I remember feeling cheated and slightly confused; how on earth could they call this a hamburger? It didn't have pineapple, beetroot, or even a egg. It was just a thin, well formed pattie, a thick square-cut slice of dark yellow processed cheese and a few pickles. This was America, this was 1994, and I was feeling completely gypped.
I’ve always found it astonishing that Australians even make it to adulthood. What with all the spiders, sharks, reptiles and deadly snakes that lay about—waiting to pounce. (Including the Inland Australian Taipan, one bite is 10 times more venomous than the Rattlesnake, and enough to kill over 100 people, or even 250,000 mice).
There is the skin from a brown snake lying down by the side of my father’s house, from the big brown snake that slithered it’s way around the legs of his outdoor furniture. It must have shed the skin. My dad thinks it’s normal to wake up with a snake outside your window. He’s Australian, so he doesn’t know any better. This is how we grew up.
My Dad lives in a town that is flat, and by the sea, who's main income comes from fishing. They also grow sugar cane because the area is a flood plain so no cattle can withstand the level of water that can accumulate. The best thing to eat, other than the prawns, is the house-made burger at the local pub.
The burger's in my Dad’s town are an all beef pattie, a slice of grilled tinned pineapple and a few slices of pickled beets, also out of a tin. American’s call them pickled but their not really. But that would imply some kind of beautiful passed-on-from-generations homespun technique. They’re just out of a tin. I think they even put acid in them to emulate ‘vinegar’. But we put them on everything. Australians love tinned beetroot.
A classic “Aussie” burger should have two mandatory things. Beetroot from at tin, and a fried egg. Sometimes the burgers have bacon, but then it should be Canadian Bacon style- with fat on and rind on, never US steaky bacon. Sometimes grilled onions, sometimes barbecue sauce, a mixture of ketchup and mayo, and sometimes grilled pineapple. Sometimes with a kind of sweet chili sauce but never without beetroot.
My dad points out things as he’s driving. “See the big brown cow in the paddock?” His hand moves abruptly to the right or left and the car swerves as well. My dad also keeps his tomatoes in the fridge. I’ve tried to tell him not to do this but he says they keep longer. Australian burgers must have fresh tomatoes and lettuce. The tomatoes should be large and thickly sliced and the lettuce should be shredded Iceberg. The bun is never exceptional. It’s white, in a packet with 5 others with a label marked “Hamburger buns” that you pick up from Woolies, Coles or Jack the Slasher, which is now called IPC. It’s never potato, or sugary or grilled in clarified butter or handmade, and sometimes it’s charred, even a little too much.
You must drink a beer with your burger, it's mandatory. I like Charlton Cold or XXXX. (from Queensland) Iced cold, and preferably pale. With fries, that are thick, more like steak fries. We call them ‘chips’ or ‘chippies’ and you’ll search for the small crunchy ones and then dip them liberally with tomato sauce. (ketchup) It’s customary to share your chips with your friends. They’ll steal them, anyway, if you don’t. Which is highly acceptable.
My dad eats a burger every week, although sometimes he eats Thai. Sometime he has crumpets, toasted, out of the fridge, other times he goes to the club for fish and chips. Mostly he eats his burgers with beets and a fried egg. Life is pretty perfect in the fishing village beside the sea. Except for the snakes.
(Pics and Text: Dimity Jones)
This story was originally slated to appear in the one of the June Issues of Real Eats Magazine, (iPad edition). Unfortunately Real Eats has now closed.
To taste an Aussie Burger in New York, go to Whitehall Restaurant where Chef Chris Rendell makes a bonza version. To make an Aussie Burger at home, click here to get the recipe from Gourmet Magazine. (Also now sadly defunct. Egad! Then shed a tear for all the good magazines and publishing houses that have now unfortunately passed! RIP!).
Happy Fourth to Everyone!