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  • Sauces from across the globe: What’s popular with overseas diners?

Sauces from across the globe: What’s popular with overseas diners?

Fusion cuisine is a celebrated cooking form in the Australian food service industry. With tourism not looking to slow down anytime soon (up 2.8% from last year) and our vibrant multicultural society at its peak, the everyday chef’s use of international sauces is only going to get more prevalent.

International influence, both from tourism and migration, has had a significant impact on the sauce selection at Rusti Fig, popular Northern Beaches restaurant and catering company. "We often cater for corporate functions when companies are entertaining international guests, so we have to be confident that the sauces and marinades we use will be popular with everyone, not just for the Australian palette,” says Hannah Mair, the establishment’s co-owner. “As a restaurant in the heart of the area’s major tourism hot-spot, non-local customers make up around 50% of our client base, so catering for their preferences is part and parcel to the success of our business.”

Image of a person adding fresh herbs to a bowl

Impact of migration

Perhaps one of the most profound impacts post-WW2 migration has had on Australian culture is the food we eat. With the dissemination of stringent ideology, immigration has enriched Australia's proud history of serving up some of the most diverse and innovative dishes. You can see this impact on every street corner; from the China Towns of major cities to the low-key suburban pizza joints. Australia has become a melting pot of cuisines and sauces and condiments make up a considerable part of that development.

Impact of Tourism

While food tourism is a relatively new term in Australia, the act of travelling to try local cuisine most definitely isn't. Typically, tourists in Japan eat Nigiri, in Italy they might dine on traditional pizza and sample the escargot in France. But, with Australia’s relatively young history and our fusion of international cuisine only becoming more diverse and complex as the country evolves, it’s interesting to note the evolution of our own culture of food tourism.

According to Tourism Australia, our food tourism badge wasn't earned until recently. Studies show that for those who've never visited Australia, only 26% of them "associated the destination with good food and wine offering.” However, “for those who have visited, Australia is ranked second across the 15 major markets for its food and wine experiences.” Tourists no longer flock to Australia for shrimps on barbies and lamb chops with mash, instead they want to try a whole new simulated cuisine; a seamless combination of the best of the best from countries around the world.

Image of a sauce in a bowl next to a serving of boiled rice

The rise of international sauces

Ponzu sauce – Japan

Similar to its saltier cousin soy, this citrus-based sauce has high acidity levels, making it the perfect ingredient to help break down proteins in a marinade or as a dressing for an Asian-style salad. Ponzu is traditionally made up of rice wine, rice vinegar, bonito fish flakes and seaweed and is infused with the Japanese citrus fruit yuzu, which helps balance the sauce’s intense umami flavours. “If you’re serving Japanese canapes or platters of sushi at an event, ponzu is a great alternative to ordinary soy sauce [due to] its complexity and uniqueness of flavour,” says Hannah.

Chermoula – Morocco

This north African sauce is a workhorse in many Australian commercial kitchens. It's a carefully measured balance of lemon, lime, harissa and herbs and its well-rounded flavour combinations lend itself to a variety of uses; from marinades and dips to curries and soups. "We drizzle chermoula over smoked salmon canapes," says Hannah, "or use it as a base for a Moroccan-style couscous salad… it adds punch!" Some chermoula’s come as a powdered mix, but when combined with oil, makes the paste at the perfect consistency for coating proteins before barbecuing.

Sriracha – Indonesia

A favourite condiment in many Asian restaurants, this simple favourite is packed with flavour, combining herbs, citrus, bell peppers and fish sauce. As a side sauce to douse a soup dumpling or to mix with soy sauce for a sushi dip, “sriracha possesses less intense spice than a Thai nam phrik phao or Chinese mala sauce - it's the perfect all-rounder,” Hannah explains.

Image of a serving or sriracha sauce

Aioli – France

This intensely rich, yet delicate and creamy emulsion of olive oil and garlic was made traditionally with a mortar and pestle. Unlike mayonnaise, which requires egg yolk, it doesn’t contain any animal products if you’re making it from scratch, so it’s the perfect, never-fail, vegan sauce for dipping hot chips into or as a side with chargrilled fish. If you buy it commercially, some aioli products may contain egg products, so make sure you read the label before placing a claim alongside your menu.

Chutney – India

Chutney is, in itself, a fusion of different cuisines. Initially, it was developed in post-colonial India, then England brought it home as a condiment for their newfound appreciation for English-inspired Indian curries. While the Indian influence has led to the more prevalent use of chutneys in Indian-inspired cooking, our fusion approach to commercial cooking has led to the more widespread use of chutney in other cuisines. This spice and fruit-laden flavour bomb also works well on cheese boards, spread across deli meat sandwiches or even in burgers, spread on top of the patties.

Caeser dressing – Mexico

Think you know the famous Caesar salad? You may be wrong; this pub favourite actually originated in Mexico by an Italian-American restauranteur named Caeser Cardini during the prohibition era in 1924. Caesar dressing is traditionally made up of olive oil, anchovies and Worcestershire sauce, but was later thickened with aioli and mayonnaise to appeal more to the western market. Some commercial-grade alternatives are void of seafood products, making it more appealing to the growing vegetarian population in Australia.

Image of a Caesar salad

Sesame oil – Japan

Though most Japanese migration into Australia occurred in 2010, reaching its peak at 2.13 million, sesame oil made its way onto the condiments list of many restaurants long before then. It has been a core ingredient in traditional Japanese cooking for thousands of years and Australian fusion cooking for decades. Unlike many of the sauces and condiments we’ve spoken about in this article, sesame oil is made from a single ingredient - sesame seeds - and it’s very potent in flavour, so little is needed to achieve the nutty or umami flavour profile you may be after. “It works really well as a base flavour note in marinades and salad dressings and when combined with light soy, [it can be used] as a dipping sauce for traditional gyoza or sushi,” says Hannah.

Peri-Peri – Mozambique

This spice and citrus-infused sauce made itself known to chefs and restauranteurs long before Nando’s cracked the Australian market in 1990. Made from crushed chilli, citrus peel, onion, pepper, salt, garlic, lemon juice and a plethora of other spices, it’s widely recognised and celebrated as a tangy dipping sauce or marinade for barbecued chicken and less known for its use as a seafood accompaniment.

Salsa – Mexico / Spain

Dating all the way back to the 16th Century BC, when Spain discovered tomatoes on their conquest to Mexico, the Aztecs combined crushed tomatoes with squash seeds and served it as a condiment to turkey, venison, lobster and other seafood varieties. Today, salsa is a must-have for modern Mexican sauce menus, alongside good quality corn chips or drizzled on a fresh taco. “We often make our own salsa from fresh tomatoes, chillies and different spices," says Hannah, "but when time's short, we'll dish up some pre-made salsa products that offer similar quality and taste that you'd get from making it fresh."

Photo is of tomato salsa

Conclusion:

Australia's nature and laid-back lifestyle have long been the key motivating factors for why people visit Australia. But, for a country that embraces culinary development and cultural enrichment, chefs are increasingly using sauces and condiments that marry that famous Australian lifestyle with the people they share it with. And with tourism and immigration picking up record speed, food service professionals can only expect this marriage to blossom over time.

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