Midden in Sydney, Australia

For thousands of years, Aboriginal Australians built middens from leftover shells and bones. The remarkable mounds recorded what they’d eaten, and ensured they didn’t over-consume oysters and other sea creatures. These monuments to sustainability were much more than remnants, though. “They were vibrant communal spaces where Indigenous people cooked, ate, and gathered as families. Similar to a modern-day family kitchen, these places were filled with laughter and conversation.”

You’ll read those words when you open the menu at Midden, the Sydney Opera House’s harborside Indigenous restaurant. It’s located where First Nations clans traditionally congregated for feasts, at a site the local Gadigal people called Tubowgule. Midden pays tribute to the get-togethers that amassed around these shellfish mounds.

The restaurant’s menu is overseen by Mark Olive, a Bundjalung man known as Australia’s first Indigenous celebrity chef. He initially highlighted First Nations ingredients (such as emu and wattleseed) on his Message Stick TV segments over 20 years ago. He’s since gained an international following for various shows (The Outback Cafe, The Chefs’ Line). His Midden menu includes a potato gnocchi with native pesto that recalls a version he blitzed together on his On Country Kitchen program: The herbal punch isn’t from the basil that’s traditionally pounded with nuts in Italian recipes, but from Warrigal greens, an Indigenous ingredient is also called Botany Bay spinach and refers to a nearby body of water.

The chef reimagines many other staples with bush foods at Midden: Panna cotta is flavored with strawberry gum, hummus is hit with native thyme, and even butter is whipped with eucalyptus. And the classic Aussie dessert, pavlova, is given a thrilling remix: The meringue shells are teamed with the tart notes of native fruits (think Illawarra plum, rosella, and riberries) and the coffee-like flavor of roasted wattleseed cream.

Then there’s Midden’s high tea, which puts an Indigenous spin on the British tradition, with offerings like wattleseed scones with a swoosh of lemon myrtle cream and strawberry rosella jam or finger sandwiches with the zing of pepperberry-cured salmon. They’re designed to go well with Indigiearth’s brews, such as native green tea that’s steeped with guradji, a plant that Indigenous Australians have used medicinally for thousands of years.

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