When I’m asked for an example of an Australian dish, I’m always a little stumped. Most of the things we think of as Australian staples were appropriated from immigrants or British settlers. It’s easy to forget the native foods, the bush tucker, that were cultivated and used by Indigenous Australians for thousands of years before imported crops and meat pies came on the scene.
A couple of weeks ago The Boy and I attended the Bush Tucker meets Valley Produce event run by the Swan Valley and Eastern Regions Slow Food Convivium together with the Maalinup Art Gallery, where the event was also hosted. As with previous the Slow Food events we’ve attended, the idea was to educate guests through a meal showcasing local ingredients and traditions, as well enjoying the experience of sharing good food together!
Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us.
The meal began with an introduction from Maalinup owner Dale Tilbrook, who spoke about the Aboriginal history of the area and the traditional foods we were about to eat. The food was prepared by Dale, Slow Food chef Vincenzo Velletri and their helpers, and included a modern fusion of local and native ingredients. I find fusion dishes sometimes a bit hit and miss, but these were prepared with knowledge and sensitivity to the traditions and ingredients. They were well complimented with Edgecombe Brothers wine and Bitter Bush essences with soda water (tip: the lemon myrtle tastes like lemon lollies despite not having any sugar in it).
It’s a pity how uncommon indigenous ingredients are, when they grow well in the Australian environment (obviously) and actually taste really good! I suppose it can be confronting for some people to eat kangaroo or emu, although they are also much better suited to the land here than pigs and cows and much healthier. I didn’t manage to get a decent photo of every dish (and I did manage to drop jam all over my poor camera), but here’s a selection.
Eating local, seasonal and sustainable food has become increasingly important to me, for a variety of reasons. Chief among them, and the reason that I love these Slow Food events, is that I believe in supporting people who do good work with actions (and money) rather than just words – it’s the only way they can continue to do good work.
The meal ended with desserts celebrating the quondong (native peach) season – vanilla pannacotta with white quandong halves in peach schnapps, and quondong jam tarts with wattle seed cream. I learned about some new local flavours, was reintroduced to others, and it was a pleasure as always! It’s left me wondering where I can get some of these bush tucker plants to attempt to cultivate at home – maybe I’ll have better luck growing native wild limes and bush tomatoes than I have with the European varieties?