Garlic bread, Bunnings sausage should be on the list of national dishes

Garlicky goodness: Its mouth-watering flavour quickly gained favour to make garlic bread one of Australia's national dishes.
Garlicky goodness: Its mouth-watering flavour quickly gained favour to make garlic bread one of Australia's national dishes. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Garlic bread. The Bunnings sausage in a bun (onion in first). Those were the two most embarrassing omissions from my story last week that tried to identify The National Dish of Australia.

I looked at ancient icons such as the meat pie with tomato sauce, the Chiko roll, the hamburger with beetroot, spag bol, and pizza with pineapple, as well as more recent candidates such as chargrilled octopus, salt-and-pepper squid and pad Thai noodles. I concluded that Australia has transitioned from the kind of boring monoculture that talks of just one national dish to a multiculture that boasts a delightful diversity of national dishes.

Then the readers had their say, on a variety of platforms, reminding me about fairy bread, pavlova, hot and cold seafood platter, avocado on sourdough, "banh mi and a caffe latte"; and of course, the schnitty and the parmy (or parma in some suburbs).

On Twitter, Dylan Behan offered: "The ubiquitous portable lunchtime sushi roll; bacon-and-egg roll, esp on Turkish bread; sausage sizzle; chicken laksa; burger with the lot; halal snack pack." "Helen" suggested sadly that Australia's national dish right now is "bitter gall; disappointment melon; and a sprinkling of Kangaroo Island ash".

By far the most frequent reader nomination was the Bunnings snag in a bun, with readers differing only on the question of whether the long-cooked onion should be under or over the sausage.

Restaurateur Lucio Galletto reminded me about another candidate: "When I came to Australia in the 1970s, every restaurant seemed to be offering garlic bread, and I was happy about that because it reminded me of the bruschetta I had grown up with. It keeps making comebacks."

There was always a certain embarrassment about ordering garlic bread. Food snobs thought it was vulgar.

In 1975, Dick Hall, press secretary of then prime minister Gough Whitlam, had to investigate a malicious rumour that Whitlam had asked for it in La Tour d'Argent, the poshest restaurant in Paris. Hall said: "For a start, Whitlam had never been there. For another, he doesn't like garlic bread, and even if he did, he's not dumb enough to ask for it."

By the early '80s, GB had conquered the nation. In 1983, I interviewed entrepreneur Oliver Shaul for the 15th anniversary of The Summit (revolving) restaurant in Sydney, and asked how Australian tastes had evolved since he began. He said: "When I opened The Summit, the favourite dishes were prawn cocktail, filet mignon and strawberries and cream. Now, after all the food revolutions that are supposed to have hit Sydney, the most ordered dishes are prawn cocktail, filet mignon and strawberries romanoff."

But those dishes were "special occasion" fare. Shaul felt there was one very clear winner in any debate about what Australians most like to eat when they go out: "I could buy a new Mercedes every year on the profits from garlic bread alone".

I note that GB is making another comeback, even if sometimes disguised by other names. I'm pleased to add it to the national hall of fame.

David Dale is co-author of The Art of Pasta and Anatolia – Adventures in Turkish Eating.