22 May 2023

Is Wagga where the Chiko started its illustrious roll? Debate rages as towns home in on bragging rights

| Jarryd Rowley
Start the conversation
woman and man eating a Chiko Roll

Federal MPs Lisa Chesters (Bendigo) and Michael McCormack (Riverina) joined the debate on which town is the home of the Chiko Roll. Photo: Museum of the Riverina.

It’s been debated since the 1960s. Residents of the three regional towns of Bendigo, Bathurst and Wagga Wagga have long been battling it out in water-cooler discussions about the true birthplace of the coveted deep-fried snack the Chiko Roll.

The origins of the spring roll-inspired snack can be linked back to Bendigo boilermaker Frank McEncroe, who took inspiration from a Chinese food vendor at the Richmond Cricket Club in the early 1950s.

Claiming that a spring roll is too flimsy to hold with one hand, McEncroe seized the opportunity to create a much larger and sturdier version of the fast-food staple.

Now, this is where the debate begins on which town is the true home of the roll.

READ ALSO Meet the Riverina’s international tea aficionado who drinks up to three litres a day

As the story goes, once McEncroe perfected his intricate recipe, finding the perfect balance between the outer layer of crispy batter and the warm goodness of beef and vegetable on the inside, he brought his design to Wagga Wagga.

In 1951, the Bendigo-born boilermaker took his new idea interstate and sold it commercially for the first time at the Wagga Wagga Agriculture Show.

According to all accounts, the now-iconic Aussie roll was a hit among show-goers, selling out on the first day of sale.

Following the roll’s initial success in rural southwest NSW, McEncroe began mass-producing in Melbourne in the early 1960s.

As the years went on and the brand grew bigger, sales for the snack grew out of control, with reports that once the roll hit its peak of popularity in the 1970s, more than 40 million units were sold each year.

Golden Chiko Roll

Both Wagga Wagga and Bendigo received the Golden Chiko Roll to commemorate the towns’ significance to the Aussie snack. Photo: Museum of Wagga Wagga.

In 1995, the Chiko said goodbye to Victoria after the brand was sold to Simplot Australia, which manufactures the roll out of Bathurst to this day.

That leaves us with the question: Where is the home of the Chiko Roll?

Relatives of McEncroe in Bendigo claim the birthplace of the genius who invented the roll takes the title.

McEncroe’s niece Jedda Noonan has stated publicly: “It was sold so widely here in our pubs, at our football matches, at our ag shows, there is that strong sense that … well, yeah, it’s Bendigo’s.”

And Bendigo MP Lisa Chesters said in 2016: “It’s just outrageous that these NSW MPs … can try and claim credit for the Chiko Roll … it was invented in Bendigo by a Bendigonian.”

Local MP for Riverina Michael McCormack has also chimed in with his two cents’ worth, stating: “We have in our Riverina Museum in Wagga Wagga the Gold Chiko Roll given to us by the manufacturers, acknowledging the fact that Wagga Wagga is the home of the Chiko Roll.”

READ ALSO Flowers, floods and triffids: How Sophie became an accidental florist

Museum of the Riverina manager Luke Grealy said while Wagga Wagga acknowledged where the roll had come from and where it had gone, there was only one true birthplace.

“We claim ownership of it. People don’t acknowledge where the idea was conceived or where it is manufactured years after the fact, they acknowledge where it was born, and that place is the Wagga Wagga Showgrounds,” he said.

“The people of Wagga believe it and the manufacturers themselves believe it, that is why we were awarded the Golden Chiko Roll in 2001.”

So whether you believe the Chiko Roll’s home is where the idea was conceived (Bendigo), where it was first sold (Wagga Wagga) or where it is made now (Bathurst), the debate lives on.

However, this cadet journalist is compelled to believe the true home is Wagga Wagga. It is on our Monopoly board, after all.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.