RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Travel often brings the unexpected, so WEEKEND EDITION food commentator Bonny Wolf was unprepared to find some of the best food she has ever eaten in Australia.
BONNY WOLF, BYLINE: We were on Kangaroo Island and stopped at a cafe for lunch. An Australian woman we'd seen earlier at a sheep dairy ran over and recommended the marron salad. What is marron? I asked. Well, she said, you know what yabbies are. Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore. We are, literally, in Oz, which is what the locals call Australia. Like the Emerald City, it is a land of enchantments - many of them culinary. Marron and yabbies are related to crawfish. At the amazing Sydney fish market they sit beside all sorts of other seafood I've never heard of - Balmain bugs, bluespotted goatfish, mud crabs and the impossibly delicious barramundi. Because most people in live on the coast, they eat a lot of fish - really, really fresh fish.
Another piece of the Australia food puzzle is that one of every four Australians is from somewhere else. This, on a continent with fewer people than California. Aboriginal people have lived as hunter-gatherers for about 40,000 years before the British started sending criminals to Australia in 1788. Subsequent waves of immigration brought people from all over the world. War, poverty and politics brought people from Europe, Southeast Asia, India, Africa and the Middle East. The immigrants found a climate varying from temperate to tropical where they could grow just about anything year round. The wine industry flourished, and they grow the best olives. By the end of the 20th century, bad British food was no longer the norm. When a Sydney friend was raising her children in the late 1970s, she sent them to school with Vegemite sandwiches on white bread. Now, her five-year-old granddaughter takes Lebanese bread with hummus. The school cafeteria serves sushi on Thursdays. The urban food markets made me want to fall to my knees. Quince, passion fruit, custard apples, meat cases filled with ox tongue and beef cheeks, wild boar and, yes, kangaroo, baskets of fresh eggs, cases of local cheese - stunningly fresh ingredients, cultural diversity and inventive cooking. Your basic food paradise.
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MARTIN: Bonny Wolf is the contributing editor of NPR's Kitchen Window. You can follow her on Twitter. She's @BonnyWolf.
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MARTIN: This is NPR News.
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