Macadamias are just one of approximately 6,000 foods that have been eaten by Australia’s Indigenous peoples for at least 65,000 years. Known as “bush tucker,” this nutrient-rich cuisine includes any native food source: nuts, fruits, and vegetables, of course, but also seafood like marron, or Australian crayfish; land animals such as emu and kangaroo; and insects like green ants and witchetty grubs, large white larvae that transform into wood moths.
Many of these endemic resources were erased from mainstream culinary culture during European settlement in the late 18th century, after which imported provisions were gradually adopted.
Now more menus reflect hyperlocal gastronomy as Australians take greater interest in Aboriginal culture and chefs celebrate previously unlauded ingredients for their nutritional value and sustainability — and for their flavor.
Adelaide, which is located on unceded Aboriginal Kaurna land, has a variety of places to try these foods, from haute tasting menus to market stalls. Check out these four to experience it for yourself.
At Paulett Wines, located in the Clare Valley wine region about 85 miles north of Adelaide, owner Ali Paulett planted a bush garden with the guidance of Aboriginal consultants back in 2010.
Today, the winery’s restaurant, Bush DeVine, continues that focus on local farming. Chef Thomas Erkelenz sources ingredients from his on-site garden and also relies on relationships with regional foragers and purveyors.
I ate soba noodles made with sweet-spicy pepperberries, accented with pork cracklings and a briny succulent called karkalla, on a terrace overlooking pastures and vineyards.
Located on the banks of the Torrens River in the suburb of North Adelaide, this was the first restaurant to showcase only-in-Australia foods when it opened 24 years ago. “Our most popular dishes are the grilled kangaroo, the fried crocodile fish cakes, and the pan-roasted barramundi,” said executive chef Ray Mauger, who sources from Indigenous co-op farms whenever possible. When diners show interest in bush tucker, the staff hands them an illustrated list that describes 20 of the most common ingredients they might encounter, from spinach-like warrigal greens to rosella flowers, a type of edible, antioxidant-rich hibiscus that packs a berry-rhubarb flavor.
My entrée of grilled kangaroo (a gamy, lean meat with higher levels of protein and iron than beef) was flavored with quandong, a wild peach favored for its nutrition and medicinal uses. For dessert: a panna cotta of lemon myrtle and sunrise lime, an oval fruit that tasted a bit like a kumquat.
In a gazebo-like space in the middle of the Adelaide Botanic Garden, executive chef Justin James orchestrates a wildly inventive four-hour, 29-course tasting menu that includes at least 30 native ingredients. He serves emu meat that has been cured with sunrise limes; tops oysters from Coffin Bay, a seafood haven in South Australia, with fermented desert-lime pulp and green ants; and wraps marron in leaves of a shrub called oldman saltbush. The presentation is theatrical, with dishes perched on leaves, tucked into shrubbery, skewered on branches, wrapped in tree bark, and resting on rocks that are meant to be licked to heighten the umami flavor profile. Even the sparkling wine is flavored with lemon aspen and mountain pepperleaf, two Indigenous botanicals.
This Aboriginal-owned company, which has a stall in the bustling Adelaide Central Market, sources directly from Indigenous vendors. Under founder Daniel Motlop, the team sells dry goods like bush teas, spices, and rubs, as well as a wide range of wild-harvested fresh produce, including Kakadu plums and bush apples, fruits that look like small pomegranates. Jars of pickled succulents and quandong jam line the shelves, and the refrigerated display case holds cuts of wild boar, emu, crocodile, and kangaroo. The green-ant gin is one of Something Wild’s most popular products, and the lemon-myrtle tarts, sprinkled with crunchy ants, are a mouth-puckering flavor blast.