Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tastes of Australia

Absent an airplane, ship or train, one way of getting to a place is by bringing the senses into play even when you are stationary. The peaty, smoky smell of certain English and Irish inddustrial cities transports me there in a limited but sharply defined way. The smell of burning pinon (pine) takes me back to northern New Mexico on a crisp winter night. The taste of food and drink associated with a place does the same thing.

I recently returned from a travel-writing trip to Australia, a visit in part defined by taste: chunky slices of crocodile sausage, refreshing sips of Crown Lager and Victoria Bitter, nicely grilled barramundi filleted fish. Some of the most evocative tastes of Oz - and among the easiest to find in my American home town, so far from their points of origin - are snack foods. And chief among these are the intensely flavorful Violet Crumble candy bars and irresistible Tim Tam chocolate-covered biscuits.

Ah, Violet Crumble: chocolate-covered honeycomb with their crunchy sweetness. Made since 1913 by a company since absorbed by Nestle, they were named for the wife of the Aussie who first created them - her name was Violet, of course - and packaged in purple wrappers because that was her favorite color. They are still packaged in purple and they are still good.

Tim Tams aren't as venerable - they've been made in Australia only since 1964. But they, too, are melt-in-your mouth good. With a cuppa - tea or coffee - Tim Tams are the perfect snack. Named for the 1958 Kentucky Derby winner, a horse called Tim Tam whose name caught the Arnott Company founder's fancy - they consist of two biscuits separated by creamy filling that is flavored with vanilla, butter and chocolate; the biscuits and the cream filling are covered with high-quality milk chocolate. They're made in a variety of flavors, including dark chocolate or caramel, but as a classicist, I prefer the original milk chocolate. In the U.S., Tim Tams are distributed by Pepperidge Farm and sold online at and at some Target stores.

Health foods they are not. But one bite of Violet Crumble or Tim Tams and I'm back Down Under, if only for the moment.

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