Ah, the Outback. Full of sand, kangaroos and some of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the world. Sadly, my only experience with the Outback prior to moving to Australia came in the form of the eponymous chain steakhouse in the United States and the Crocodile Dundee movies. So unless the Outback was made entirely of big steaks and bigger knives, I was in for a surprise. I must also admit that a trip into the Outback didn?t immediately excite me. I mean, when you have options like surfing in the ocean, visiting wineries or exploring the urban metropolis that is Sydney or Melbourne, visiting a land of dust and emu roadkill doesn’t seem all that glamorous. My partner and I made a trip with three friends from school to the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. Specifically, we went to the Wilpena Pound resort. It is built next to the Wilpena Pound, a set of mountains that have naturally shifted to form the shape of a catcher?s mitt or a pound, hence the name. **NOTE: This trip was taken at the end of October 2007, but we were really pushing it. The Outback cannot be visited in the summer. It is just too dang hot up there, so if you are traveling around Australia, plan your Outback trip around the fall or winter in Australia, roughly May-early October.** The Pound was a good six hours away from Adelaide. What?s the first thing I learned on my road trip to the Outback? Food pickings are scare. Not even a McDonalds! And let?s be clear here, I loathe the golden arches, but I would have cried with happiness if I saw one. This is a food blog, so good or bad, here is the food. Our first stop was in Tarlee at the Grasshopper Roadhouse. The house on the outside was adorable, all old-fashioned and with pieces of vintage farm machinery lying around. There was even a set of stocks!
The menu was just like any other snack shop in Australia. Meat pies, pasties, sausage rolls, chiko rolls (a deep fried roll filled with corn and cheese), toasty sandwiches (think grilled cheese) and of course, fish and chips. Meat pies in Australia are a popular type of fast food, much like hamburgers and tacos are in the States. It all tastes like the artery clogging goodness it is.
If you look closely at the sign in the upper and lower right-hand corner, you will see an ad for Farmer?s Union Iced Coffee. This drink is HUGE over here. Think of those tiny iced Starbucks coffees you can buy at the convenience store in the States, but minus most of those girly flavors like vanilla crŠme brulee. This is an iced coffee for blokes. REAL blokes. Manly blokes. Aussie blokes. Fair dinkum, mate.
And this is what I dined on?,a delicious?um..frozen French bread pizza thingie. Yeah. Apparently the Outback is not for food? Our next stop was Jamestown for some snacks.
This was yet another quaint, tiny town in South Australia. Most towns like this that we passed through looked like they were stuck in the 1920s. Everything seemed to move a little bit s l o w e r here, and it is an interesting feeling. I got the feeling Jamestown was a place where everybody knows your name (sort of like Cheers).
Food-wise, we were pleasantly surprised. Hot fried cinnamon sugar donuts, made by the Jamestown Entrepreneur Team, comprised of one adult and two 10 year old boys (who were quite enthused to be meeting a few REAL LIVE AMERICANS!). Hot fried cinnamon donuts many not artisanal cheese or a winery, but it sure is Australian, and that?s good enough for me.
From there, we started seeing the first few glimpse of mountains?and animals! We were no more than thirty feet away from a kangaroo at once rest area, and this sucker was huge. Six foot tall at least.
We even saw emus frolicking in the late afternoon sun. If emus can frolic. It is more like a creepy-prehistoric-animal sort of stroll. Seriously?their knees bend backwards and it is almost not right. I?m still not sure if I can handle that.
The sun was setting by the time we arrived at the resort, so we rocked up to one of the many gas grills provided at the resort. An interesting side note: most Australian barbecues have a griddle top on them, not the grates that you traditionally see on American barbecues.
We had a nice meal of sausages, duck breasts, and buffalo chicken salad. Hey, that?s what you get when you have an Indian, an Aussie and a Yank making dinner.
It was hot the next day, and my smart ass thought it would be fun to bike ride?in the Outback.
After 10ks of nice, dry HOT heat, parts of me hurt that I didn?t know existed, which I guess could be seen as a plus and a minus. Yay, learning!
We ran into this guy on our way back, not even 200 meters from our bedroom door.
There was also a family of emus hanging out near our rooms.
The second day we went on one of the many hiking trails available.
