Margaret Fulton’s Asian cookbook the ‘Encyclopedia of Asian and Oriental Cookery’ encouraged families to pick up the chopsticks and try something new. Asian vegetables became mainstream, with Pak Choy and Bok Choy joining beans, cauliflower, zucchini and broccoli on the supermarket shelves. By 2011, one survey showed 66% of Australian children could use chopsticks.
Fulton was by no means the first to publish an Asian cookbook in Australia. In 1951, an Australian-born Chinese businessman teamed with a Sydney publicist to publish Chinese Recipes for Home Cooking. “With the exception of ve-tsin (a flavouring), soya sauce and oyster sauce, which can be obtained from Chinese stores, all the ingredients are readily available” they promised.
Much of the early writing about Asian food focused on Chinese cooking. As early as 1938, the Australian Women’s Weekly ran an article suggesting readers “Eat in Chinese Style”. The article included recipes for Fried Fish with Sweet and Sour Sauce, Fooyung Omelette, Chicken Pineapple and, of course, Chop Suey.
In the 1950s, Community Aid Abroad published Cooking Australian-Asian and in the following two decades there were a number of cookbooks developed by community groups including the Australian Indonesian Association, Sydney’s Festival of Asia Committee and the Asian Students’ Association at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. In Melbourne, Elizabeth Chong founded her Chinese cooking school in 1960 – a venture that continued for more than 50 years.
By the 1970s, the interest in Asian flavours had increased. Two influential cookbooks were published in 1976. South Australian premier Don Dunstan’s book was not just about Asian cooking but included many Asian recipes. More significant still was Charmaine Solomon’s Asian Cookbook. This followed Solomon’s South East Asian Food, released in 1972, and is credited with introducing Australians to Asian food. Her 1976 book has sold more than a million copies.
However, the arrival of Margaret Fulton’s Asian cookbook was a clear signal that Asian food had been accepted into the everyday culture of Australia.