You’re at the tail-end of your Australia vacation. You’ve taken your selfie with a koala. You’ve waded into the surf on a glorious beach. You’ve eaten everything from laksa to injera to a meat pie, and it’s now time to consider what you can bring home with you to prove it all happened. Unfortunately, Australian souvenir shops mostly peddle cringey tchotchkes for the Crocodile Dundee tourist. Think stuffed koala toys, emu leather purses, and bottle openers made from taxidermied kangaroo scrotums. Perhaps a very particular traveler needs to haul those things back, but there’s a far superior option — in price, in quality, in flavor — waiting for all at the supermarket: the glorious bounty of Australia’s packaged snack foods.
The flavors and styles of the snacks you’ll encounter aren’t all that outrageous or even quirkily foreign. In fact they’re mostly familiar — think analogues to Oreos, Cheetos, and Goldfish. The key distinction is that everything here is a little bit better. As an Aussie now living in the U.S., I’m fully aware that I’m fueled by nostalgia and the trials of living in a country that mysteriously worships Hershey, that bastion of terrible chocolate. But believe me when I tell you that the chocolate here is smoother. The jelly candies (lollies) and cookies (biscuits) have far less of the cloying sweetness found in their American counterparts. Even the artificial cheese dust, powdered over baked rings of puffed rice and corn, has a somewhat more refined taste.
What follows is an unassailable list of essential Australian snacks — chips, chocolates, and biscuits mostly — to bring back stateside. These are the foods I stuff my suitcase with every time I fly home, and when I arrive back in New York, my coworkers delightedly eat their way through the international haul and leave nothing behind.
I’ve yet to meet an American not utterly delighted by Cheezels. Think of these as Australia’s tube-shaped answer to Cheetos. Nestled in the chip aisle, Cheezels deliver the same kind of tangy, artificial cheese hit, with a few additional selling points. For starters, you can stick them on your fingers like rings. They’re also made with puffed corn and rice, and so have a more solid crunch to them than airy cheese balls that just melt in the mouth.
Kit Kat family-size block
Go all the way to Australia to buy a Kit Kat? Give me a break. Yes, there are Kit Kats in the U.S., but they taste — hear me — absolutely terrible compared to Australia’s Kit Kats. So what’s the difference? In the U.S., Kit Kats are produced by Hershey, but they’re a Nestle product everywhere else in the world. The wafer — the soul of the Kit Kat — is the same, but the chocolate is majorly different.
The Aussie Kit Kat block has a thicker base of milk chocolate, creamier than the U.S. version below its wafers, which makes a more satisfying bite. I don’t know how else to explain the milk chocolate other than to say that it’s better than the Hershey version (and different from other Nestle Kit Kats around the world in all sorts of subtle ways, from bean sourcing to milk fat content). It’s smoother, creamier, and as that chunky bottom layer melts, the entire experience kicks up another level. Yes, we’re still talking about the same Kit Kat. Every time I go home to Australia, this is the No. 1 treat I stock up on. The final selling point:? This Kit Kat is huge. Technically it’s “family size,” but that’s nothing but a serving suggestion. This is 2019; “family” means anything you want it to.
This one is kind of a no-brainer for those with a souvenir quota to fill. Yes, Cadbury Caramello is readily available in the U.S., but not in the shape of an excited koala, and that’s the whole appeal, isn’t it? Pick up a couple of Caramello Koalas, along with his best mate Freddo Frog (the same concept, but Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate and amphibiously shaped) to bring guaranteed joy to friends, family, and significant others back home.
Australia has two primary exports: Hollywood-conquering actors and Tim Tams. If you’ve been in an Australian’s orbit, chances are they’ve preached to you about — or better yet, offered — Tim Tams. In their classic form, Tim Tams comprise two chocolate biscuit pieces sandwiching a layer of mousse-like chocolate cream, all covered in a thin layer of chocolate. You’ll find variations of double-coated chocolate, caramel filling, dark chocolate, and a few other seasonal flavors. Calling them the Australian Oreo feels reductive — because they’re better than Oreos — but the comparison applies where their ubiquity is concerned, not to mention their role as a source of national pride.
But here’s the thing: Filling your suitcase with Tim Tams alone is a rookie move. Australia’s national pride and joy is easily acquired in the U.S. Packets can run into expensive territory on Amazon, but they’re more reasonably priced at Target. Even Bed Bath & Beyond has been known to stock Australia’s finest in its World Market section.
The marketing team was on break when they named Shapes, but bewilderingly vague name aside, this is a snack that’ll be familiar to Goldfish fans. These baked crackers are dusted in “flavour you can see” (so the tagline goes). Mostly, that just means seasoning that sticks to your fingers.
Picking a best flavor is a controversial exercise, but it typically boils down to a three-way contest between barbecue, Chicken Crimpy, and pizza. I’m team Chicken Crimpy, so named for its chicken flavor and crimped edges. When I offered one to a coworker upon return from Melbourne, she remarked, “It just tastes like a cracker with bouillon on it,” and then proceeded to eat 10 more pieces.
