Down Under Foods Brings Australian Cuisine to Metro Phoenix Streets
Rhonda (left) and Amy Collins
Chances are, most Americans have a fairly limited understanding of Australian cuisine, often imagining an endless stream of Aussies enjoying "shrimps on the barbie," Foster's beer, and Vegemite on toast.
The reality is Australian cooking runs much deeper than these stereotypes.
It is influenced equal parts by our shared colonial progenitors across the pond, bush food traditionally eaten by Australia's aboriginal inhabitants, and the food of the many Asian and Polynesian immigrants who settled in the land down under.
In other words, Australian food means different things to different Australians. For example, to step-mother/daughter duo Rhonda and Amy Collins of the Down Under Foods food truck, it means the meat pie, an Aussie staple comparable to the American hot dog in terms of both portability and national ubiquity.
The pair's truck offers a rotating and expanding selection of meat pies — meant to be eaten with one hand, Amy Collins says — ranging from the traditional steak and cracked black pepper to the more internationally influenced sweet-and-sour pulled pork with pineapple.
The truck has only been in operation for six months, but Collins says with the combination of Australian tradition and American know-how, it has found considerable success.
And, it's easy to see why. The Valley isn't exactly crowded with Australian eateries, so the Collins family found an untapped niche and filled it with what might be the ultimate street food.
The steak and cracked pepper meat pie.
Easy to eat and deceptively filling, the meat pies are a real treat, even at a somewhat lofty $7. The pies have a delightfully flaky crust indistinguishable from that of a fruit pie, though the Collins' recipe does produce a crust that at times overwhelmed its contents.
The steak in the steak and pepper pie was tender and flavorful, even in a sea of gravy and cracked peppercorns. The pulled pork and pineapple was much more interesting, however. The complexity and duality of the flavors — the smoky sweetness of the pork, the sourness of the sauce, and the acidity of the pineapple — worked well to balance with and cut through the pie crust.
The truck also offers $4 peach, ginger, blood orange, root beer, and lemon, lime, and bitters sodas from Australian soft drink manufacturer Bundaberg. We tried the lemon, lime, and bitters, and found it not only refreshed us and washed down that residual pie crust, but also was better than any American lemon-lime soda we'd ever tried.
For dessert, Down Under Foods continues to provide an authentic taste of Australia, including traditional Aussie lemon cookies and chocolate sheet cake. When we stopped by, the Collins offered what they call a Tassie devil brownie: a chocolate brownie interspersed with chocolate chunks and covered with caramel. Admittedly, this didn't seem to have much to do with Tasmanian devils or with Australia, but it was a moist, gooey, and all-around quality brownie nonetheless.
Altogether, Down Under Foods does a damn good job, especially considering neither Amy or Rhonda Collins has much of a food background — in fact, the former touts a degree in cultural anthropology. The food was tasty and perfectly fit our concept of street food, and given the international nature of the offerings and the density of the pies, we can excuse the price.
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