Aboriginal people have harvested and cultivated bush food for more than 80,000 years. Over this time, they have passed down, from generation to generation, a deep knowledge of Australian native ingredients and their myriad of uses.
In recent times, Victoria has seen a marked increase in the use of native ingredients, with chefs at city and regional restaurants, cafes, food trucks and wineries exploring and celebrating these local flavours. While the influence of native ingredients varies, many Victorian kitchens feature these bush foods prominently and maintain their cultural integrity by being sourced and prepared by Aboriginal people.
For those who have a taste for bush food but don't know where to start, there are several Victorian eateries that pride themselves on showcasing native ingredients in their dishes, showcasing staple Indigenous meats and plants, such as eel, which has sustained Aboriginal people in South West Victoria for thousands of years.
Mabu Mabu and Big Esso
Chef Nornie Berno serves us dishes loaded with traditional Indigenous ingredients at Torres Strait islander owned and run Big Esso by Mabu Mabu at Federation Square, and at its smaller sibling Mabu Mabu Tuck Shop in Melbourne's west. Dine on pulled wild boar, pepper leaf smoked emu or charred purple yams, accompanied by a Coastal Negroni or Green Ant-tini.
Pawa Cafe & Bar
This new Southbank eatery at Hamer Hall fuses Indigenous ingredients with Australian dishes, under the expertise of Gunditjmara and Yuin culinary entrepeneur Niyoka Bundle alongside head chef (and husband) Vincent Manning. Team Pawa serve up cafe-style First Nations-influenced food from strawberry gum pan au chocolat to kangaroo meat pies by day. By night, tuck into a locally sourced drinks menu and snacks featuring native Australian ingredients.
Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC) Bush Cafe
With its stunning natural setting within peaceful bush in Kalimna West, GLaWAC's Bush Cafe is the ideal spot to be introduced to Indigenous flavours used in modern ways, from salt bush and mountain pepper to bush tomatoes. Enjoy plates of fresh local produce and bush tucker, then pop into the Aboriginal Art Gallery.
Dumu Balcony Cafe
First Nations business Dumu Balcony Cafe in Bright is a social enterprise that trains Indigenous youth, and serves up simple, tasty and nourishing eats made with seasonal ingredients sourced from local growers and producers. There's a balcony for summer, and an open fire for winter.
Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre
Located just outside Geelong, Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre is part cultural centre, part retail outlet and part native garden, complete with native plants and animals. Stop at the cafe to sample the wattle-seed scones with wild rosella jam, wild bush berry pancakes, or the kangaroo burgers.
Tae Rak Aquaculture Centre Bush Tucker Cafe
While you're visiting the Tae Rak Aquaculture Centre at Budj Bim in Gunditjmara Country, drop in for a bite to eat at the centre's Bush Tucker Cafe. From signature kooyang (eel) tasting plates to bush seasoned squid and chocolate river mint brownies, savour a menu inspired by the traditional eel aquaculture systems at Budj Bim Cultural Landscape.