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Food Porn: A New Orleanian in Oz

Pebble Beach seafood for 2 credith Scott Gold (1 of 1)

Seafood for two, Aussie style: prawns, smoked salmon, kingfish sashimi, "bug" ceviche, and local oysters (Photo by: Scott Gold)

When I got a save-the-date note for a dear friend's wedding, I immediately responded "yes." Because that's what you do for dear friends. Also, that's definitely what you do when that dear friend's wedding happens to be taking place in Australia. "When will I ever get a better excuse to travel to the other side of the world?" I asked myself. "Probably never," I answered.

So I asked my girlfriend if she wanted to spend 24 hours traveling with me to the opposide end of the planet, and she quickly agreed. Which is good, because not long after, we became engaged, and five months later, married. Mazel tov!

Seeing that we would be in Australia (also known to some as "Oz," and a wonderful world it is), we decided that we might as well stay there for a spell and turn the trip into our honeymoon. Such it was that circumstances brought me to the Land Down Under for the first time. And, as your intrepid food pornographer, I couldn't help but take great care in examining the Australian food culture. And by "examining," I of course mean "stuffing every possible food item into my face without pause or fear of repercussion." Hey, I was on my honeymoon...damn the torpedoes, I'm going to eat, dammit!

First of all, while they speak English in Australia--or a version of it, rather--things are obviously a bit different there than in the states, and the Crescent City in particular. Food-wise, let's start with meat.

The beef and lamb, in particular, are simply better in Australia than they are in the USA. I mean, unless you're dropping an entire paycheck for dry-aged, grass-fed/grass-finished/pastured Wagyu-style beef in America, you're going to get something that tastes mostly like beef. But in Australia, even a conventional burger is remarkably beefier tasting than the watered-down facsimiles we usually get in the states, likely having to do with all of the unhappy American cattle raised on industrial feedlots and pumped full of grains, antibiotics and growth hormones.

The lamb is often better than the beef in the states (and you pay for it), but the lamb in Oz, my stars...it's literally the best I've had in my life. Intensely flavorful, but not the least gamey. The experience reminded me of the film Defending Your Life, in which all of the food in the afterlife is sensational, and Albert Brooks's character constantly makes exaggerated "yummy" sounds when he tastes something, which happens frequently. But I didn't have to die to enjoy this, and thank heavens for that, because there was more eating to do.

Like the beef, the eggs and chocolate were mostly superior to what we have in 'Murica. Again, this is likely do to happier, healthier animals and a better agricultural system. Even hotel buffet eggs had rich, deep orange yolks, which made me infinitely sad about all of the depressing, rubbery hotel eggs I've choked down in my lifetime. As for the chocolate, Australia is the home of Cadbury, and, like most things, it's always superior at the source.

Cadbury in Oz uses "dairy milk" in their chocolate (you can even friend it on Facebook!), and the difference is immediately noticeable to any discerning chocoholic. Commercial American chocolate tastes downright chemical in comparison. We made sure to bring a couple of bars home for snacking, as well as several boxes of Tim Tams, Australia's favorite chocolate cookie. Fact: It's their favorite for a reason. My wife is now harboring a mild Tim Tam obsession. Had we stayed down under for much longer, an intervention might have been necessary.

Then there's seafood. On this score, I won't say that Australia is superior to the U.S., and especially New Orleans. But it's different, of course, because the various marine species in the antipodes are not the same as we have here in the Gulf and in our bayous, rivers and lakes. I got a wonderful survey of Aussie fruits of the sea during lunch one day on Hamilton Island near the Great Barrier Reef, when my wife and I shared a cold seafood platter "for two." I put that in quotes, because any seafood-loving New Orleanian could have handily polished off the entire platter alone, and quickly. Which isn't to say it wasn't a lovely variety of the fishy fare in Oz.

There were huge tiger prawns, expertly steamed, the size of which I've only seen in the colossal shrimp we're so fond of here on the Gulf Coast. They were outstanding. Next to them rested a rosette fashioned from smoked salmon, which was nice, if nothing exotic or special. Beside the salmon were five healthy slices of kingfish sashimi lightly dressed with citrus, oil and capers, a real treat for those like me who adore raw fish. And we were treated to local oysters, too, a variety called "Coffin Bay." (Note: I'd love to cross-breed these with our "Murder Point" oysters to make the most macabre bivalve variety in history.)

Most interestingly of all on this plate was a ceviche fashioned from what Australians call "bugs." No, it wasn't an insect dish, and lord, was I grateful for that. "Bugs," as they're referred to in Oz, are also known as "slipper lobster," a cousin of the delectable, expensive crustaceans we're so fond of stateside. In the wild, their appearance is similar to our lobsters, but look as though someone has smashed them flat, like a halibut (here's a picture). All told, it was a generous and fascinating sample of the seafood in this part of the world, although the "for two" description doesn't wholly apply to those from South Louisiana. So we ordered some truffle fries on the side. Like you do.

Speaking of which: Australians eat fries, or "chips" with just about everything. Their condiment of choice, if not ketchup or vinnegar? "Chicken salt." That's right: chicken-flavored salt. It's fantastic. We bought six jars to bring home for friends and family.

Finally, there was coffee. The Aussies have something of an obsession with the drink, and even their own names for how you take it, ie. "long black," and "flat white," in addition to cappuccino, macchiato, latte, etc. Seemingly every barista in the country truly knows their way around an espresso machine, and even what they refer to as a "decent" cup of joe is way beyond anything we'd recognize as a standard mug of java.

But, as they say, the honeymoon can't last forever, and eventually we had to come home. As I said to one of our new Australian friends, "If you have to go home from a wonderful vacation, going home to New Orleans ain't too bad." Dealing with some jet lag issues (the return trip took us about 26 hours, all told, crossing the International Dateline and literally going backwards in time) and trying to get back into our staid, workaday lives wasn't easy.  Then we stopped by a relative's house for a birthday party, and they had a giant box brimming with hot boiled crawfish with potatoes and corn, crabs, jumbo lump crab meat, and stuffed artichokes. The birthday cake was rainbow almond doberge. After greedily digging into that spread like the bona fide New Orleanians we are, all of a sudden we didn't miss Australia so much.

It's good to be home.


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.