Smashed avo on toast, brekkie sanga, skinny flat white? Welcome to café culture in Australia.
In America, we hold the humble, well-loved family diner in high esteem, when it comes to breakfast. All-you-can-drink black drip coffee, bacon and eggs, pancakes by the stack served by Edna in the coffee-stained smock, checkered tablecloths on Formica completing the nostalgic vibe.
Australia, however, has taken the breakfast experience to another level. Dining out for breakfast is edging onto becoming the country’s national pastime, with the café scene in Sydney being as competitive as the bar scene, if not more so. Modern, flash, and ubiquitous – breakfast is the new black.
So, as an American, how does one make sense of this trendy, and tasty, experience? Let me introduce some café savoir-faire.
I often note the difference with coffee when it comes to Australian versus American café culture. In America, (although this is starting to change), in most restaurants, if one orders a coffee, that is basically the end of the decision making process. You’ll receive from the waiter black drip coffee in a white ceramic mug, creamers on the side. Rest assured, this is not something you need to overthink.
In Australia, if one orders ‘just’ a coffee, the barista will wait impatiently for you to finish your thought process. Coffee can be cold-drip, Madagascar roast (a top-notch café will change their roast’s country of origin frequently, with chalkboard signs describing the coffee’s flavor as one might describe a perfume), flat white, long black, affogatos, babycinos, piccolos- best to commit to one before getting in the queue. Coffee has become an art, a science, a pastime.
It’s interesting to note that Australia is perhaps the only country where Starbucks not only hasn’t taken off, but has, mostly, failed. They opened, and subsequently closed, many of their locations in Australia. In a victory for underdogs everywhere, consumers favored the small, locally owned business over the mammoth corporate machine.
Australians love avocado. It’s delicious, nutritious; the ‘healthy’ kind of fat. But, be prepared to pay at least twenty bucks for ‘smashed’ avocado on toast, an Aussie favourite, with maybe some poached eggs tossed in for good measure. Cafes, at least in Sydney, are not cheap eats, in the American diner sense. The good news is due to the immense competition, sub-par or even average cafes tend not to last very long, so finding amazing food in most every suburb is easy- which makes things slightly more palatable (pardon the pun) for spending $50 on breakfast for two people.
Chefs are constantly pushing the envelope to attract new patrons. The days of just scrambled eggs on toast are gone- look for southern American inspired dishes (yes, huevos rancheros have only just caught on) paleo cakes, Egyptian dukkah, and acai bowls.
What’s odd about table water? Nothing really, most every café will provide free tap water to customers in a refillable glass bottle. Most every café also has a different way of distributing said water. At a local café near me, water is available, albeit well-hidden, in the corner of the dining room, and one is meant to help themselves. Of course, the staff don’t tell you this, so you sit there awkwardly waiting, and then they get annoyed when you timidly ask for some water. In other cafes, they prefer to bring it to you direct, and they will get annoyed if you help yourself. This is impossible to get right, and whatever you do will probably be wrong.
Ready to take the plunge? There’s so many incredible cafes in Sydney, I won’t even attempt to make my own list when others have done it better than I could (I can only eat so much, plus I don’t even drink coffee…). So, check out below for some tips:
If you’re curious to find out more weird differences between Australia and the US, check out this post.
What’s your favorite café in Sydney?