Burger with "the lot"
It may be hard to believe, but when it comes to Australian burgers, you'll be hard pressed to find a "beef only" patty. Ground meat, often with lamb, is generally mixed with spices, bread crumbs, and sometimes egg--something you and I call meatloaf. And Australians do it big. Really big. Order a burger with "the lot" (only $7.50AU) at Alasya on Sydney Road and you'll get a massive sized kitchen sink burger: a well charred cumin spiced patty that still manages to be medium temp in the middle, toasted bun, chopped beetroot, sautéed onions, lettuce, tomato, bacon, special sauce, and a runny yolk fried egg. The flavor of the meat gets lost in all the fixins, but chomp one down and consider yourself fed for the day.
Bet you didn't know this: Melbourne boasts the largest Greek city outside of Greece. So if you want terrific Greek cuisine, this is where to get it. The gyro (pronounced YEE-ros, and meaning "spin" in Greek) is particularly treasured in the Fitzroy section of town, or chow down at one of the late night gyro/souvlaki trucks and shops which cater to the post clubbing crowd. This beast of a sandwich and hangover helper (from Souvlaki King) starts with a thick grill warmed pita which is layered with tomato, lettuce, and then overstuffed with thin, crispy-edged shards of yogurt and cumin marinated lamb which are freshly shaved to order from the huge hunk on the rotisserie. A light but piquant yogurt dressing is spread throughout. It was impossible for me to resist just picking out the insanely tasty caramelized bits of lamb.
Kangaroo on the barbie
I couldn't visit Oz without sinking my carnivorous teeth into a grilled kangaroo fillet. I was advised from my guide to order it on the rare side, as overcooking this extremely lean cut will leave you gnawing. The red meat is tender and juicy with some gaminess, similar to venison. To disguise this (though I didn't think it needed it), many restaurants (such as at the Napier Hotel shown here) serve the filets encrusted in a flavorful black pepper seasoning with creamy béarnaise sauce ($21AU).
Flake Fish and Chips
Aussies afraid of sharks? No way. They just eat 'em. And you can't miss it here. Just like there's a pizza joint on every street corner in the U.S., there are fish and chips shops all over the place in Australia. The batter dipped gummy shark, or "flake" as it's commonly called, has a mild flavor and meaty texture. The fish and chips platter pictured here is from Clamms Fast Fish in St. Kilda, Melbourne.
Australians take their coffee seriously, and they (including my guide) are not afraid to admit that they're coffee snobs. In fact, you're less likely to find a Starbucks (only 22 in the entire country) than a local roaster. There's no such thing as a simple "cup of coffee" here. Instead, order a Long Black (similar to an Americano), or what everyone around me was drinking: a latte--which is always served in a handle-less clear glass cup, and always with a perfect swirl of leaf petals floating in the foam on top. It's the perfect pampered treat to start the day.
Australia is such a grape stompin' machine that it actually has too much wine. To deal with this, er, problem, wineries bottle up excess stock along with perhaps any of their undesirable vino and sell it off at ridiculously low prices (even lower than 2 buck chuck). No-fuss labels will display the grape variety, and the bottling year, but to save face the vineyard's name is omitted (often the wine shop slaps it's own label on the cleanskin). Though it's a gamble whether the bottle will pour fine drink or slosh, that's part of the fun of this unique Australian experience.
Four 'N Twenty Meat Pie
This crinkly plastic-wrapped meat pie (about $3AU) is ubiquitous at sporting event food counters, and under the heat lamp glow of every 7-Eleven (hey it's okay, we've got the big bite hot dog to answer to). A processed riff on the British meat pie, I gave the popular Four 'N Twenty brand a shot twice. Basically what you might expect from a packaged product. Ground meat and chewy gristle of dubious origin are slathered in a slightly sweet brown gravy which is enclosed in a rich pie pastry crust. It's edible (the traditional ketchup dab on top helps), but after I was about half way through, the essence of a freshly opened can of Alpo started to creep up into my nostrils and I had to stop. Best if you're drunk, or if you need something to keep your hands warm at the Footy. Note: If you're in the Boston area and want to try a terrific worth-the-trip homemade version of this meat pie, stop over at KO Catering and Pies.
Like McDowells was to McDonalds, this place looks exactly like a Burger King, but with a funny name. That's because Hungry Jacks had it's roots as a franchise of Burger King, until contract dealings went sour. My guide (who decided to wait this one out in the car) pleaded with me to axe this off the list of Melbournian food stops, but I was too intrigued and had to find out for myself. Conclusion? This is no Burger King. The fries were pale and somewhat crispy and salty, the bun was toasted and it came with the fixings, but the burger was not good. The patty was dry, and after pulling the bottom off to inspect the burger, I couldn't take another bite after looking at all the congealed whatever it was. I will admit that I never pull apart my Burger King burgers, and it's possible there is some prejudice towards the home team here, but I wouldn't make the trip for this version. By the look of the empty shop, it seems that a lot of Aussies don't either.