Vegemite is an Australian icon and one of those things that many Aussies miss desperately if they move or even travel overseas. I say, ‘many,’ not, ‘most,’ because since speaking out (loudly!) and declaring my disgust for the food, I’ve found fellow ex-pats who hate it too. Unfortunately, most of them seem to be from countries other than Australia. Oh well…
That aside, let me describe Vegemite and give you a bit of a rundown on the product that can be found in every Australian house.
Vegemite was first created back in 1922 by a man named Cyril Percy Callister in Melbourne. He made it from sludge he found on the floor and added vegetables and salt. Okay, so I made that first bit up, but to be honest, it does look like sludge or perhaps something you’d find under a dodgy car. It does contain vegetables (according to the ingredients on the label anyway), but it’s always been a mystery as to exactly what else is in it. It’s like the Colonel’s ‘secret recipe,’ at KFC, except nowhere near as, “finger lickin good.” I think in the case of Vegemite, perhaps it needs to remain a secret because if we were to discover exactly what was in it, I suspect no one would eat it ever again. As for the taste… imagine eating miso paste or the saltiest thing you can find and times it by about 100 or maybe 1000. I’m not really sure. It prides itself on being high in Vitamin B, which it is, but it’s also extremely high in salt. It’s also rich in what the Japanese refer to as, ‘umami,’ or what us Westerners consider to be the fifth taste. The only thing I think it has going for it, is that being rich in Vitamin B, it is THE perfect hangover cure.
A Vegemite sandwich can be found in nearly every school-age child’s lunchbox every single day of the week. Think of it as the equivalent of an onigiri (riceball) in a Japanese bento. For some kids this brings great excitement. For me, I was always hoping that one day I would bite into my sandwich and discover that it was the sweet hazelnut taste of Nutella, rather than the salty vegetable taste of Vegemite. It never happened. It was truly one of life’s biggest disappointments or at least the life an eight year old has lived up to that point.
Vegemite is primarily used as a spread for sandwiches, toast or crackers but can also be used as a marinade, a stock base or in perhaps what scarred me for life thanks to my mum, soup. Yes, whenever I had an upset stomach she would insist on making me Vegemite soup. Basically, this consists of taking a HUGE dessert spoon of ‘black tar’ aka Vegemite and adding it to boiling water. I prayed desperately never to get a stomach bug and often pretended I was fine just to avoid having to eat it. If you know anything about Vegemite, it’s never, ever to eat that amount in that way. Arsehole Australians will often tell naïve and unsuspecting, trusting travellers that the way to eat Vegemite is to take a big spoon and eat it right out of the jar. It’s akin to telling a gaijin that the way to eat wasabi is to eat it like avocado. For the record, Vegemite is best eaten when it’s spread very thinly over a layer of margarine. It’s also good with cheese or avocado on bread or toast. Or atop vanilla ice cream. I kid you not. Even I was pleasantly surprised and possible even enjoyed it.
That’s why, after careful consideration, I spoke to Eiko Nishida, the owner and brainchild of 20T, a co-working space in Hiroshima. We decided to investigate whether Vegemite could be used as a miso paste substitute and thus, introduce it to the tastebuds of Japanese people through a ‘Vegemite/Australian Night.’ She declared it to be a great idea and so Vegemite will be the VIP of its own event next month in May. Stay tuned for details here or check out the 20T website.