Made with brewer’s yeast, Vegemite is a thick black spread with a salty, rich flavor brimming with umami, and it’s at its very best on toast. Unfortunately the tiny yellow jar has been lost in translation across the Pacific, mostly because those bold enough to try Vegemite have been eating it incorrectly, leading to its present reputation as, at best, a cultural oddity, at worst a disgusting dare-food. But I will absolutely die on the hill that Vegemite is a pantry essential.
Because of that concentrated richness of flavor, there are two essential rules for eating Vegemite on toast: First, always pair it with a source of fat — butter, avocado, cheese. Second, always use it sparingly, especially if you haven’t yet developed a taste for it. A ratio of 2:1 butter and Vegemite is a solid place to start.
Sirena tuna in olive oil
Australians are absolutely mad for a can of tuna, as evidenced by the sheer size of the average supermarket canned tuna aisle. They’re stacked with a legion of brands and flavors, but the crown jewel is Sirena tuna in olive oil. Outside, the red, yellow, and white can is iconic. Inside, the tuna stays flaky and intact, and doesn’t spoon out like mush. The brand cultivates an Italian-ish feel, though it is Australian-owned and its pole-and-line-caught fish come from Thailand and Indonesia.
Yes, there’s plenty of canned tuna in the U.S., but most of it sucks — as any Aussie expat who’s experienced the oceanic affront that is Chicken of the Sea will tell you. For transparency’s sake, there are Italian brands in the States made with yellowfin tuna that are comparable, but they’re just not Sirena. Trust the nation with the ridiculously big tuna aisle to know.
Allen’s Lollies and the Natural Confectionery Co. jellies
Quick vocabulary lesson: A lolly (pl. lollies) is a catch-all term for candy in Australia. More specifically, it applies to gummy candy. Lollies are, simply put, better in Australia, less cloyingly sweet and without high fructose corn syrup. Having returned from Melbourne with bags of assorted Allen’s Lollies, my American coworkers were pleasantly surprised at the level of sweetness. In the supermarket aisle you’ll find a few brands to choose from, but I would reach for either Allen’s Lollies or the Natural Confectionery Co. Go for a Party Mix for a strong assortment.
Full disclosure: I abhor both cherries and coconut in my desserts (if that makes you question my judgement, so be it), and so I will never go to bat for Cherry Ripe. But in the interest of staying fair and balanced, I am compelled to recommend Australia’s oldest, and very much its horniest, chocolate bar. Each bar is filled with cherries (ripe) and coconut (shredded), and coated in Cadbury chocolate (dark). It’s an unfussy candy bar and a classic for a reason.
You might have already encountered Milo — a malted powder made to be mixed with milk — in ready-to-drink form or on the menu of Malaysian restaurants where it’s generally served hot or iced. Like other Nestle products, Milo is produced globally and tastes different depending on where it’s made. You can buy it in the U.S. and it’s super popular all over Asia, but it’s better in Australia — because we invented it. In fact, it’s still produced in the same town where it was created in 1934.
Milo is more chocolate-y than similar products like Ovaltine, and the powder is coarser. Why does this matter? Because while it’s a fine drink, it’s an even better ice cream topping, where it adds flavor and a slight crunch to a few scoops of vanilla. Take a tin home with you.
All the Arnott’s biscuits
Arnott’s is essentially the Nabisco of Australia. The brand dominates the biscuit aisle with a huge range, so consider this more a general recommendation to pick up some biscuits. Reach for the Iced VoVos, a tea biscuit topped with raspberry jam, pink fondant, and coconut; the Kingstons, a sandwich of chocolate cream between oat-and-coconut biscuits; and the Mint Slices, which call to mind a peppermint patty, but with a layer of biscuit wedged in there. Just don’t sleep on Hundreds & Thousands, pink iced sugar cookies crusted with sprinkles.
Australia’s brilliant multiculturalism makes it difficult to distill the country into a single national dish, but the ubiquity of the Anzac biscuit makes a good case for itself. The biscuit is characterized by golden syrup, rolled oats, and coconut, and dates back to World War I. Back then, as the legend goes, the long-lasting baked goods were shipped to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps serving on the other side of the world, hence the name. You’ll find Anzacs made by multiple companies in supermarket biscuit aisles. For my money, stick with the Unibic Anzacs — a big blue pack with huge red letters — and throw it in your trolley when you’re picking up Tim Tams.
Minties are Australia’s answer to the question, “What if gum was chewier, sweeter, and made to be swallowed?” These individually wrapped hard candies are unglamorous, unabashedly minty, and a staple of the Australian lolly jar. On the spectrum of Aussie sweets, Minties sit adjacent to granny-candy territory. This is an endorsement.
Adam Moussa was born and raised in Sydney, Australia and is the senior social media manager at Eater.
Jacinta Moore is a photographer and stylist based in Melbourne, Australia.
Fact checked by Lisa Wong Macabasco
Copy edited by Rachel P. Kreiter