I was extremely lucky to travel to SA’s APY Lands and the Darwin region to look at some amazing native food that, for one reason or another, has never been front and centre in our collective eating habits.
I was fortunate to share this trip with Jock Zonfrillo and, for some of the journey, Rene Redzepi. Jock is well known to Adelaide gourmands with his restaurant Orana breaking new ground, and Rene is from the world-famous and influential Noma. Rene and his development team were looking for new flavours for their impending Sydney pop-up. The magic of the trip was that once ‘the basics’ were shared and discussed, the lid was off to journey further into the supermarket that is Australia’s backyard. While a roo tail baked slowly underground is very special, the real highlights were eating warm – and just harvested – quandongs, various tree saps and freshly-dug witchetty grubs. A further treat: discussing the unique flavour of native grass seeds that used to be pounded to make damper before community stores brought in white flour. Once the respect and interest of the chefs was forthcoming, the pantry opened up with one special taste after another. We fruitlessly searched for honey ants and bush honey, which leaves room for more trips to come. We only scratched the surface of what is known about the food that is under our noses, and without an aim for future action this could have easily just been a gastronomic holiday. That would be such a sad waste. The spotlight placed on our homegrown flavours in restaurants like Orana creates an opportunity to create a virtuous circle of respect and empowerment in some of our most misunderstood communities. We are fortunate that so many of the building blocks to make this a reality are already in place. From a state-off-the-art food industry training centre at Umawa to the Anangu-owned not-for-profit RASAC, which provides project management services. With a supportive NT government, this amazing food should find its way out of these remote places and onto the plates of diners in Australia’s capital cities. Something Wild, our wild meat and native ingredient business in the Central Market, is working towards making one of Australia’s most prolific native game birds, the magpie goose, commercially available. While 40,000 of these delicious birds are eaten in the NT every year, they have never been sold as a commercial product. In recent times, the goose has taken to massing on mango farms to the point where up to 15 percent of the Territory’s mango crop is damaged each year. Commercial trap harvests by the local Acacia community, and the areas surrounding the mango farms, will provide pest mitigation as well as jobs and income ‘on country’ for the local traditional owners. Win-win, even before the fantastic opportunity to share in the NT’s best kept culinary secret. It has not been easy, but it is a pilot project that will allow other foods to follow the flight of the goose into mainstream Australian consciousness. While sport and art has provided some touchstones for white Australians to relate to our Indigenous brothers and sisters, they do not reach each and every one of us on a daily basis in the way that food can (our national household spend on food is over $140 billion per annum versus $8 billion and $4 billion for sport and the arts respectively). It was a huge effort to get incredibly busy people to spend time in such remote places, and a great deal was shared by the communities of Fregon and Acacia, but I was left with the undeniable feeling that we only just scratched the surface in terms of the foods available, which is daunting and exciting in equal measure.
Ingredients – 1 roo tail (skin on) – alfoil – fire Method  Burn hair off roo tail on open fire. Make sure it is given a good char all over and the tail is nice and flexible. Once done, scrape down the outside of tail.  Wrap tightly in alfoil  Next to your fire, dig a hole about 15-20cm deep and a bit longer than your tail. Fill the bottom of the hole with coals. Place tightly wrapped tails in the hole and cover with a mixture of dirt and coals.  When the roo tail is cooked through and comes off the bone it is done – this will take approximately 1.5 hours.  Serve with whatever takes your fancy. Thanks to the ladies of Fregon. Richard Gunner is the owner of Feast! Fine Foods