Forget pavlova. Move over pad thai. Meat pie? Nope. Dan Hong, executive chef of Mr Wong and Papi Chulo, reckons Australia’s national dish is…
Salt and pepper squid. “It’s just everywhere,” he told us at the launch of his new television show The Chefs' Line “If you go to Fratelli Paradiso everyone always orders the fried calamari. If you go to any Greek restaurant they always have their own version. Every cafe and every pub, every RSL. That’s why I think it’s Australia’s national dish. Everyone loves it and any Australian who goes anywhere that has it on the menu, always orders it.”
“Even shit versions, even if it’s soggy and chewy I’ll still eat it. It’s weird,” he says. And how do you make our national dish work? “It’s in the batter, the flouring has to be nice and light, really crispy but not too crunchy. And the squid obviously has to be tender. And the seasoning has to be really tasty. MSG is the best for that.”
“Salt and pepper squid didn’t really get huge until the mid-to-late nineties. We all grew up eating suburban Chinese sweet and sour pork, beef and black bean and all that, but people really didn’t start ordering salt and pepper squid until 1995. Then all of a sudden it was in RSLs, cafes. It was everywhere.” So, are Chinese Australians the group we can thank for the dish? “You can’t really claim flouring seafood and then deep frying it. That’s every cuisine,” says Hong.
That being said, his favourite version in Sydney “has got to be Golden Century’s – you can’t go past it.”
The Chefs' Line sees four home cooks face off against the staff of a restaurant, from apprentice through to head chef. Each week features new contestants and a new cuisine. The first episode airs Monday April 3 at 6pm on SBS.
Disagree with Dan? Check out our edit of the 27 most 'Australian' dishes in Sydney.
Pictured: salt and pepper squid at Atura Blacktown