Here’s where to look – or how to work around it!
I know that as soon as I publish this, some of my Aussie friends will text me or comment on where some of these can be located, but look as hard as I may, they have been difficult if not impossible to find in the many months we have been living here. These “missing” or difficult to find items are listed alphabetically, with the best work-around I have found so far, beneath.
If any of the tougher ones are really important to you, consider bringing a supply, because you either can’t find them here, or they are sporadic or difficult to find. As you can see, the list is (thankfully) pretty small!
- Acini Di Pepe, What? No frog-eye salad for Thanksgiving or that summer party?! (For my Aussie friends, Acini Di Pepe is an Italian pasta product consisting of little balls about the size of the head of a glass-tipped sewing pin.) The name actually means “peppercorns” in Italian, which is roughly the size they are when cooked.
- Small tapioca would be my first pick. I’m thinking if it is cooked, rinsed and drained, it might substitute pretty well. Who knows? Maybe we’ll like it even better.
- A second option suggested by our Aussie friends Julie and Daniel Downing, is to try large sized couscous, and it worked great! We had to buy it in a Turkish store, though. It took a LOT longer to cook than I would have expected, but we liked it!
- Black olives: we haven’t seen them and haven’t found anything similar enough to mention.
- There are many other types of gourmet olives in the grocery store delis. Look for non-pickled types to get something closer to a black olive.
- Why are they important to Americans? They are often used in relish trays, or sliced or chopped in Mexican cuisine.
- Butter or margarine (stick type). Forget this one, too, and just conform to the larger blocks, and be thankful, if you like margarine, that there are plenty of types to be had in soft tub forms, and a few in harder blocks.
- Celery seed (seasoning).
- I’ve seen this only once. You can substitute chopped celery leaves for it in some recipes, as well as poppy seeds, if it’s just for color or texture.
- Cool Whip, or frozen whipped topping isn’t sold in stores, anywhere.
- But, here’s where it gets FUN! When I first saw all the “thickened cream” here, I balked … until I TRIED it! You whip it to stiff peaks (not too much, though, or you’ll have butter), adding a little powdered sugar and vanilla, and it’s GREAT! Not only that, but it keeps for a good while on your dessert or for several days in the fridge without “wilting.” Not only is it a good substitute, it’s a better substitute! Think: stabilized whipped cream.
- Corn syrup: forget it! I ended up asking a sweet friend (thank you, Michelle!) to bring a bottle back from her trip to San Francisco – and she did! (It is mainly used for candy or lollies.) In fact, last Christmas nearly everything I wanted to make required it. It comes in both light and dark, but light is used more often.
- Update: After well over a year, I actually saw small bottles of corn syrup in a – you won’t believe this – health food store! Honest! Healthy LIfe (a chain with 120 stores at this writing) carries it in Mildura – they may near you, too.
- Cranberry sauce is available in tiny jars for a big price. Get better cranberry sauce for much less by looking for cranberries in the frozen food section and making your own (it’s SO easy). We found it in Darwin around Thanksgiving – and I hope to in Mildura this year as well. It is not carried all the time.
- Graham Crackers are also nowhere to be found; they are unheard of, and there is nothing we’ve found here quite like them.
- For our Australian friends, graham crackers are often used crushed in cheesecake crust and in a myriad of other desserts, too – or are even eaten “as is.” They are delicious, and often come as “honey graham crackers.”
- There is no perfect substitution, but for anything requiring graham cracker crumbs, try buying and crushing plain cookies (biscuits, here) without any filling or coating, and just using square, unfilled cookies where whole graham crackers are used; filled ones might be nice in some cases, too. 😉
- Green chilies (canned): I love these, and was so sad to have to leave a dozen cans acquired from friends moving back to the U.S. when we left Darwin!
- There are several Mexican food suppliers that will ship them to you, if you are not close enough to pick orders up. If you are desperate enough to pay the high price, check this one out here in Adelaide, where the little 4-ounce cans of Ortega chilies are currently $4.79 each, BUT they have a 765gm (27 oz) can for around $13, which you could divide into 6 bags and freeze. If you know a cheaper source, please share in the comments, below. 😀 There is another Mexican food supplier in Melbourne, but they only sell large sized containers that look like #10 cans.
- Another option (what I have done) is to watch the produce section of stores like Coles, where you will occasionally find fresh mild chilies that substitute pretty well. When I see them, I buy a few, chop them up and freeze them -easy!
- Koolade. We don’t miss this at all – we like cordial so much better, even although it costs more.
- Of course, Australian friends who have had it think Koolade is great!
- Cordial is a concentrated liquid drink mix that comes in all kinds of flavors, both sweetened and artificially sweetened. The real bonus is that it rarely has any artificial colors or flavors, which is one reason we like it better.
- Grape jelly or Jam or Juice (jelly is not to be confused with gelatin, which is called Jelly in Australia).
- This has probably been the thing missed most by my husband, while here! He grows concord grapes in our backyard, and grape jam and juice are a staple at our house. We have no idea why, with the abundance of grapes grown in Australia, that you can’t find grape juice or grape jam or jelly here of any kind. At all.
- One substitute that we have liked is Woolworth’s Black Currant Jam.
- Instant Pudding is hard to find in some areas (I never found it in Darwin) but here in Mildura there were a number of flavors and varieties available at Coles today – it felt like Christmas! Cottee’s makes them, and Foster Clark’s has just started selling them here as well. Bring on the American desserts!
