By far the most enjoyable part of putting together WW's Devour guide is poking around ethnic grocery stores, picking up random bottles, tins and packets of unidentifiable food stuffs and bringing them home for a taste test.--- Many of us do this as a hobby anyway, but it's certainly more enjoyable getting paid for it and being able to share our happy discoveries with readers.
As the paper's resident immigrant laborer, it is my job to force my culinary traditions down the throats of my coworkers. But as Australians are a fairly minor group in Portland (I think it's just Patty Mills and me), finding the foods of my homeland isn't quite so easy as dropping into Uwajimaya or Caribbean Spice. Since moving here almost a year ago, I have gradually sniffed out some of the traditional delicacies I occasionally crave in between eating grits and chili cheese fries. So for those looking to dine like a dinky-di Aussie, here is my guide to wrapping your laughing gear round some true blue tucker:
Australia's unofficial national cookie, the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) biscuit, was invented in WWI to send to Our Boys on the frontlines before they were killed or maimed in large numbers. Due to one of the baker's relatives now living in Australia or something, Northwest's emporium of tiny treats, Two Tarts Bakery, added ANZACs to its cookie line-up. They're pretty much perfect (even the correct size, not the plate-sized dough bombs American bakeries usually produce) and are correctly labeled "biscuits." If you wish to make ANZAC biscuits yourself, you will need Golden Syrup—a British product that is somewhere between treacle and honey—and can be found at Whole Foods.
It's a sad cliché, but I suspect this is the first thing for which most Australians abroad start yearning. Vegemite is a thick, black, salty spread made, I'm told, from the crap that floats to the top in the production of beer. Another war-time thing, I think. It is pretty much the definition of "acquired taste," but most of us acquire it from birth. You can buy small jars of Vegemite at some Fred Meyers and at Cost Plus World Market (2315 Northwest Westover Rd., 916-1606) or outrageously expensive prices. Or the Savor Soup House cart (1003 SE Alder St.) will make you a classic Vegemite and cheese toastie for about half the price.
The obvious place to go for Australian meat pies (and vegetable pasties) is Pacific Pie Company (1520 SE 7th Ave., 381-6157)—an Aussie-run bakery that makes a far better rendition than you'll typically find in Australia itself, with frozen pies to take home and reheat at your own convenience. But I should also mention local online pie retailer Meat a la Mode, which apparently sells a kangaroo stew pie. Kangaroo meat is incredibly low fat and tastes somewhere between beef and venison. And they're pests, so you're doing the country a favor by eating them.
Milo is a malt chocolate powder that you mix into milk—like Nesquick, but nowhere near as sweet and it never really dissolves properly. It's ostensibly a kid's drink, but I don't know many adults who don't find the occasional glass incredibly comforting. It's also very popular in China, the Philippines, Ghana, Singapore and Malaysia (where it is actually sold as a café drink and sometimes sprinkled on roti), and other parts of South East Asia, which is probably why you can buy it at Fubonn (2850 SE 82nd Ave., 517-8877). You'll want at least two big spoonfuls (because your mum isn't watching) in every glass.
While ANZACs are the most iconic Australian cookie, Tim Tams are definitely the most popular. It's essentially chocolate cookies layered with chocolate cream surrounded by chocolate. It's best either crisp from the freezer or consumed in the traditional "Tim Tam Slam," in which you bite off two opposite corners, submerge one in a cup of hot Milo (or coffee), then suck until the liquid comes through, melting the insides of the cookie as it goes. Tim Tam branding is a curious thing in America. Pepperidge Farms actually has a license to sell them, which it does in its own packaging, but you can also get ones with the Australian-style packaging that only say "Arnott's Original Chocolate Biscuit" on the label. Weirdly, they all come from the same factory in Australia, and they are only shipped in the colder months—October to March—which means they're gobbled up very quickly and can get very pricey. You can get the Pepperidge Farms ones at some Fred Meyers and Target stores, and the Arnott's labeled ones at World Market. In the latter case, they're often sold alongside Arnott's Choc Mints—an inferior cookie, in my opinion, but popular with WW staff.
It says a lot about the size (or laziness) of the Australian community here that the only "serious" importer of Aussie food is a Fijian grocery store. Fiji Emporium (7814 N Interstate Ave., 240-2768) stocks a solid range of Australian junk food, most notably, packets of Twisties chips, which are, I'm told, like something called "cheese doodles" but better. If you're under the age of 10, you can stick them up your nose and say, "Look! Snot!" I have heard Fiji Emporium sometimes stocks another Twisties bran product, Burger Rings, though I haven't seen them there myself. They are "hamburger" flavored except for how they in no way resemble the flavor of a hamburger.
Australian lingo can be confusing. Sometimes we say "piss" to mean any kind of beer, sometimes we use it to mean terrible beer. In the case of Fosters, it is invariably the latter. Not a lot of other Aussie beer makes it here, but you can get Coopers around town, which is a smaller brewery in South Australia and pretty decent. You'll most commonly see the Coopers "green" pale ale and "red" sparkling ale, but I have also occasionally seen the draught here, which I prefer. Belmont Station (4500 SE Stark St., 232-8538) and Pacific Pie also sells my preferred domestic, James Boag's, which is a lager from Tasmania and probably the best thing to come out of that state since Errol Flynn. You can also purchase non-alcoholic Bundaberg Ginger Beer at World Market, though it really isn't a patch on the better American ginger beers. Choose instead the Bundaberg Lemon Lime and Bitters, a popular pub drink you won't find anywhere else.
World Market stocks a wide range of British Cadbury chocolate products, but the only uniquely Australian one is Caramello Koalas—koala-shaped caramel filled chocolates that are the antipodean cousin of Freddo Frogs. They are delightful, unlike real koalas, which are horrible syphilis-ridden drunks.
Who'd've thunk something as simple as cheddar cheese could be so different in two different countries? But yours is flavorless and orange, while ours is tasty and yellow. New Seasons sells something called Boxing Cheddar, which it says is from Australia. I've never actually seen Boxing Cheddar in Australia, but I suspect it is a repackaged version of a very popular Australian brand. I can't imagine why they changed the name:
If you're lucky, you can also sometimes find Yarra Valley marinated feta at Whole Foods. Australian feta is typically very soft cow's milk cheese, often marinated in olive oil and herbs. This is a fairly good example—fatty, creamy and great as an antipasto, especially wedged inside a fresh fig.
OK, this one I'll concede—not because Australia doesn't make some good grog, but because very little of it makes it here. Critter wines are crap and should generally be avoided, unless you just want to get drunk—and California produces plenty of plonk that serves that purpose nicely. If you're aching for a taste of eucalypt-y terroir, though, Vinopolis (1025 SW Washington St., 223-6002) stocks a few good South Australian reds. But in the fine Aussie tradition of usurping all the good things from New Zealand as our own, for a good white, you really can't go too wrong with Kiwi Sav Blanc—it's affordable and delicious, and has seen a big surge in popularity back home, especially since this darkened the reputation of Chardonnay: