I’ve spent my Christmas and New Year in Australia, which has been magical. I’ve wandered round Melbourne city, travelled along the Great Ocean Road and had an unbelievable spot for the Sydney fireworks. Spending time with the brother resulted in quite an intensive exercise regime. After an hour run on Christmas day, a five hour trek round the Blue Mountains, waboba lessons* and running to get various trains/ferries/trams, I’ve had an invigorating start to 2015 (and my feet might not recover).
I’ve also had more barbecues in these three weeks than ever before. Typically, barbecues are associated with the Aussie life along with sun and waves. Eating alfresco is really only feasible during beautiful weather which is something Melbournians are not short of! While the origins of this type of eating are not exclusively found in Australia, it is clear that this country is determined to integrate the barbecue into its culinary culture.
Public barbecues can be found everywhere in Melbourne – in spots close to the beaches, along the Yarra river, in campsites – and I’ve racked up some experience. The first revelation I had came during a barbecue along the Yarra River near the Botanical Gardens. We had Jamie Oliver’s Mexican burgers and were intending to make a salad of avocado, lettuce and red pepper. Patties were sizzling away, when a spark of creativity flashed. We changed plans, barbecuing the red pepper and spreading the avocado on the buns. I usually omit peppers in a salad, finding their watery strength a bit too much. My oh my. I can say with all the conviction of a humanist that red peppers, their sole endeavour in life, is to be eaten barbecued. Once softened, the flesh is as sweet as peonies, and the buttery avocado brought out the flavour even more. In contrast, Jamie’s ‘Mexican Inspired Burgers’ which claimed to have the ‘mega mexican flavour combo of fiery jalapenos, cool coriander and zesty lime’ were as uninteresting as the washing up afterwards and were eclipsed by that wonderful marriage of char-grilled pepper and avocado.
Our Christmas Day barbecue was sea-riously different (that conspicuous pun should tell you why). First, the inevitable wait for a spare barbecue meant our French vanilla cheesecake pudding turned into a starter. The main event was worth the wait though. Another lesson I learnt: when you do something, do it properly. I almost pierced the chorizo sausages but the instructions stipulated not to do anything to them. I ummed and ahhed about the impact on our health before reminding myself it was Christmas Day and leaving them as they are. Next to them we had salmon that had been marinated in honey and soy, and we’d picked up some whole black tiger prawns. It is a struggle to start on one alone, because I had them all together. I took a bite of the chorizo and was overwhelmed by rich, fatty meat and sublime juices…which made the sweetness of the prawn flesh even more incredible, washed with sumptuous prawn head insides…soft honeyed salmon with crispy skin melted in my mouth…and I sat there, with my red cup of bubbles, sun on my face, with my eyes closed so I could just be these flavours. That is when I know I am eating good food.
Another taste of Australia: the kangaroo burger. I have had ostrich before, and while kangaroo is also quite lean, it has an intensity that reminded me of rabbit or duck and its cranberry-red colour also hinted at its strong taste. They were super-duper.
My induction into barbecues here has been multifarious, in-depth and memorable. What they all have in common is their serving suggestion: a cold beer and a shining sun.
*waboba is a ball that bounces on water. It requires a special type of throw and a full body movement. Difficult to get the hang of but sooo satisfying when you get to grips with it!!