Yup, you read that right. Camel pizza, a nice goat curry or how about emu sushi or roast kangaroo? I tasted all these at the highly original Alice Desert Festival in Australia’s red centre, which opens the 2012 program on August 10 and runs until October 10.
The program comprises around 40 performances and over 60 events performed by over 1,000 artists in at least 20 venues each year. In all, the festival attracts an audience of over 50,000. One of the most popular components is the food! At the 2010 festival I went on a progressive dinner with a local reporter, some of the festival organisers and Adelaide chef Andrew Fielke who is wild about indigenous ingredients, otherwise known as bush tucker.
Because the town of Alice Springs in central Australia is so compact, we easily walked between most venues. We started with cold beers and emu sushi nori, and strolled to several other courses before chomping our way through camel pizza (it was spicy and not too different from beef) followed by a fragrant goat curry, not to mention consuming quite a lot of wine, before ending up near to where we had started, doing our best to eat fragrant quandong (native plum) crumble and wattleseed icecream. By that stage, I was rendered speechless and staggered back to my motel with Andrew asking if I needed help to get up the steps.
The following day I went to Andrew’s Kungas Can Cook class where he taught a group of us how to use native bush herbs, spices and flavourings. All these ingredients grow wild in Australia’s rugged desert outback regions. The arid conditions produce small harvests but extremely intense flavours. They include desert lime, wattleseed, pepperberry, saltbush, lemon myrtle, and small, yellowish bush tomatoes which also have a concentrated pungent flavour, with the consistency of dried dates. They are less acidic than sun-dried tomatoes. The Aboriginal people have been using these ingredients for thousands of years.
We then created a dinner of several courses, of which the highlight was roasted kangaroo served medium rare and well rested for 30 minutes in the oven which had been turned off. I’d never tasted kangaroo before, but I gave it a big thumbs up. It’s quite sort of gamey, in a venison kind of way, but apparently low in fat and highly nutritious.
I had teamed up with local social worker Kim, to produce a dessert of wattleseed panna cotta. It set to delicate wobbly perfection, but only just! Wattleseed has chocolate, coffee and hazelnut tones, and the seed is from Acacia shrubs and trees. It’s becoming popular in desserts – Andrew makes a wicked wattleseed pavlova.
If you want to attend the class, this year it’s on September 18. There’s an Australian Native Cuisine Masterclass the day before. Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org More details on the festival: www.alicedesertfestival.com.au