Who will win Adam Liaw's Australian food State of Origin?

Adam Liaw
Team Queensland could be a vanilla slice meets pavlova, with a ginger kick.
Team Queensland could be a vanilla slice meets pavlova, with a ginger kick. Photo: Phu Tang/iStock

QUARANTINE COOKING

It recently came to my attention that, horrifyingly, people from Warrnambool refer to party pies as "nibble pies". While this is obviously wrong and offensive, it did remind me of something we often forget – Australian food is more regional than we might think.

But whatever you call a little pie, or a battered potato thing or a schnitzel topped with sugo and cheese, these are just semantics. The real issue isn't the name.

No country with a great food culture has a single, homogenous cuisine. Travel just a few kilometres in France, Italy, China or Japan and the food changes enormously.

In Australia our short history has meant that our regional cuisines are perhaps less distinct than those in older countries.

That said, we already have many regional foods. If you go to South Australia without having a pasty, you're missing out. Broome has susame, a product of its multicultural and isolated pearling industry. And in WA they bafflingly serve their Bunnings sausage sizzles in bread rolls.

Scallop party pies - definitely not 'nibble pies'.
Scallop party pies - definitely not 'nibble pies'. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Local cuisines don't always develop organically. Sometimes they need a bit of help. In the 1950s the spa region of Nyuto Onsen in Japan's Akita prefecture had long been known for its glorious snowbound hot springs, but not for its food. Seeking to change that, the town collaborated with local cooks to develop a regional dish.

They took local mountain potatoes and combined in a hotpot dish with pork belly, burdock and miso. The "Yamato Hotpot" was officially decreed as a regional speciality and now 70 years on people travel from around the country to try it after a soak in the mineral baths.

As travel across state and territory borders in Australia is restricted for the first time in a century, it's time to take our regional variations in Australian food to the next level. Here are my suggestions.

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Mrs Parma's (bar bistro)   Dish pic of the Parma Floater (a parma with mushy peas, mash & gravy)
Friday 11 May 2007. Rodger Cummins

The Parma Floater (a parma with mushy peas, mash and gravy) at Mrs Parma's in Melbourne – just add speck. Photo: Rodger Cummins

South Australia – The green parmy

The refusal of most of Australia to visit South Australia under any circumstances has allowed a number of great regional dishes to flourish in isolation. Pasties, frog cakes, iced coffee and German smallgoods are all valued parts of South Australian cuisine, but the state is perhaps best known for the pie floater – an upside-down pie served streetside in a bowl of pea soup.

As a proud South Australian in exile, I have to reveal a bit of partisanship here. Or should that be "parmesanship", because South Australia makes the best parmies, hands-down?

Leaning into the trail blazed by the pie floater, the green parmy could be a schnitzel topped with a thick green pea puree, flecked with pieces of fried speck (a further nod to the state's strong German influence) and showered in grated parmesan. Chase it down with a Coopers or an Adelaide Hills chardonnay.

Queensland – Ginger pavlova slice

Take the pastry base of a vanilla slice, infuse the custard with Queensland ginger and then top it with meringue and tropical fruits instead of the second layer of pastry. I'm just trying to will this into existence because I want to eat one as soon as the borders re-open.

A good cheddar and baguette should sort you out in the kitchen.

Pyengana cheddar from Tasmania. Photo: Eddie Jim

Tasmania – Curried fish pie (or apple and cheese pie)

Scallop pies might be a Tasmanian institution, but in today's economy filling a pie with good quality scallops just isn't viable. Tassie needs to pivot, and a fish pie is the right move.

I'm thinking a pie filled with fabulous Tasmanian salmon, but enterprising Tassie providores could even use abalone, striped trumpeter or Freycinet oysters. All would go nicely with a crisp cider.

On the sweet side, how about a pie made with Tassie apples and served with slice of local cheese? Pyengana is home one of the best cheddars in the country and we don't call it the Apple Isle for nothing. Do your thing, Tassie bakers!

Western Australia – Seafood sandwich

While the rest of Australia seems obsessed with the marron, locals know that WA's seafood owes as much to the Indian and Southern Oceans as it does to its rivers and dams.

Take that roll they love serving sausages in (seriously, I still can't believe it) and whack some fried Abrolhos​ islands squid or scallops in there and douse the whole thing with tartare or cocktail sauce. Pearl meat for those up north or Champagne crab and mud oyster for the southern forests. And yes, of course you could put marron in there, too.

ACT – National scones

OK, these are just scones but when you do anything in Canberra you put the word "National" in front of it. With its rolling green surrounds and cold weather the ACT could be the Cotswolds of Australia. Imagine a Canberra cream tea where delicious warm scones are served with Australian jams and whipped cream. We'd serve it with coffee instead of tea, of course, because this is Australia and our coffee culture is the best in the world. I personally wouldn't mind seeing national scones popping up in the Jervis Bay Territory either (look it up).

NSW – Kebab burger

NSW cuisine is a tough one to pin down, but if there's anything Sydneysiders love more than ordering the second cheapest wine on the list regardless of where it comes from, it's kebabs. And $16 hamburgers.

The entire city was gripped in HSP fever a few years ago, and while that was really more of a successful rebrand of Adelaide's "AB" (don't look it up), combining the city's two great food loves could well be a smash hit. I'm picturing a Breadtop-style bun covered with kebab meat and lashed with garlic sauce, chilli and El Jannah-style pickles.

The world best margherita pizza from the 400 Gradi in Brunswick. 14 April 2014.
The Age NEWS. Photo:EDDIE JIM.

400 Gradi's margherita pizza was named the world's best. Photo: Eddie Jim

Victoria – Melbourne-style pizza

Melbourne's Italian heritage has already given Australia a phenomenal cafe and coffee culture. It's also home to 400 Gradi which has won the "World's Best Pizza" title. I love Napoli pizza, but wouldn't it be great if Melbourne took that inspiration and made it its own? Nearly every city on the east coast of the USA has its own pizza so why not here?

I'm not sure what it would be – perhaps deep-dish, wrapped up with chips like a kebab, covered with pickled vegetables and herbs like a banh mi? Over to you, Melburnians.

Laksa at Parap Markets. Image re-supplied for Good Food State of Origin regional food feature by Adam Liaw. August 2020. Single use only.Mandatory credit: Tourism NT/Matt CherubinoRestrictions: This image is under license by Tourism NT and usage restrictions apply. The license for this image expires on 01/08/2024. 

Laksa at Parap Markets in Darwin. Just add some 'sartee' skewers. Photo: Tourism NT/Matt Cherubino

Northern Territory – Satay laksa

Laksa is already the dish of the territory, but if Singapore and Malaysia can have dozens of different varieties surely the NT needs one of their own. Darwin's also home to the Chung Wah society, the oldest Chinese society in the world, and its "Sartees" are a phenomenally popular staple at community events in the Top End. The generous skewers of beef or chicken are marinated to a secret recipe and grilled over coals, and the lines to get them can be long.

Why not put the two together? A bowl of Territory laksa, the soup modified with a bit of peanut butter, and topped with a couple of charcoal grilled sticks of beef, crocodile or whatever else takes your fancy, sprinkled with ground peanuts. Sounds good to me.