On Vegemite — Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Australia

Certain foods I associate with songs. Consider, for example, the Supertramp song, “Breakfast in America,” and specifically the line: “Could we have kippers for breakfast, Mummy dear, Mummy dear?”

If ever I see or hear the word, “kippers,” I begin singing Breakfast in America.

A similar association exists for the Australian staple, Vegemite.

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Vegemite toast

Colin Hay, lead singer of the famous 1980s Australian band, Men At Work, lives a few houses down from me. If you remember their music — which was inescapable back then — you’ll appreciate this joke:  I imagine walking down to his house in the middle of the night in my pajamas, banging on the door, and when he opens, singing, “I can’t get to sleep!…” (reference: the opening line of their hit song, “Overkill.”)

Anyway, their most famous song is, of course, “Down Under,” with it’s unforgettable chorus, “I come from a land Down Under…” My very first exposure to the idea of Vegemite was a line from this song: “I said do you speak my language? He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich…”

Which, over the course of the ensuing three decades, left me wondering: “What the heck is Vegemite!?”

At the IGA on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia, I purchased a jar. The kids watched like some science experiment was unfolding as I opened it. The stuff inside was blacker than night, thicker than clay. I scraped off a thin bit with a knife and tasted it. The kids gaped, eyes wide and mouths hanging open. I may have winced; it was intense.

“What does it taste like?” one of the asked.

“Sort of a cross between molasses and beef bouillon.” They cringed.

I then went about doing a bit of research to figure out what on earth the Aussies do with this beloved ingredient. Colin Hay’s Vegemite sandwich?? It seemed one of the most common applications was Vegemite toast for breakfast — toasted, buttered bread spread with a small amount of Vegemite. Here was the key — “small amount”. I tried it. And I began to understand. This, the savory umami spread mixing with the rich butter, was tasty! Soon it became my Australia morning staple.

“Are you gonna have some Vegemite?” Immy would ask as I strolled toward the kitchen in the morning.

“I sure am, honey.”

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Then, inspiration struck one evening in the Eastern Shore town of Urunga, five hours north of Sydney. I had purchased a beautiful Australian tomahawk rib steak to “throw on the barbie” of our riverfront house. I was browsing through the sparse pantry at our Airbnb when I spotted it — my jar of Vegemite. I smashed some garlic and salt on a cutting board, then folded in a heaping tablespoon of Vegemite along with some olive oil. I spread the mixture on the steak, let it sit for an hour, then grilled it. It was truly one of the best steaks ever. Garlic, olive oil and salt, of course — but the Vegemite provided a welcome blast of flavor enhancement and caramel/molasses notes.

“What’s it made of?” my mom inquired when I emailed her about my Vegemite endeavors.

“I’m not sure. It says ‘vegetable protein’.”

I didn’t want to delve too deeply into the particulars. I liked a bit of mystery to my Vegemite — the stuff of blacks the black of deep space, and smiling strangers in Brussels handing me sandwiches.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathy Encell-Rautureau
    Jul 05, 2019 @ 23:13:03

    Going to visit Australia next February, I will try to remember to pick up a jar and put it on our steak, sounds much better than a breakfast Vegemite sandwich!

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Jul 06, 2019 @ 00:32:52

      That’s awesome Kathy. Where are you going? I can’t believe how big this country is. You can drive eight hours straight through Eucalyptus rain Forest without passing hardly a town.

      Reply

  2. Michelle
    Jul 05, 2019 @ 23:45:35

    Steve fell in love with Marmite snacks when we were in London earlier this year. I bet Vegemite is good on a steak.

    Reply

  3. Dragnfli
    Jul 06, 2019 @ 15:25:50

    So I sang the first part to myself as I read it…

    Reply

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