Touring Australia and Fresh Food
Throughout all the little shops, delis, supermarkets and roadside fruit vendors in Australia, there is for sale, somewhere, every kind of food available on the planet
Australia is culturally diverse, and the migrating nationalities have expanded the range of produce to include the staples and favourites of most peoples of the world.
In the cities and major regional centres it is possible to find almost any variety of food available. Australia produces most of its own food and the importation of fruits like lemons or grapes has more to do with politics and free market values than an inability for the country to produce its own.
When you venture out onto the highways and bi-ways, the back roads and the two building towns - the availability and diversity of fresh produce, naturally, begins to thin out.
This article deals predominantly with the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables. Australia is primarily a meat producing country and you are far more likely to find a BBQ Pack (a tray containing a steak, a chop and 2 sausages) than a crisp roadhouse cauliflower in the middle of nowhere.
The larger supermarkets are predominantly owned by a couple of multi-national chains and generally provide a fairly stable and high-quality range of produce (dependent on the individual manager). Further down the pecking order come the co-operative style supermarkets that operate on a similar scale to the big chains and are more likely to personalise the produce they supply with local fruits and vegetables.
A quick purchase from a local Queensland Sunday market for under $15 ‣
In a small town the single local supermarket will probably be locally owned and will have to source everything themselves. They are far more likely to represent the foods that are currently in season and will often just provide the staples ie; potatoes, onions, carrots, apples etc. The perishable qualities of fresh food mean economics really prevent the stocking of exotics, unless they can be sourced from a local grower.
Roadhouses and towns consisting of only a few people may have a supply of fresh produce for sale. It may be on sale at the post office or the service station or even the pub and it will usually be provided as more of a service than a real money making enterprise. Freshness is dependent on the timing of the last delivery.
Australia has two obviously distinct regions, the south and the north, and the variety of produce from either end represents what can be commercially grown in either zone. The cooler, fertile paddocks of the south are ideal for earth grown vegetables such as onions, potatoes and carrots and the common fruits such as apples, peaches and the citrus varieties. When you arrive at the more northerly regions you are greeted with the delights of the wet tropics and if you are not from a tropical region or country, much of the produce will be unrecognizable and unpronounceable. Foods from either zone find their way to the markets at the opposite end of the country, albeit at an inflated price.
Many local producers will set up a roadside stall with an honour box payment system and this is usually the best way get the freshest local produce at the best price.
Similarly, many smaller towns have a weekend market, a temporary set-up of stalls where individuals sell whatever they have, be it books, junk, collectables or the fruit and veg they grow in their back yards or market garden. Like the roadside vendor, these stalls are an opportunity to grab something that was probably picked that morning at up to half the price of the supermarkets. Bartering and haggling is acceptable. Avoid buying from people who appear to try and charge regular retail prices.
At places like markets and roadside stalls in the far north you will find truly exotic items perhaps only grown for an individual family from a specific culture. Things like fresh tamarind, turmeric, jackfruit, duku, rambutan, canistel, jaboticaba, – the list is endless.
Get it While You can
If you are touring Australia and preparing and cooking your own meals, then the best advice is to make the most of any opportunity to consume what is available from the region. If you carry a Car or 4WD Fridge then you have the capacity to store anything you see. Grab that bag of potatoes from the roadside stall or the one dollar pineapple from the markets and plan to eat it fresh. Availability of bread ranges from classic, European style bakeries in major centres to in-house supermarket bakeries with a fresh but uninspiring range in larger towns. Smaller towns will often have a local baker and the bread, pies and cakes can often be sensational. Roadhouses may have a frozen, sliced, white loaf. Be prepared to ask roadhouse staff for anything you cannot see. Often they will have something special, hiding out the back, they may be prepared to part with, depending on your manners. If you think it's a poor selection for you - the passerby, consider the people who live in these isolated places.
If you are travelling to very isolated towns or areas be prepared to take whatever you need. You will generally be able to buy a can of fruit of or a packet of frozen vegetables but there are places in this country where nothing grows and the economics means stocking shelves full of transported, fresh produce is impossible.
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