From culinary market tours and street-side eateries to fine wines and boutique brews, food and drink are a fulsome part of the travel experience Down Under. In South Australia, the fine line between gourmet eating and brazen gourmandising gets blurry. To the effect that the excess baggage you return with is likely to be around your waist.
On a breezy autumn day last April, I walked into Adelaide Central Market to be embraced by a synaesthesia of colours, sounds, aromas and textures.
Mercifully, Mark Gleeson made sense of them for me. A consummate food connoisseur (he is, among other things, a cheese sensory analyst and olive oil judge), Gleeson coordinates the Central Market Tour (from A$60 per person), which starts at Providore, the gourmet confectionery shop where he is usually seen beside a Belgian chocolate fountain. Tip: Skip breakfast, for every nibble counts.
The 150-year-old market has been razed and rebuilt over the decades but some of the older stalls still thrive, showcasing Adelaide’s immigrant palate. Lucia’s Pizza and Spaghetti Bar, a family-run eatery serving the best spaghetti bolognese in the city, harks back to 1957. The Latvian Lunchroom serves maizites (delicious open-face sandwiches) and other Baltic temptations. I stopped by Piroshki Café where Kingsley, born to immigrants from Xinjiang, explained how Russians had introduced the signature stuffed pastry in his ancestral homeland. Sun Mi isn’t Japanese, she’s Korean — and so is her sushi. Sun Mi’s Sushi, without question Adelaide’s best Korean food stop, also serves up cheap and wholesome vegetarian delicacies such as mung bean cakes.
Coco’s Fruit and Vegetables is a pomologist’s paradise, stocking such exotics as jicama, butternut, Buddha’s hand (fingered citron), longan, dragon fruit and mangosteen. Mushroom Man feeds everyone’s fungal fantasy with locally grown Adelaide fresh porcini and king brown mushrooms. The treasured Tasmanian truffles are said to be delectable but I baulked at the price tag (A$300 per 100g). What’s that they say about the best things in life?
Something Wild is a store that specialises in open range game meats. The Australian palate is warming to native veggies and this is also a great place to sample karkalia, sea blite, warrigal and other bush greens. The finger lime, especially, was a revelation. I split the pinkie-sized, gherkin-shaped native fruit down the middle to spill the rosy, caviar-like vesicles. They exploded in my mouth with a sharp, fresh tartness that made me long for oysters.
Wish fulfilled! At Cappo’s Seafood, I picked a tray of six ocean-fresh oysters served on a bed of sea-salt with two wedges of lime. Pinch to detach the oyster from the shell, squeeze lime juice (the acidity cooks it), and tip it into your mouth. Delicious raw, but if that makes you queasy, try them cooked. Oysters Kilpatrick — oven-baked with Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and minced bacon — is highly recommended.
Craft beers are the rage in Australia, being healthier, lighter and tastier than commercial brews. At the Prancing Pony (the name is a hat-tip to JRR Tolkien), I met a couple that brews beer with passion — and fire. Frank Samson, who spent time in Ireland, is a physicist. His wife Corinna Steeb, who is German, has a degree in medical science and served as chief executive with a number of companies before they started the brewery. One of Australia’s few German-style fire breweries, it produces the award-winning India Red Ale. Corinna guided me around the brewshed, where the tuns were being heated by flames rather than steam, a process that adds lightness of texture and a caramelly flavour to the beer.
Barossa Valley near Adelaide is the fiefdom of winemakers, but for one couple that brews craft beer. Denham D’Silva, a burgher with roots in Sri Lanka who has lived around the world, infuses the beers. With names like Hop Heaven, Milk Stout and Bee Sting, the brews are flavoursome and have distinct personalities. The wineries don’t see him as a threat and some of the winemakers often drop in for a beer.
While in the Barossa, it is sacrilege not to visit Jacob’s Creek. Besides curating the history of the 160-year-old Australian brand, the vineyards are a bucolic and picturesque locale for a day trip. Ambling under cork trees and sipping on signature Steingarten Riesling, I absorbed the story of the Bavarian family that built one of the world’s iconic wine brands on the banks of a tiny creek. Yes, there is a real Jacob’s Creek but it was dry at this time of the year.
Nothing encapsulates Australian hospitality like a homestay, and I was lucky to experience it at Stanraer, an authentic homestead on Kangaroo Island. Lyn and Graham Wheaton’s family home, built in 1920 and restored in 1998, sits amid 1290 hectares of hummocks and scenic pastures filled with sheep, birds and wildlife. As we talked cricket, Graham’s eyes lit up and he showed me to Stanraer’s own cricket ground. Lyn, with her gifted hands, served sumptuous dinners and breakfasts that filled me with gratitude. I shall remember her eggs florentine until my dying day.
Craving dessert? In Adelaide, I stopped by Haigh’s. Sweet tooth aside, there was a reason why I was keen to visit the century-old chocolate-maker. In 1993, Haigh’s replaced its traditional Easter Bunny confections with the Easter Bilby, in staunch support of the Greater Bilby, an Australian marsupial whose survival is threatened by an overpopulation of introduced rabbits. Proceeds from chocolate sales go to protecting the Bilby. And so, for a good cause, I stuffed myself silly.
Bijoy Venugopal is a travel writer and cartoonist.