- Marjoram: I have never found this in any of the spice isles in the store, but did get some fresh marjoram from a friend’s herb garden and dried it. (What do I need marjoram for? – Apricot chicken – yum!)
- You can substitute oregano, but since oregano is stronger, use less.
- See the postscript below for an update!
- Miniature Marshmallows. Large marshmallows are easily found, but are usually in a mixed package containing both white and pink (mini are shown).
- You can find plain, white miniature marshmallows occasionally – and when you do, grab them! You may not see them again for a while. This week I found one package at Woolworths in Mildura, and a friend found one and even a bag of miniature marshmallows in mixed colors (but not flavored) at the IGA in Buronga! That was a find!
- They are a bit expensive to use. A small 5.29 oz bag runs about $2.25 AUS, or about $1.75 US.
- Plug adapters. This is a helpful tip! U.S. adapter plugs for use in Australian outlets (power points, here) are being included because of how easy (and cheap) they are to get from China.
- Pictured is the kind we use the most for our American-made laptops, iphones, electric toothbrushes, razor, and many other appliances that indicated that they could use either type of current, which was nice!
- If you have a little time and will be here for awhile, you can get these really cheap from China on ebay.com.au, which we also found to be quite dependable, and relatively fast.
- They can be used in New Zealand and China, too.
- Pumpkin, like the kind you use for pumpkin pies, pumpkin bread and pumpkin cookies, is generally not available. I did find it once at an IGA store in November, where it was priced at nearly $9 AUS per 14.5 oz. can. Yikes! Do be aware that every kind of squash is called pumpkin here, and none of them are available in cans, yet.
- The easiest substitution I found takes a little work up front, but I thought was worth it. Buy a Kent pumpkin in the store, and cut it evenly in half from top to bottom, remove seeds, and place cut side down on a baking paper lined baking sheet. Bake until soft, remove pulp and blend or mash until smooth. Place measured amounts into plastic bags or containers for your favorite recipes and freeze. An average half Kent pumpkin will yield about 3 cups of prepared pulp.
- Butternut would probably work almost as well, and is more plentiful and cheaper than Kent.
- Refried beans, although you may see them occasionally in the Mexican food section of the larger grocery stores – we’ve had the best luck at Coles. They are expensive to buy in cans, as well as expensive to make from dried pinto beans (borlotti beans in Australia).
- Semi-sweet chocolate chips. Nope. Nada. Not here, anywhere.
- I’ve just given up and use the dark chocolate or milk chocolate chips instead. – Not quite as good, but still good. 😉 Try a mix of the two! (Be sure to pinch the bag to determine the size of the chips – some brands are the size of mini-chocolate chips.)
- Shortening (like Crisco)
- Forget trying to find it in Australia – it doesn’t exist. I gave up and bought pre-made frozen pie crusts (or pie shells) in the frozen foods section at the store. However, particularly for cookies, you can buy a product called Copha located near the butter, which is a coconut oil product, or use butter or a combination of the two. HOWEVER, you have to plan well ahead with Copha – it takes a long time to soften up enough for use in cookies because it gets very hard in the fridge. But, it makes great cookies.
- You can also buy lard, which works beautifully in pie crust, but is more expensive.
- Tomato sauce (they call their equivalent of ketchup, “tomato sauce” in Australia, so don’t get confused!) I’m talking here about the kind that comes in 8 ounce cans you use for making spaghetti sauce.
- The closest approximation I’ve found is tomato puree, but it is missing a few of the ingredients, although the consistency is similar. I was never available in Darwin, but more recently, I have seen a little in the grocery stores in Mildura in the foreign foods section.
- BIG Turkeys. Our first Thanksgiving here we got together with a few friends for a typical Thanksgiving dinner. Australian supermarkets do carry frozen turkeys in the stores in November. We bought the biggest one they had, and the clerk at the check-out was shocked at how huge the bird was … at a whopping 8 pounds! The good news was, that if we had gotten one much bigger, it wouldn’t have fit into our little oven! If you’re lucky enough to have a Costco nearby, you may be able to get a big bird. (For my Aussie friends, at home I usually aim for a 25-pound bird (about 12.5 Kg). There’s nothing better than eating leftover turkey … for days!
- Stick deodorant or antiperspirant
- Try a dollar store such as Cheap as Chips – they sometimes have American brand stick deodorants. If that fails, try Chemists Warehouse.
- If neither of those pan out, give the roll-ons here (or sprays) a try. EXCEPT I don’t recommend them in the tropics like Darwin, where they will sometimes cause the patterns of print tops to smear and fade in the underarm areas.
If there’s something any of you Americans have had difficulty finding, PLEASE mention it in the comments below, along with any sources or substitutions you have found helpful.
And to our many friends here and abroad who have lived in Australia, if you know some good sources or substitutions, please share that with everyone in the comments!
Apparently, if you want to find something difficult to get, (for me it was over 12 months of looking), just write a blog post about it! Just a few days after I wrote this one, I was shopping for food a luncheon. As I scoured the store for the items I needed, I spotted marjoram with the spices (which I understand this Woolworths has carried for a while). Then when shopping for pie filling, I spotted over a half-dozen cans of mandarin oranges on the top shelf! That one was timely – I actually needed them for the salad I was making – I had planned on substituting pineapple chunks instead.