Damper and Dip: An Aboriginal Tradition

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Every once in a while something magical happens because of my blogging (and it’s why I keep at it). This time, I was looking at the comments from one of the blogs from my time in Australia and I noticed an offer I couldn’t refuse: an offer for “Nana’s Damper and Dip” from an Aboriginal woman. I had no idea what damper or dip was, but I was determined to find out! Thus began a delightful conversation and a culinary experiment with delicious results.

Turns out, damper is a kind of quick campfire bread usually made in the hot coals of a campfire (don’t worry, I’ll give you the oven version). And dip is a kangaroo curry that is totally YUM.

And so, the adventure began.

First, I had to convert all the ingredients from “g’s” and “ml’s” to more familiar American measurements. I also had to deconstruct what “SRF” is because every Australian recipe calls for it and I’ve never seen it in the States in organic form. “SRF” stands for self-rising flour (which, it turns out, is just regular flour with baking powder already mixed in).

And then for the dip? Well, I couldn’t readily find kangaroo, so I went for the most easily purchased indigenous meat in my neck of the woods, and that was buffalo (aka bison).  Before you freak out about eating those cute kangaroos, from what I have learned, Australians see kangaroo a bit the way Native Americans saw deer and buffalo, an important part of a healthy diet and ecosystem. In fact, now that kangaroo hunting is limited in Australia, the Sydney suburbanites I spoke with complained about there being too many of them. Sounds just like deer here, right?

My new secret friend (she prefers to keep her name a mystery but approved the use of calling her Ningli) said that Keen’s-brand curry is a must. So I ordered some from Amazon. Apparently Keen’s originated in England, but the Aussies have adopted it as their own—and it’s also the source of the phrase “keen.” As in, “I’m keen on damper and dip, mate!” I will tell you Keen’s turns out to be pretty spicy for my little ones, so feel free to add your own curry powder.

Here is what’s in Keen’s: tumeric, coriander, salt, fenugreek, black pepper, chili, rice flour, allspice, and celery.

I actually intended to make the dip at least over a campfire, but after building the fire, I couldn’t find my grill to support the pan, and it was getting late, so I just decided to make it on the stove. But next time? Campfire, for sure!



  • 2½ cups flour
  • 2½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • ¾ cup milk


  1. Put the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and cut in the butter (break it up into tiny bits with your fingers).
  2. Add the milk. Add more milk if it feels dry. It should feel sticky and damp!
  3. Loosely form the dough on a greased baking pan and bake it in the oven on 350° for about a half hour, or until it’s golden and sounds hollow when you knock on the bottom.
  4. Now you’ve got Damper!!!!



  • Olive oil or butter
  • 1 large white onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 teaspoons Keen’s or other Curry powder
  • 4 buffalo tenderloins
  • 2 tomatoes (more if you prefer), chopped
  • 2–4 cups vegetable stock or other broth
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar


  1. Cover the bottom of a large heavy pan with olive oil and fry the onion and garlic on medium heat until browned and tender.
  2. Add the curry powder, which is the KEY ingredient!!!
  3. Add the meat, sliced up or cubed, and brown quickly.
  4. Add the cut-up tomatoes and stock (just enough to cover all the ingredients already in the pan) and simmer until thickened, about a half hour.
  5. At the end, add a dash of apple cider vinegar.

My friend says you can add kutjera, if you are in Australia; also known as “desert raisin,” it’s a native type of fruit. The closest we have here would be a raisin, I think. You can also add extra chili sauce if you like it really hot (although with Keen’s, this was already pretty hot).

She also recommends serving it in the middle of the table (plates optional), so it’s in reach for everyone to break off bits of the damper and dip it into the dip.

As my friend says, “The real key to this recipe is LOVE. Take a hungry mob of kids, a nana with love to spare, and a table big enough to sit around. Add talking, laughter, and kind-hearted teasing and you have the perfect meal. It’s simple, hearty, and warms you up from the inside.”

THANK YOU SO MUCH, Ningli!!!! It’s absolutely yum.


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8 Responses to Damper and Dip: An Aboriginal Tradition

  1. Betty May 15, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    This would be good. Pretty much the same as biscuits with steak & grave. I like Bison; can buy it at Whole Foods

  2. Rebecca Lynn Trow May 15, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    I am totally chuffed (delighted) at your rich experience in Australia and the things it has inspired you to share. From the sobering perspective at LAX, to Ningli’s love food recipe. As a Seattle ex-pat who now calls Australia home, it is particularly poignant. I do hope your readers are inspired to look at other cultures as treasures to discover, not as wrong because it is not familiar. Your newsletter is a gift of inspiration and validation.
    You are “keen as mustard”!

  3. Archie July 16, 2013 at 2:50 am #

    There’s definately a lot to learn about this topic. I really like all the points you’ve made.

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    I live in Almelo, Netherlands and my career in fact deals with this area.
    Passion in what you believe and in putting it into words is a real talent.

    Your enlightening article possesses the perfect mixture of passion and well-written, interesting
    information that I’ve grown to appreciate and admire.

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