ANZAC biscuits, snot blocks, and the Pavlova Wars: two countries united and divided by food

by | Apr 24, 2024 | Opinion

Australia. It’s the reason it’s always raining on the west coast. It’s under-arm bowling. It’s Holly Valance. It’s the North Queensland crocodile fella. All Australia’s fault. Russel Crowe? Him as well, even if they don’t want to admit it.

If you follow the national media, someone is always abandoning Aotearoa to move there. For better salaries. A better standard of living. Because they love snakes and spiders so much and want to marry them. The weather’s better. The money’s better. They are better at sport. They have limitless mineral resources which they have no qualms about extracting and have the functioning infrastructure and well funded public services to show for it.

And, perhaps worst of all, they keep claiming they invented the pavlova, even though that is undoubtedly an out and out lie (more on that to follow.)

A moment of peace amongst the bloodshed of the Pavlova Wars

This Thursday however, we will put these differences aside. On both sides of the Tasman we will get up very early in the morning (in New Zealand just a little bit earlier, natch); we will remember our war dead; some fella will tootle on a bugle; we will eat ANZAC biscuits.

As the culinary historian Allison Reynolds says: “where the pavlova divides us, the Anzac unites us.”

Perhaps the reason we don’t squabble over who invented the ANZAC biscuit (if it’s not down to brotherly love, a shared history, respect for the dead etc. etc.) is because they are only just okay. They are quite nice. Sure, I’ll have one with my cuppa. Maybe a second. Am I quite content to leave the rest of the sleeve in the pantry? No problem. Would the same respect be afforded to a packet of Timtams? Hells no.

The other reason we don’t bicker over these bickies might be because, with their rolled oats, desiccated coconut, and golden syrup, they don’t feel particularly antipodean. There is more than a whiff of the presbyterian about these things. And they are not a million miles away from a Scottish oak cake or a flap jack.

The origin story of the ANZAC is a bit of a mess, riddled with myth and misinformation.

The legend goes that ANZAC biscuits were a popular treat prepared by home bakers in New Zealand and Australia as they assembled care packages to send to relatives on the front during World War One. The image of the ANZAC soldier in his ‘lemon squeezer’ or slouch hat, nibbling away on his ANZAC biscuit in the trenches of Gallipoli is hard to shake.

But this version of the ANZAC biscuit story is probably not true.

Although biscuits were certainly sent to the front, and many of these would have used golden syrup as a binding agent (eggs were scarce and caused the biscuits to keep less well) and oats, a recipe that we would recognise as an ANZAC biscuit that also bore the name didn’t emerge until 1921. A recipe for ANZAC cakes was published in 1915 but these were nothing like ANZAC biscuits.

But what does it matter? It’s a popular commemorative treat that we indulge in at this time of year and there’s really no need to squabble about it.

Enough about what unites us. Let’s talk about the lying, stealing, and cheating that the Australians refer to as their national cuisine…


Here’s a weird confession: in my 46 years on earth, having grown up in New Zealand, I’ve never eaten a Lamington. I’m not really a cake guy. I don’t much care for coconut. And they just look like somebody dropped a slice of sponge and it got bits on it. More on which to come.

And I’m not alone. Guess who else didn’t care for them? That snapily titled koala killer Charles Wallace Alexander Napier Cochrane-Baillie aka Lord Lamington. That’s right, Lamington himself referred to them as “those bloody poofy woolly biscuits”. Legend has it that the lamington was invented by the then governor of Queensland’s maid when she dropped a slice of sponge cake in coconut. Lamington’s wife didn’t like to waste food so she ate it and claimed it to be delicious. The name of the maid is lost to posterity which seems a bit of a shame. Other versions of the story have it that the maid dropped the cake in gravy (?). It does seem like the lamington belongs to Australia. But what’s this….

This article in the Guardian claims that what is clearly a lamington appears in a painting of Wellington harbour that pre-dates the Australian version. According to the article the lamingtom was originally called a Wellington. So pleased was I to find this article, I emailed a link to my Australian friends and relatives with the understated subject heading: “Take your chicken parma, your Chappell brothers, and your army of highly qualified nurses and shove em up your Woolongong – the lamington is ours!”. After an hour or two of radio silence I received a reply from my incredibly polite cousin in Melbourne pointing out that the article in question was in fact an April Fool’s prank. I took full responsibility for my mistake and admitted to being hacked.


Custard Square

Pastéis de nata: the world’s greates pastry

Apparently Australians also call this pastry a vanilla slice and, in their inimitable style, a snot block. Well, I’m not touching this one. Whoever invented it, it’s simply a very pale imitation of one of the world’s greatest foods: the pasteis de nata from Portugal. A food so pure in its perfection it was invented by monks as a by-product of the egg whites they used to starch their robes. All other custard pastries are just embarrassing.

All yours Australia.


I’m just going to say that kiwifruit on pavlova is wrong. Passionfruit if you can get it. Strawberries are good too. We don’t need to put slices of the shitty fruit that bears our name on top to claim it. Pavlova is ours. End of.


About the Author

David Wrigley

David is a writer and musician from Kemureti/ Cambridge. He has been published in Noble Rot, Nourish Magazine, Turbine|Kapohau, New Zealand Poetry Yearbook, and is currently working on his first novel. He has done his time in restaurants in Aotearoa and the UK. Oh, yes. He has done his time.

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