Expats spend a lot of time talking about the differences between their home and adopted countries, particularly the things that perplex or irk them. There are some things you never get used to and there are other things that fade into the background of normal. In between, there are things that you get used to, but that never lose the quality of feeling new, original, or unusual. For me, the sausage sizzle is one of those things.
The sausage sizzle is a Australian community fundraising event. It involves the barbecuing and sale of sausages, typically on bread, maybe with onions, and usually accompanied by sauces. You can usually also get a drink.
Its American cousin is the hot dog stand, but whereas the hot dog stand is usually only found at local fairs, park events, and theme parks, the Aussie sausage sizzle can be found not only at school fetes, but more commonly in the parking lots of your local Bunnings Warehouse and Officeworks stores.
The sausage sizzle can also be found at polling places on election days. This special sausage sizzle is dubbed the “democracy sausage”. Most polling places are at schools, churches, and community halls. They take advantage of the extra foot traffic to fundraise.
“The taste of democracy”
– Bill Shorten gets into his election day sausage + onion + tomato sauce in bread roll pic.twitter.com/c9j2POGZEj
— Alex Ellinghausen (@ellinghausen) July 1, 2016
With tongue squarely in cheek, the sausage sizzle is so important that Prime Ministers Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott, and Malcolm Turnbull have all been photographed cooking and serving democracy sausages. During the 2016 federal election, Twitter changed its emoji for #ausvotes from a ballot box to sausage on white bread topped with sauce. The hashtag “#democracysausage” trended and Australians shared hundreds of photos of their “snags”.
It has also been at the centre of political controversy. In 1989, the then-West Australian Premier Peter Dowding was accused of bribing voters with free sausages, leading to a police investigation. During the 2016 election, Bill Shorten, the leader of the Australian Labor Party, confused the whole country by biting into his sausage sizzle sideways.
The popularity of the sausage sizzle
Australians will no doubt disagree with me when I say that the sausage sizzle isn’t very good. It’s a hot-to-warm, cheap pork or beef sausage served on a room-temperature piece of white bread. Sometimes you get lucky and they have tastier Kransky sausages and rolls. So, why are they so popular?
An Aussie friend explained that, as per health regulations, it’s the only food non-professionals are allowed to prepare and sell.
Another Aussie friend said it’s cheap. As a fundraiser, that’s true. It’s cheap to buy sausages and bread in bulk and sell them for many times the price. As a consumer, “cheap” is relative and prices vary. Sometimes it’s a gold coin donation ($1-$2). Sometimes it’s comparable to fast food. Last weekend, my partner and I paid $15 for two Kransky sausages on rolls, one with onions, and one Coca-Cola. One “snag” satisfied me, but he could’ve eaten two.
Another Aussie friend pointed out that it’s easy to eat on the go. You don’t need cutlery or even a plate to enjoy them.
One long-time American expat called the sausage sizzle one of the wonders of the Lucky Country, adding that he loves them.
The sausage sizzle falls into that category of food that isn’t that great, you know it isn’t good for you, but it hits the spot and you still kind of like it. Beyond that, it captures much of what makes Australia interesting. The sausage sizzle is serious business, but also humorous, self-deprecating, a little bit bogan. It highlights the Australian sense of community and mateship.