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Fancy a pie-floater?


EATING out in Australia on two fairly recent visits was a new experience for me.

Travel with Dusty Miller

First, it’s terribly costly compared to dining out in Zimbabwe or the UK and both of those places are much dearer than South Africa.

I battled to keep my bottom line at no more than A$100 (US$106 on my first visit, US$82 more recently) for a one-course supper and a drink or two (usually in the singular) for three people.

A steak — not that I eat them often these days — can easily set you back A$36 and that’s often without chips, veggies or salads. But my son, Rhoderick, asserts Aussie beef, certainly when eaten there, is among the world’s best, and he grew up on good Zimbabwean grass-fed, well hung nyama and spent many years in Scotland in Aberdeen Angus territory, before moving Down Under.

Angus looked to be the principal beef cattle in and around Adelaide but I saw the famous Japanese wagyu beef cattle being raised: either full-blood or crossbred, usually with the Angus, which will result in delicious meat, especially as they’re often corn-fed for the last 300-500 days of production.

You need an Australian interpreter with you! What on earth are kranskies? I asked my son.

A sort of spicy sausage, he answered and when I Googled, sure enough it’s a traditional Slovenian banger, reflecting the impressively genuine multi-ethnic, multi-culturalism of Australian society.
Kebabs, in Oz — well certainly South Australia — are called yiros, for some unfathomable reason. If you’re lucky enough to get there, try lamb yiros either in a restaurant or from a mobile kebab stall . . . sorry . . . yiros stall.

The lamb is luscious and relatively cheap in butchers’ shops (which are pretty rare . . . in Adelaide you tend to buy meat in the Central Market or from supermarkets.)

Australia is huge: a continent, country and island, or a group of islands with a score of climates lending themselves to the growing and production of various foodstuffs: fruit, vegetables tend to be enormously large by international standards, yet retain traditional taste.

The place is surrounded by the sea, and as many of the inhabitants have British roots, fish and chips are sold everywhere: speciality fish restaurants, bistros, pubs, clubs, hotels, cafes. A typical serving is two pieces of fish fillet and a mountain of really grand, hand-cut, big, square chips, crisp outside and fluffy within. They usually come with wedges of lemon and tartare sauce.

The dearest I paid for this ever popular dish was in a pavement café outside an Adelaide residential hotel (A$23); cheapest at the world-famous Adelaide Zoo (where I expected to be ripped-off sterek) at A$8,50.

Look for beer-battered fish (often using quaintly-named local craft beers) rather than crumbed varieties. The nicest fish I ate was King George whiting, caught off South Australia, which was A$21,70 a meal; barramundi, from the Northern Territories was A$17,90; “flake” (gummy shark) from SA was A$15,90; local garfish A$16,70.

Presumably for homesick local Poms, “butterfish” (in Oz that’s imported skinless hake) was A$14,30; I drove past roadhouse type restaurants announcing they offered much-threatened North Sea and Atlantic cod at ionospheric prices.

When I had my dearest fish and chips, my eyebrows rose as Rhoddy ordered “bug-tails”, which proved to be a delicious crustacean, properly known as the Balmain bug, or butterfly fan lobster at A$25. Yabbies, the freshwater crayfish now taking over Lake Kariba, having escaped in Zambia, hail from the Antipodes and are popular eating.

I had some wonderful smoked salmon in salads and as starters, but its provenance was never stated and I didn’t ask. Possibly Tasmania (and certainly New Zealand) would be cool enough for wild or farmed salmon.

I photographed kangaroos, wallabies and euros (also a marsupial, not the currency!) both in the wild and at the zoo and ate kangaroo fillet steak, marinated overnight and quickly griddled in an electric frying pan by my son: an accomplished cook with a passion for food and wine. It tasted rather like ostrich fillet and is similarly low in cholesterol.

My daughter-in-law, Dr Miranda Prendergast-Miller BSc, MSc, PhD, did a splendid job on our Christmas lunch, when the temperature nudged 40C, cooking turkey Wellington: a variation on beef Wellington, the recipe for which, I think, came from a Jamie Oliver book. We ate it hot with all the trimmings on the big day and cold with salads on-and-off over the interregnum between Christmas and New Year. She also baked a scrumptious moist and boozy rich Christmas cake and wonderful mince pies.

Rhoddy and I tried pie-floaters: quintessentially Ozzie working class grub from the Depression which SHOULD feature a pie of your choice, inverted, and served in a deep bowl surrounded by smoky pea-and-ham soup, with a few garden or mushy peas. It comes with obligatory mint sauce and tomato ketchup. However, the ones we ate — steak pies were excellent — seemed to be a sort of unpleasant-looking khaki coloured soup (would it be chickpea?)

I quite liked it, but Rhoddy thought it disgusting and vowed never again!

We all enjoyed, candidly entry-level Cornish pasties—despite the European Commission granting Protected Geographical Indication status to that delightful pie from the West of England — at Moonta on the Copper Coast. Along with sister towns Kadina and Wallaroo, Moonta was the centre of copper mining in South Australia; Cornish tin miners were head-hunted to win the mineral from under the area’s arid, almost desert-like baking soil.

These are now tourist areas trading unashamedly on their Cornish peninsula past. Moonta Bay was the only one of scores of beaches where I saw anti-shark nets along hundreds of kilometres of inviting sparkling indigo blue, usually shallow, waters lapping mainly empty golden sand beaches.

South Australia is two-and-a-half times the size of Zimbabwe, but with a population of only 1,4 million; 1,1 million live in the Adelaide Metropolitan area.

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