Food and drink in Australian English

In Lynne Murphy’s blog Seperated by a Common Language, she routinely discusses dialectal differences between British and American English. I recently left comments on a number of her posts from 2006 and 2007, in most cases adding an Australian point of view.

Below are some points where Australian vocabulary differs from British and American vocabulary on the topic of food and drink. Many (but not all) of these items are based on comments I posted on Lynne’s blog.

Natural foods:

  • They’re usually red or green, sometimes yellow, and common on pizza. The British and Americans call them peppers, but Australians call it capsicum.
  • Apparently in Britain, monkey nuts are peanuts with the shells still on. In Australia, however, the term “monkey nut” refers to pine nuts. (This is a new one for me: until I read Lynne’s blog post I thought monkey nuts were pine nuts everywhere.) My guess is we call them this because they grow in tall trees where people can imagine monkeys to play, rather than in small trees or bushes like regular nuts.

Constructed foods:

  • In America it’s called cotton candy, in Britain it’s called candy floss, but in Australia we call it fairy floss.
  • Fairy bread is white, buttered bread with hundreds-and-thousands sprinkled all over it, usually cut diagonally into quarters (here’s a good photograph I found). It is a staple of Australian children’s parties. My parents recall that we lived in Scotland, local children refused to eat fairy bread because it was just too weird for them!
  • When Americans put a scoop of ice cream in a glass and pour carbonated beverage over it, they call it a float (which is odd, because in all the ones I’ve had, the ice cream is jammed tightly at the bottom of the glass). Australians call it a spider, which I suppose refers to the way that the foam creeps up the glass.
  • Australians refer to peanut butter just as other English speakers do. However, I was raised to call it peanut paste, which I believe was common a generation ago when the stuff was made locally rather than by international companies, so it was the term my mother grew up with. Likewise, the combination of peanut butter and honey has always been known as paste and honey in my family.
  • Apparently to Americans, potato cake is a savoury dish that contains slices of potato, and there are also some Australians who know potato cake as a different sort of savoury dish. But to me, and to other Australians I know, potato cake is a sweet dish. I’ve included a recipe at the end of this post.

Shops and franchises:

  • It’s an off-license in Britain, a liquor store (amongst other things) in America, but in Australia it’s a bottle shop. Apparently it’s a bottle shop in South Africa, too.
  • In Australia, Woolworths is a supermarket chain whose slogan (The Fresh Food People) would be completely unsuitable for Woolworths in Britain (the latter store was originally American, but it’s in Britain that it survives under that name). Apparently the Australian Woolworths was named after the original as a sort of mischievous joke, so the confusion is intentional. In Victoria, Woolworths Australia is known as Safeway, but refraining from mischievous jokes is a tad too safe for Australians in general.
  • In America, Wendy’s is a hamburger franchise. In Australia, it’s an ice cream franchise. I sometimes buy a banana malt thickshake from it (malt is an optional extra with all Wendy’s milkshakes and thickshakes).

Finally, here’s that potato cake recipe (and don’t forget that a “cup” in Australian recipes is 250mL).

Ingredients for main part:

  • 1 cup hot mashed potato
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cups self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1 cup sultanas
  • Milk enough to make soft dough (1 cup plus)

Ingredients for topping:

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 125 grams butter
  • 1 cup sugar


Mix the main part to a soft dough and spread in tray lined with grease-proof paper. Mix the topping to crumbs and cover dough.

Cook at 180C for 40-50 minutes.

2 Responses to “Food and drink in Australian English”

  1. lynneguist Says:

    The Woolworths in South Africa are like the Australian ones–more like UK Marks & Spencer.

    Glad you found food for thought on my blog!

  2. John Cowan Says:

    Two tidbits from the Yank point of view:

    I suppose there are places in the U.S. where you commonly get peppers on pizza, but certainly not around here (NYC, or the East Coast generally).

    Finally, the word “savory” is simply an elevated synonym for “tasty” or “flavorful” in American English; we have no term for “food which is not sweet”.

You are welcome to add your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.