Bugs with Aioli. Photography by Alan Benson

Australia in 5 unusual dishes: Bugs with Aioli

Australia: The Cookbook describes the odd looking crustacean that actually tastes better than lobster

Get our Australia: The Cookbook and you’ll be able to do much more than throw a decent barbecue. Sure, this comprehensive new title (an addition to our award-winning national cuisine series), features familiar antipodean dishes such as lamingtons, pavlova and barbecued shrimps. However, it also includes an incredible–and incredibly delicious–selection of recipes that, in their own way, tell the story behind the culinary and cultural development of this island nation.

In the book’s introduction, the Australian food writer and chef Ross Dobson describes how Aboriginal Australians or First Peoples used to cook. According to some estimates they, "have been here for at least 50,000 years. Theirs is the longest, continuing civilization."

That leaves a lot of time for cooking up some incredible recipes. Dobson describes an Aboriginal cuisine filled with “dishes that boggle the mind. Dishes that many Australians are unaware of: kangaroo blood sausages, foods wrapped in paper bark and smoked over hot coals and bread made from grinding seeds and nuts to make flour.


Ross Dobson. Photograph by Melinda Sanders
Ross Dobson. Photograph by Melinda Sanders

“Aboriginal Australians may well have been the first to establish agriculture and aquaculture. Freshwater fish and eels were harvested in intricate traps, extraordinary and ancient, some dating back as far as 40,000 years.”

Some of that watery harvest appealed to Western settlers, who first came in the 18th century, but some of it did not. “Although Australian First Peoples have appreciated the native seafood here for tens of thousands of years, the early settlers and their descendants have largely ignored Australia’s incredible abundance. Things like squid, pippies and bugs were mostly only ever caught and eaten by non-English speaking immigrants. They knew a good thing when they saw it. It took a while for the rest of us to catch up.”

You might be familiar with squid and pippies (clams), but bugs? Well, as Dobson says, these peculiar, Australian crustaceans, “are odd looking, like some face-sucking creature from an alien planet. You couldn’t give them away until we discovered that the flesh is as delicate and sweet as lobster.”

“For a long time they were only ever eaten by the First Peoples and by immigrants from Europe who came here in the 1950s,” he goes on to explain. “Almost everyone else thought they weren’t proper food. Not so now. Today, bugs are prized seafood and for good reason: the tail is filled with deliciously sweet meat. Some say they’re more luxe than lobster. I tend to agree.”


Australia: The Cookbook
Australia: The Cookbook

In Australia: The Cookbook Dobson cooks them with fennel, parsley and peppercorns, and serves with aioli and lemon wedges. They’re a great addition to any Aussie seafood platter. To get the full recipe as well as hundreds of other delicious dishes, get a copy of Australia: The Cookbook here.