandwich it's funny cos here in NZ we put beetroot in our burgers...e.g. McDonald's NZ does the 'kiwiburger''s 'kiwi' ingredients being egg and this an Oz thing as well? p.s congrats on the nomination!! Giff

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A Curiuos Foodie said...

Growing up in Sydney, at Cronulla, home of Puberty Blues, I remember with horror the chicco rolls. But I also remember visiting Chinatown in Sydney in the 70's with on of my dads Chinese mates, and sitting down in a shabby cafe , with flyspotted walls and cracked laminated tables, and having the best food of my life. I was stunned.
I've been trying to recreate that experiance ever since

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Being a many other countrymen, Going the "aussie works" type hamburger using bread, parmesan cheese, blueberry, egg along with beetroot.
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