With its meandering coastline, crimson desert and bountiful lakes, South Australia is a natural foodie’s paradise. Embark on an Indigenous food experience and taste bush tucker ingredients that aren’t found anywhere else in the world.
From finger limes to camel kebabs, there are plenty of ways to enjoy Australia’s unique bush tucker. But which are the best?
For many, the word “kangaroo” brings to mind a bounding critter in its natural habitat or a baby (known as a joey) peeking out of its mother’s pouch. They are Australia’s best-known wildlife and a beloved symbol of the country, appearing in stories, movies, and as sports team mascots around the globe.
However, the kangaroo is just one of the country’s many edible native animals and plants. Indigenous people have been making use of these bush foods for thousands of years. They are also becoming more popular with non-Indigenous Australians, thanks to studies showing that native meat such as emu and crocodile is lower in fat and higher in iron than conventional beef. Plus, fruits such as Kakadu plums, rosellas, and quandong are high in vitamin C.
While you can’t get much more authentic than a real kangaroo, one of the best places to experience the diversity of bush tucker is in South Australia’s Northern Flinders Ranges on an Aboriginal-run tour. Adnyamathanha Aboriginal Parks and Tours in Yarnbala offers a three-hour Kangaroo and Bush Tucker experience, which features an introduction to traditional Aboriginal medicine and an exploration of a wide variety of plants, herbs, seeds, and nuts that are rich sources of nutrients and vitamins.
The tour is led by Iga Warta Aboriginal business operator Sharpy Coulthard and visits the family’s wildlife sanctuary, Iga Warta. Here, visitors can learn the traditional method of water divining and spot a diverse array of native flora and fauna, including ancient koalas, marsupial moles, and possums with feathery tails. They can also forage and taste different types of bush tucker, including the rare witchetty grub, which is roasted over a fire or coals to make a tasty snack.
2. Warrigal Greens
Like their European counterparts, Australia’s original hunter-gatherers were masters of using the natural environment around them for a sustainable, delicious diet. Kangaroo and emu meat may now be commonplace in supermarkets but many First Nations ingredients remain largely unknown. This is particularly true for bush foods, which are often more flavourful than their cultivated cousins and often packed with antioxidants.
For a culinary experience that decolonises the palate, head to Yarnbala in South Australia’s Coorong where saline lagoons and grassy she-oak woodlands teem with native wildlife. Embark on a guided tour of the cultural park and be introduced to the bounty of bush food the Ngarrindjeri people have long harvested, from bunya nuts and riberries to salt bush and lemon aspen. Sit down for a meal made from these ingredients and watch the sky darken over the landscape as you savour billy tea with your guide and soak up their stories.
The leaves of the warrigal greens plant (Tetragonia tetragonioides) have a similar taste to spinach and chard, and it has been used as a leaf vegetable since early European colonisation. A diary entry from the botanist on board James Cook’s Endeavour noted that they were eaten by the crew as a cure for scurvy, and seeds from the plant later made their way to England and France.
The plants are easy to grow in a sunny or shady spot, and they’ll tolerate some drought, as well as some salt in the soil. But they will not thrive in hot and dry conditions, so keep them moist and shaded through Summer. Like all leafy vegetables, they are rich in oxalates and should be blanched before eating, just as you would do with spinach, chard or silverbeet.
3. Witchetty Grub
Throughout much of Australia, the indigenous people used insect larvae as an important part of their traditional diet. These were often found in the woody roots of plants like witchetty bush (Acacia kempeana). According to early anthropologist Norman Tindale, “women and children would spend much time digging for them [witchetty grubs] and a healthy baby seemed to be satisfied with one dangling from its mouth.” Consequently, the name ‘witchetty grub’ has come to be applied to any fat, white, wood-boring moth or swift moth larva, or even longicorn beetles, that are able to burrow into the root systems of plants.
Ayers Rock Resort’s Tali Wiru bush food experience takes diners out to a private sand dune, where guests enjoy a four-course meal prepared with fresh local bush tucker ingredients. A didgeridoo performance and Indigenous storyteller complement the dinner, which highlights indigenous cooking techniques.
