Heading down to the local hotel or club bistro for some great Australian pub food is a regular part of Australian life. In Sydney, Melbourne,or any of the other major centres you will find pubs and clubs offering cheap counter meals, alongside the diverse culinary experiences which are available.
If you are venturing out to the regional areas however, pub and club bistros will often be your only dining option. Their bistros are the best place to sample some genuine Australian pub food, or “pub grub” and interact with the locals along the way and learn a little about Australian culture.
Australian Pub food
Counter meals at the local hotels started during the Gold Rush era, when publicans would provide bread and cheese to help soak up some of the alcohol. Over time, these meals became more elaborate as hoteliers competed for patronage. Today they offer great budget meal options for travellers and locals alike. Australian pub food has become an integral part of Australia’s relaxed lifestyle.
We’ve dined in many bistros and pubs during our road trips across Australia and Lesley works in a local bistro. So we have a pretty good knowledge of the types of meals you are likely to find at the pub.
We are a little bemused when we read articles about “Aussie food” containing dishes such as kangaroo, emu and witchety grubs. Having lived in Australia for over 50 years, we can assure you we have never sampled these. Occasionally you might find them in a tourist trap as a novelty item on the menu, but we certainly wouldn’t consider them as Australian pub food.
You will always find some specialty dishes on any bistro menu, so make sure you look at the specials board to see what’s on tonight. But there are also some favourite dishes that you are certain to find on every menu. Here are some of the typical Australian pub meals that you will find at an Aussie pub or club
1. Chicken Schnitzel
The good old “Schnitty” is a staple on most bistro menus. Our overseas visitors have been confused to find that schnitzel in Australia isn’t pork, but chicken. Occasionally you will find pork or beef schnitzel on the menu, but thinly pounded chicken breast, crumbed and deep fried is the standard. Served with chips and salad or vegetables, with lashings of gravy.
Expect to pay around $20
2. Chicken Parmiagana
The fancy cousin of the chicken schnitzel, a “Parmy” is a bistro favourite. A chicken schnitzel, topped with tomato sauce, ham and melted cheese and served with chips and salad or vegetables. Many bistros will have a “Parmy night”, where you can enjoy a good Aussie feed for as little as $15. Normally you will expect to pay around $24.
Choosing a grilled steak is always a very popular option. You’ll usually find a choice of rump, a leaner sirloin cut or T-bone on offer, cooked to order. Fried chips and salad are the standard “side” for your steak, or you can opt for a side of fresh vegetables. So what sauce would you like? Gravy, mushroom, pepper, or Diane sauce ( worcestershire and mustard).
An popular bistro steak dish is the “Surf n Turf”. A grilled steak topped with prawns, scallops and squid in a creamy garlic sauce.
You will expect to pay around $30 for a good steak, however look out for “steak night specials”
A sweet and succulent Barramundi is a favourite seafood dish in Australian pubs and clubs. You will find it either grilled, or coated in a beer batter, always served with fried chips and salad with a slice of lemon and tartare sauce.
Unless you are staying in a northern area, where barramundi is caught in coastal and river waterways, it will be frozen. In coastal areas or around lakes and waterways, you will have the opportunity to dine on “Fresh local fish”. A great opportunity to sample some of Australia’s great seafood.
You will expect to pay from $25 for a Barramundi, or up to $30 for a specialty fresh fish.
5. Roast of the Day
Nothing beats a great Aussie Roast, similar to the meal our grandmothers used to cook in the oven every Sunday. You will often find roast pork or beef on the menu at a pub or club, but a Lamb Roast is renowned as Australia’s national dish. Served with roasted potatoes and pumpkin, steamed vegies lashings of gravy and mint sauce, it is an Australian dish not to be missed.
A lamb roast has been dubbed “Australias national dish”
6. Meat pie
The humble meat pie is probably Australia’s most famous food. You will find them in every bakery, service station and supermarket in Australia in a variety of fillings. However the standard meat pie is the variety you will find at every sporting match, served with lashings of tomato sauce (US travellers may call it ketchup).
In pubs and clubs you will usually find the standard pastry version and also a “Pot Pie”. The Pie filling is served in a ceramic dish and topped with pastry, with vegetables on the side and gravy or tomato sauce.
As a bakery snack, you will pay around $5 for a meat pie. As a bistro meal it should be around the $15 mark.
7. Bangers and Mash.
Another Aussie favourite, the humble sausage grilled and served on a bed of mashed potatoes, with lashings of gravy.
Like meat pies, barbecued sausages are a national icon. Served in bread, topped with onion and tomato sauce, they can be found at every fundraising event and sporting match. More recently dubbed the “democracy sausage”, with fundraising sausage sizzles operating at most election polling booths across the country.
At a fundraiser, you’ll grab a sausage sandwich for around $2. As a counter meal, “bangers and mash” will be around $15-$20
8. Burger with the lot.
You’ll find a lot of burger options travelling around Australia, but the “Burger with the Lot” is uniquely Australian. As well as the standard beef patty, lettuce and tomato in a bun, you will have a fried egg, bacon, beetroot – yes we do put beetroot on burgers, cheese and grilled pineapple.
Served with a side of chips, you can enjoy a burger for around $17 at a pub or club.
9. For the kids
The majority of bistros offer a “Kids menu”, providing a cheap and quick meal that children are guaranteed to eat. Standard on any kids’s menu will be chicken nuggets or fish cocktails, always served with chips. A kids’meal, often with an ice cream dessert will be $10-$12.
Bistro dining tips.
Bistro dining is a more relaxed dining option, so you are unlikely to find pre-set tables and table service. Here’s a few tips to make sure you enjoy your Aussie pub meal.
- Outside the city areas, Australian’s tend to eat comparatively earlier than other cultures. You will usually find bistros open for lunch from around 12 noon until 2pm and from around 5.30 until 8pm or 8.30pm. So if you turn up at 9pm for dinner, you are bound to be disappointed
- As a budget meal option, you will rarely have table service at a bistro. Once you order, you will collect your cutlery from the bar and be given a buzzer that will let you know your meal is ready. Diners can usually sit wherever they choose. Pet hate of most bistro staff would be the diners who wait 10 minutes after their buzzer goes to collect their meal and then complain their food is cold.
- In regional areas, you are unlikely to find a large vegetarian or vegan menu at the pub or club. Most chefs however will be more than happy to accommodate you with a couple of options.
So on your next road trip through regional Australia, don’t miss the opportunity to sample some great Australian pub food.
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