I’ve been grilling shrimp a lot of lately, there’s something about the combination of sea, fire, and outside that makes everything taste better.
The biggest challenge I’ve had, after figuring out that really high heat produces shrimp that are as tough as tires on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside is every time I go to light the grill all I can hear is “Throw another shrimp on the barbieee,” caterwauling through my head.
If you’re not familiar with the phrase, you need to jump in your DeLorean and head back to 1984. There’s a lot of big hair and pastels, Madonna had just released her Like a Virgin album, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, and Gremlins were all in the theater, and a vast majority of Americans had never ever considered getting on a plane and flying twenty plus hours to the place England sent its convicts.
Enter Paul Hogan, pre-Crocodile Dundee, and the Australian Tourism Commission. In what history classes should use to explain just about everything about the 1980s they shot a commercial with Paul Hogan walking around these stunning places in Australia with beautiful women strolling by him saying “G’day Paul” as if that was all people did in Australia.
At the end of the commercial, Paul’s hanging out by a grill and says “Come on, come and say g’day and I’ll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you.” It doesn’t seem like anything special; it’s just an invitation to visit Australia and live a better, more relaxed life.
The commercial aired for the first time during the NFC championship game between Washington D.C.’s football team and the San Francisco 49ers and America caught Australian fever.
Before the commercial Australia was seventy-eighth on American’s list of places for dream vacations, within three months, it had moved to number seven, and from there it quickly moved into the top three where it stayed for most of the next two decades. A former Australian Tourism Minister has said the campaign paved the way for the modern tourism industry in Australia.
It also spawned a cottage industry of “throw another shrimp on the barbie” one-liners that dug so deep into America’s subconscious that the Smithsonian included the original ad in its collection of major influences on American culture during the 1980s.
And it’s the parodies that are stuck in my head. Whether it’s Jim Carey in the limo at the beginning of Dumb and Dumber, Sean William Scott in the Dukes of Hazard, or the very special Cheech Marin vehicle The Shrimp on the Barbie, it seems like every time an American meets an Australian they think that saying “throw another shrimp on the barbie” is saying hello in Australian.
The irony of course is that’s not what Paul Hogan said. In the commercial, he says “I’ll slip another shrimp on the barbie,” but like all catch phrases that get relentlessly parodied, what someone said is a lot less important than what we want them to have said.
What makes this even funnier is that in Australia they call crustaceans prawns not shrimp, which spawned a great tongue in cheek ad for beef asking why Australians would want to throw their “vertically challenged mates” on the barbie. It’s worth watching for the shot of the jockey on the grill.
The past few weeks I’ve been working on a recipe for Grilled BBQ Shrimp, it’s a great recipe, the shrimp come out plump and juicy, there’s this great BBQ flavor that runs right through them. And even though grilled shrimp are one my favorite summer foods, I almost couldn’t finish the recipe because every time I went out to light the grill it was as if I could hear a parody of Paul Hogan’s ghost whispering “throw another shrimp on the barbie” in my ear.
It was very disturbing, especially because he’s not even dead yet. So hopefully writing this will get it out of my head, kind of like when you have a song stuck in your head and the only way to get it out is to start singing it out loud.
So if you see me drinking a Foster’s with a pencil in my mouth while humming “from the Land Down Under” you’ll know I’ve given up and what’s for dinner.
Mark is Umami's publisher