The first time I visited an Outback Steakhouse the server approached the table with a grin and cried, “Howdy!”
I replied, “Shouldn’t you say, ‘G’day mate!’?”
He stared at me blankly and said, “Huh?”
However, when I opened the menu the experience became even less true blue and more red, white, and blue. It was full of cheesy Aussie stereotypes and (literally) cheesy American cuisine. There wasn’t a single item on the menu that is popular in Oz! According to their website, the Outback Steakhouse is an “Australian themed steakhouse restaurant” that offers “a casual atmosphere suggestive of the Australian outback.” They make no claims to offer an authentic Aussie experience, which is a good thing, because the Outback Steakhouse doesn’t offer fair dinkum Aussie tucker.
Aussie cheese fries topped with melted Monterey Jack: Fries covered in cheese isn’t common fare in Australian restaurants, and even if it was, we don’t have Monterey Jack cheese. Aussies top their fries with ketchup, although we call it “tomato sauce”. Thick cut fries (“wedges”) are often served with sour cream and sweet chilli (chili) sauce. Most damningly, we don’t call fried potato chips “fries”, we call them “chips” or “hot chips”.
Wood-Grilled California Chicken Sandwich: Of course, nothing says “Australia” like “California”! In Australia, chicken sandwiches are called chicken burgers, or chicken schnitzel burgers. Moreover, Outback burgers feature burger fixins that Aussies don’t use, such as mustard, pickles, guacamole, and American cheese. An Aussie burger “with the lot” has the usual lettuce, tomato,and onion, but also pineapple, beetroot (beets), bacon, and a fried egg. (Seriously. Macca’s even has a McOz burger with beetroot!)
Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie: we have Paul Hogan and the Australian Tourism Commission to thank for this error. “Throw another shrimp on the barbie!” became an iconic phrase associated with Aussies following a series of TV advertisements between 1984-1990. However, Hogan actually said, “I’ll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you.” Aussies do indeed call a barbeque a “barbie”, but “shrimp” is a dead-giveaway that you’re a Yank. Don’t come the raw prawn with me! Aussies call them “prawns”, but never “shrimp”. (In the photo below, Hogan’s prawn is no shrimp!)
Alice Springs Chicken is one of the few dishes to feature the name of an Aussie town, but it’s not aptly named as “Alice” is simply not known for its chook.
Much of the terminology on the menu isn’t Aussie either. We say “battered” instead of “breaded”, “deep fried” instead of “fried”, “corn chips” instead of “tortilla chips”, and we don’t serve anything with remoulade sauce or Creole marmalade. I think the Outback menu should be written in Strine with translations for the Yanks.
I wasn’t expecting to find Vegemite on toast and Tim Tams on the menu, but there are some glaring omissions. Any ridgy didge Aussie-themed restaurant should sell pies; not apple pie or other fruit pies that most Americans would think of, but meat pies. An Aussie menu would include more seafood, as our “home is girt by sea”, but there wouldn’t be any tilapia or mahi mahi, there’d be Barramundi and Balmain Bugs (granted, it is expecting a bit too much to get fresh fish from Aussie waters…) If they wanted to go with a token dish that screams “Australia!”, they could even offer a kangaroo steak (but no, we don’t eat deep-fried koala…).
I’ve been to the Outback Steakhouse a few times now, so I’ve given it a fair go, but I reckon that nothing about the restaurant is particularly Aussie, other than the bloke who does the voice-over on the advertisements. I don’t mean to be a wowser, but it’s clear that the owners don’t know much about Aussie culture or cuisine and probably haven’t even visited the Lucky Country.
Perhaps they just had a crush on Olivia Newton John when she released her 1980s music video for Physical?