The term “Modern Australian” first appeared in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guides in 1996. This description replaced various terms including ‘International’, ‘Modern’, “Individual’ and ‘New Style’. It took a while for the Australian Women’s Weekly to catch up. It published its Modern Australian Food cookbook in 2012.
Since the 19th century, Australians have agonised over what constitutes Australian food. Quests to find our “national dish” usually turn up the meat pie and vegemite on toast. Iconic though these may be, they hardly constitute a national cuisine. And yet, when we see ‘modern Australian” in the description of a restaurant, we have a reasonable idea of what to expect.
A modern Australian menu will probably be produce-oriented, perhaps referring to the provenance of the ingredients. We might be talking Thornby premium lamb, or Oakey Angus Reserve beef. Chefs are forming alliances with producers based on the quality of the ingredients they supply.
Our mod oz menu will certainly feature seafood and, these days, it may have some indigenous ingredients. We will expect some Asian influences, clean flavours, and no heavy, buttery sauces.
We used to call it fusion food. But according to celebrity chef Adam Liaw, that’s out of date. Nonetheless, his recipes for modern Australian food fuse Asian flavours with Australian ingredients in dishes like custard spring rolls with orange syrup, kimchi fried rice, chilli tamarind and mango mud crab and taco rice. Unless you live in the top end, you probably won’t be trying his prawn and crocodile laksa.