The chubby, nutrient-dense moth larvae of the Australian cossid moth (Endoxyla leucomochla) make for a delicious snack or quick meal. They can be eaten raw, when the liquid centre tastes a bit like almonds, or cooked on hot ashes to form a crisp skin. The result is a meaty, chewy and sweet insect with a flavour that some describe as being similar to chicken or prawns in peanut sauce.
For a modern twist on this Aboriginal staple, try wattleseed crocodile carpaccio with riberry confit. The combination pairs the chocolate and coffee flavours of the wattleseed with the clove and raisin taste of a small endemic berry. It also adds a dose of protein to the dish. Alternatively, grilled crocodile fillets are an excellent option, with a tumeric and ginger rub bringing together the spices of the tropics.
4. Green Ants
While kangaroo, crocodile and emu are more widely known as bush tucker in the culinary world, there are plenty of other native foods that are just as delicious. Indigenous meats like emu and crocodile are healthier than traditional beef, while fruits like Kakadu plums, rosellas and quandong are packed with antioxidants and vitamin C.
One of the best ways to experience authentic Australian bush tucker is at Iga Warta, the Aboriginal-run family business in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. Located on the edge of Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, this outback destination offers a swag of cultural tours, including Yata Nukuntha – a three-hour trek that introduces visitors to the plethora of native plants, seeds and nuts that sustain Aboriginal tribes in the region.
During this tour, the Coulthard family will show guests how to harvest and prepare quandong, and how to cook roo, wallaby and camel in traditional Aboriginal style. Guests will also learn about the Dreamtime stories that surround each ingredient, and how to identify local plant species.
For those who are a little less adventurous, Adelaide Hills Distillery have taken a leaf out of Iga Warta’s book and used green ants as the hero ingredient in a gin made with strawberry gum, lemon myrtle, pepper berry, native juniper (boobialla) and finger lime. These ants are sourced ethically from traditional landowners and add a unique flavour to the gin, which can be served in cocktails or as a garnish.
While it may seem bizarre to eat insects, the ant is actually an excellent source of protein and other nutrients. In fact, researchers have found that edible insect proteins contain significantly more amino acids than other animal-derived sources, and many of the same vitamins and minerals as other meats. The protein content of green ants is higher than that of salmon, with a gram of ants providing 280g of protein per kilogram – about the same as a chicken breast!
A wild peach that has long been a staple food and medicine of Aboriginal communities, quandongs (Santalum acuminatum) are a delicious addition to jams and chutneys. A desert native, this edible fruit has a red flesh with a round hard nut inside, similar to a macadamia nut. Its taste is reminiscent of peach, apricot and rhubarb.
Quandongs are a staple in many traditional dishes of the northern Australian Aboriginal people, and this unique bush ingredient is now enjoying a new level of popularity. They’re a source of antioxidants, protein, complex oils and iron and are now being used in a variety of innovative ways. A quandong brew, for instance, is being produced by a local brewery and a Margaret River distillery is adding quandongs to its range of gins.
Aboriginal ingredients are also making their way onto some of Australia’s most famous menus. The acclaimed Uluru restaurant Sounds of Silence offers diners an unforgettable experience at sunset with a gourmet meal inspired by indigenous bush foods.
Other restaurants and cafes are also incorporating bush food into their menus, such as Sydney’s Sam the Butcher. Here, you’ll find crocodile carpaccio and emu loin fillets.
And of course, you’ll be able to enjoy authentic Aboriginal cuisine during a tour of Australia’s spectacular national parks and wilderness regions. Dale Tilbrook, a Wardandi Bibbulmun woman, leads captivating dives into Aboriginal culture and art, with a particular focus on bush tucker as food and medicine. During her two signature experiences, you can sample a range of traditional bush food including quandongs, Kakadu plums, muntries, salty grapes, native spinach and saltbush herbs with kangaroo and emu. You’ll learn about traditional Aboriginal dot painting and dreamtime stories as well.