One of my fondest food memories is set against a red-dirt backdrop of the Australian outback. I was in my early teens and travelling through the Northern Territory with my family for the first time. On our way to Uluru, we had stopped at a bush camp to enjoy a simple meal cooked over an open fire: beer damper bread smothered in bush tomato jam. It was one of the most stunning things I’d ever tasted, and it kindled in me a love for simple food made with local ingredients that I carry with me to this day.
In my previous life as a freelance writer in Brisbane, I would spend a good portion of every week visiting cafes and chatting with business owners about their food philosophies. Since I’ve been travelling in Asia and living in developing countries, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the abundance of fresh, healthy ingredients we Australians have access to. Other people are starting to pick up on this too, especially with the recent launch of Noma Australia (the image above shows some of the native ingredients used in the Noma kitchen).
I spent three weeks in Brisbane this summer decompressing after Thailand and preparing to move to Phnom Penh. In that time, I tried to indulge in as much good food as I possibly could! My visit coincided with the launch of Broadsheet Brisbane, a new online guide that spotlights some of the city’s best eateries, so I was never stuck for choice. I was lucky enough to contribute around 35 cafe and restaurant profiles to the site, including articles about my favourite farm-to-table eateries that focus on native ingredients and local produce.
Saltbush, lemon myrtle, macadamia nuts and Kakadu plums are among my favourite Australian natives. Here are three more ingredients I discovered this summer while eating my way around Brisbane (plus a few recommendations if you want to eat farm-to-table in the city).
Ficus coronata is endemic to Queensland (my home state), and typically grows along fertile creek beds. A popular story holds that the fig’s rough leaves were once used as sandpaper for polishing wood and turtle shells by indigenous Australians (hence the name). The fruit, by contrast, is soft and creamy. Tiny compared to the common figs I’m used to seeing at the market, sandpaper figs only grow to the size of a thumbnail and are subtly sweeter than their plumper cousins.
The yellow wattle is a well-known emblem of Australia, but I never knew this plant’s seeds were edible. Wattleseed can be harvested from any one of the country’s 120 endemic species of acacia, and the ingredient has been used in cooking by Aboriginal Australians for eons. Wattleseed is a bit of a superfood, boasting high levels of potassium, calcium, iron and zinc. It’s also a rich source of protein and carbohydrate, and can be used to thicken sauces or milled into flour to cook cakes or damper. When ground and sprinkled over a dessert (the way I tried it), wattleseed is crunchy and has a subtle, earthy flavour.
Caviar Finger Limes
Among native Australian ingredients, the caviar finger lime is the party trick! Unlike the selectively bred hybrid limes we’re probably all used to, finger limes are long and thin, and have a softer, more porous skin. When cut in half and gently squeezed, they don’t release juice, but rather perfectly formed spheres of transparent caviar that pop in your mouth just like roe, releasing a zesty hit of limey goodness. A number of varieties of wild finger lime grow in the Australian rainforest, distinguished by their different skin hues (pink, yellow, red or green) and the distinct flavour characteristics of their pulp.
Where to Eat Farm-to-Table in Brisbane
Queensland has some of the best agricultural conditions in the country, and because of the state’s shape and size (long and skinny), it also has a climate that can support of a bit of everything. Perennial tropical crops thrive in the humid north while apples grown in Stanthorpe in the state’s south relish the annual frost. Almost every suburb boasts a weekend farmers’ market, and huge wholesale markets shepherd produce from all four corners of the state.
Surrounded by this bountiful supply of seasonal produce, many of Queensland’s best chefs and restaurateurs subscribe to ethicurean philosophies, sourcing their ingredients in a way that supports local farmers, encourages organic agriculture and fosters a relationship with the land. Farm-to-table eating has really taken off in Brisbane over the past five years or so. Here are three of my favourite cafes where you can sample local produce and native flavours.
You can find this breezy eatery inside the Brookfield Garden Centre in the city’s western suburbs. The menu changes daily, and many of the meals feature ingredients grown on site. More about Wild Canary…
The first organic restaurant to open in Brisbane, Mondo has stuck to its guns all these years. Vegetarians and vegans are well-served by the amazing range of fresh produce on offer. West End is a hub for farmers’ markets and weekend brunch at Mondo is a Brisbane institution. More about Mondo Organics…
Also in West End, Plenty is bent on forging relationships between Queensland farmers and diners. Simple, cafe-style fare is consistently good, and Plenty also sells a range of homemade preserves and pantry staples. More about Plenty…