Every so often, even the most weathered traveller wants a taste of home, which could explain how I ended up eating at Outback Steakhouse. Most Australians have probably never heard of Outback Steakhouse, so let me bring you up to speed: it’s supposed to be typical, fair dinkum Aussie grub, as made by a Florida-based chain restaurant. For readers who don’t understand sarcasm, let me put it this way: Outback Steakhouse is probably some ancient Mexican curse exacted upon Australia for briefly flirting with Taco Bell in the late 1990s.
For me, the Outback Steakhouse experience started innocently enough. The interior of the restaurant was adorned with a few framed photos of Australian flags, kangaroos and Uluru, but was otherwise pretty low key. But, I sensed a slight disturbance in the force when I saw the coasters on the table, advertising some kind of moonshine related promotion.
Just to clarify for any US readers: Australia is not in Kentucky (we’re further south).
Then came the menu.
Naturally, I flicked to the steak page, where things got weird. The first thing that jumped out at me was something called the “Towoomba Topped Sirloin,” which was a steak smothered in prawns and mushrooms.
Anyone familiar with the delightful city of Toowoomba would immediately be confused: the menu made no mention of swamp water or racism (two vital ingredients for any authentic Toowoomba experience). Passing over the “Shrimp on the Barbie” (note for US readers: you put prawns on the barbie, not shrimp), I stumbled across Outback Steakhouse’s magnum opus: the bloomin’ onion. What’s a bloomin’ onion, you ask? Let’s start by imagining the most stereotypical American responses to anything, ever: either nuke it or deep fry it. The bloomin’ onion is clearly the result of both of these knee jerk reactions. It’s like an onion was bombarded with enriched uranium, then deep fried to a crisp. Naturally, it sounded amazing. But I wanted to go a notch further, so I ordered the “Bloomin’ Onion Burger,” which apparently included some bloomin’ onion petals, salad and “Aussie fries” (an oxymoron?).
The patty was delicious, but my bloomin’ onion looked less like petals, more like something I found in my faeces after a week of camping in the Amazon. Here’s a close up of those crunchy parasites embedded in my burger:
The cheese was another American stereotype: unnecessarily colourful and disturbingly plasticy. The “Aussie” fries were American fries, simple.
I know I’m sounding a little negative, but in all honesty, it all tasted great. The serving was big, and overall the burger was pretty solid. If the meal had been marketed as an authentic American meal, I would have loved every second of it. To be clear: I’m not anti-American; the US has given the world heaps of great stuff, like Martin Luther King and Doritos. The problem was the fact that the menu told me it was Australian, which geared me up for a totally different experience. To be sure, I wasn’t expecting anyone to wheel out a barbecued kangaroo carcass with a side of damper, but I was hoping for something vaguely Australian. Perhaps a slice of beetroot on the burger would have helped, or maybe some nice chunky steakhouse style fries.
Maybe they could have included at least one distinctly Australian meal on the menu, like a pie floater (it’s a meat pie floating in pea soup).
Instead, all the meals seemed like US staples with Australian names tacked on.
Can I say I’m … oppressed?
During our meal, my partner raised an interesting question: is Outback Steakhouse cultural appropriation?
After all, at first glance, Outback Steakhouse seemed to be profiting by nicking Australian culture.
Or is it?
Personally, I think not. As far as I could tell, the Australian institution most closely resembling Outback Steakhouse is the neighbourhood pub – a fairly white affair. I mean, you have to be so white to actually leave your house to eat salt’n pepper calamari at a pub. In my opinion, cultural appropriation only makes sense in a broader context of oppression or imperialism, and white Australians aren’t exactly an oppressed ethnic group, nor the victims of imperialism. So, it doesn’t really make any sense to cry cultural appropriation. Obviously, it’d be a different story if anyone was covered in amateur dot painting. This brings me back to the most important point: there was nothing at Outback Steakhouse that’s Australian to start with. It can’t be cultural appropriation if nothing is actually being appropriated.
I love you America, but you can keep your plastic cheese and bloomin’ onions.
To see our Outback Steakhouse experience for yourself, check out the video below!