Wild about bush food
One minute Asian fusion is all the rage, the next it’s Spanish tapas or Brazilian street food.
Thai and Chinese dishes have worked their way into our kitchens as staples, Italian and French cuisine have been long- time favourites.
Yet Australians generally pay little attention to the foods which have fed the planet’s oldest continual living culture for 40,000 years — bush tucker.
That may be changing.
Whether it’s due to a growing recognition of the healthy properties of bush tucker, an extension of the foraging fad, a desire for something different or a combination of all three, there’s a resurgence in its popularity.
“It’s trending, ” says Vickie Shina, who runs Marvic Native Farms with husband Mark Andrew.
The couple have 2500 bush lime trees, including desert limes, on their 40ha property at Mogumber, 100km north of Perth.
“We’ve just sold 11/2 tonnes to a Melbourne food company and 500kg to a South Australian company, ” Ms Shina said, adding that she’d ordered another 1000 trees for her farm.
Desert limes have high levels of folate and Vitamin C.
“People are starting to see the nutritional value, ” she said. “It’s a phenomenal fruit.”
It’s not alone.
Ms Shina points to the medicinal benefits of native flora such as the Kakadu plum found in far north WA and Queensland’s Blushwood tree, the berries of which are showing promising signs in fighting tumours.
Bush tucker - Portulaca, high in moisture and vitamin C.
On St Georges Terrace, Print Hall’s executive chef Shane Watson attributes the growing interest in using native foods to Danish super-chef Rene Redzepi.
Redzepi runs Copenhagen restaurant Noma (voted the world’s best restaurant four times) and Mr Watson believes the resurgence in native foods is the result of the ideology of Redzepi and others like him.
“His thing is ‘time and place’ — using ingredients that are local and in season and, because of that, people are looking at native foods again, ” he said. “I was foraging 10 years ago when I was living in Queenstown, New Zealand, and it didn’t have the same ring as it has now. I think that’s due to people like Redzepi promoting it.”
Print Hall’s bush tucker is bought in or foraged by its executive chef and his team.
“We use stuff we can go and get ourselves — things such as samphire, a sea asparagus which is prolific in Busselton and the Swan River, dune spinach and Geraldton wax, ” Mr Watson said.
“We pick it fresh, dry it out, chop it up and use it like a spice or dried herb.”
When Matt Orlando, formerly sous chef at Noma, visited WA he wanted to know where he could find sea lettuce.
“Aaron asked around and was told to try Trigg beach, ” Mr Watson said. “Sure enough, there was sea lettuce on the shoreline and it was damn tasty. We dehydrated and made a salt out of it, and it was amazing.”
Mr Watson has also used sandalwood nuts from WA Sandalwood Nuts, owned by Marty and Connie Winch-Buist.
Last year their York business won the Australian Forest Growers National Tree Farmer of the Year Award for finding a new market for sandalwood trees — bush tucker. The business is looking to export to China as well as expand its product range of native foods.
At Amuse in East Perth, owner/chef Hadleigh Troy says he’s discerning about what native plants he uses.
Amuse owner/chef Hadleigh Troy.
“I’ve been using a lot of this stuff for years but we only use bits and pieces now, ” Mr Troy said. “I use what I want to use and not because it’s a fad or a trend.”
What many people did not realise was the amount of work and time required to make palatable some native plants which could also be expensive to buy, he said. Geraldton wax, on the other hand, was “brilliant” and produced similar flavours to kaffir lime when infused.
“It’s really versatile. We usually infuse it in oil or use it in ice-cream or a granita, ” he said.
When Ray and Jake Strauss took over the Outback Jack’s restaurant in Northbridge they looked at what was selling. The Australian game platter, they discovered, was up there with the burgers and pasta — popular with locals and tourists alike.
“We have witchetty grubs, kangaroo, crocodile, emu, camel, wild boar and buffalo, ” Ray Strauss said. “Everyone’s favourite is the emu, a lean meat with a lot of taste.”
© The West Australian
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