In Sydney, a Cafe Serving Aboriginal Food Brings Comfort and Challenges

FOR NYOKA HRABINSKY, GROWING UP in Queensland, Australia, “bush tucker” was a delicious part of everyday life. Of the native foods that have sustained Aboriginal communities for millennia, “wallaby was my favorite. Swamp turtle was my other favorite,” she says. A member of the Yidindji people, Hrabinsky grew up “on country”—in her community’s traditional land—watching her elders, learning to cook game, and harvesting the sour fruit of Australia’s native Davidson plum.

Now an ethnobotanist, Hrabinsky researches indigenous plants at the Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre. At the same time, she shares the flavors of her childhood, as well as those of Aboriginal communities across the continent, at the Lillipad Cafe in Sydney, which she owns with her husband, Laszio Hrabinsky.

The cafe’s menu showcases native Australian ingredients in classic brunch dishes. Favorites include bacon and eggs drizzled with a Davidson plum syrup and house-made muesli with cinnamon myrtle, macadamia nuts, and wattleseed. Wattleseed, harvested from acacia trees, brings an “earthy, chocolatey, hazelnut” flavor, says Hrabinsky, while cinnamon myrtle is a native plant with spice-scented leaves. Another favorite is the gangurru burger, made of kangaroo meat seasoned with wattleseed, pepperleaf (an aromatic herb), saltbush (a native plant that secretes salt in its leaves), bush tomato relish, and finger lime mayonnaise. Using the word “gangurru” rather than “kangaroo” was a conscious choice: it’s the Guugu Yimithirr word for the animal, which British colonists heard and misinterpreted in 1770 as “kangaroo.”

The Lillipad Cafe is one of a handful of indigenous-owned cafes and eateries increasingly bringing native flavors into the Australian mainstream. Restaurateurs such as Hrabinsky, Yvette Lever of the Tin Humpy Cafe, and Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo, a caterer and founder of the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence’s hospitality training program, are on a mission to educate the broader public about Australia’s native foods while passing on traditional knowledge to indigenous youth.

Read more at Atlas Obscura. Featured image: Davidson plum tree, Zaareo, CC BY-SA 3.0