Our trail was called Bridle Gap, and while not the longest trail, it was a good exhausting hike. Especially when I stopped to have staring contest with an indigenous person carved out of rock.
We were so exhausted at the top, and then we saw this little piece of gorgeousness:
Yeah. It was the worth the 10ks there and back. We stopped and had a nice little picnic of sandwiches, chips, dates and brownies at the top, and then hit the trail back down again. I?ve never been much of a hiker, but that could easily change now that I know food and beautiful views await me.
No food pictures from the second night, we were so tired, we couldn?t handle much more than the local buffet. And besides, the Outback is not about the food?right? On the way back from dinner, however, it was raining a little bit, which means we had to drive really r e ee a a a l ll ll l y y y y slow, in case we hit a kangaroo. Yup. Apparently, they flock to the road when it rains because the water gathers there. Sure enough, we almost hit upwards of 15 roos that night (no joke). We literally had to stop the car every 500 feet or so and just honk the horn until they realized we were going to hit them, and they would scamper away. It happened so much; it started to feel like we were parents walking in on a really good party that no one was willing to leave. I hate to be a buzz kill. Especially since they are technically in the middle of a drought. The last day, we took a helicopter ride around the Pound. Look at these mountains.
You sure as hell don?t see mountains like that in Illinois, I?ll tell you that much. So. Fricking. Beautiful.
On the way back, I saw my first wattle seed tree.
Wattle seeds are indigenous to Australia, and they grow on these fluffy little yellow guys. When they are dried and roasted, they smell and taste a bit like chocolate and coffee. I once made a tiramisu with the stuff—its great. And that, my friends?was not it!!! I couldn?t write a post without a significant pig out session, could I? That?s not how my life works. I know, the Outback isn?t for food?but it is for camel pie, and that is exactly where I headed to. The Old Bakery Stone Hut used to be the Old Bakery Wirrabara, but it has since relocated to Stone Hut, thus the name change. It certainly looks like a little hut filled with meaty pie goodness.
The hut was actually built in 1874 and was used as a blacksmith?s shop. Today, it is also the home of owners Dennis and Margaret Wheatley, who make and bake all the pies fresh daily on the premises. Meat pies are a popular food among the British and the Australians, and you can easily find a pie at any convenience store, grocery store or even street corner cart in Australia. They are usually slathered in tomato sauce (ketchup to you North American folks) or floating in a bowl of pea soup known as a pie floater. If that last one doesn?t sound appetizing, just picture eating it at 2 am after a night out drinking?.it basically replaces the taco in the States.
Anywho, the Old Bakery Stone Hut serves all kinds of pies, sweet and savory. They are particular known for the later. They do the typical pies, like steak and chicken, but they also do a couple quirky ones, like beef curry, satay and honey soy chicken. The big ticket item is the set of Outback pies. Kangaroo, Venison, and of course, Camel pie. I felt like a really tamed down but equally bad-ass version of Anthony Bourdain, minus the smoking habit but with a much dirtier vocabulary. Bring it. We ended up ordering one of each of the Outback pies, a vegetarian pasty and chicken pie. The pies were around $5-$7 each, and they were definitely hefty and full of meaty (or non-meaty) yum.
The camel pie was subtly spiced with what I think was Chinese Five Spice. It had just a hint of cinnamon, which I love on meat, and it was minced meat. It really didn?t have a strong flavor, and with the spices, tasted a lot like beef. The pastry was killer?light, flakey and buttery. Most pies have been sitting so long, the crust is gummy and gross. This crust rocked.
The veggie pasty was just okay?I?ve never been much of a pasty fan, but this one was ok, filled with rice and cheese and veggies.
This is the chicken one, which was chunks of chicken meat in a chicken gravy sort of filling. It was okay, but I prefer a nice mince or shredded meat filling myself. Those chunks of meat just slow me down and get messy. This was also where I realized I had camel pie on my camara lens, which resulted in a bunch of smudged photos. Enjoy.
The venison pie had chunks of meat with a meat gravy, resulting in a rich, filling pie.
The kangaroo was mince, and it had a hint of five spice like the camel had (perhaps to hide the gaminess?). It was just as delicious as the camel pie. Thank God. The Outback CAN be for food!
And guess what they also had?
Homemade apple cider and apple champagne, the best drink on the face of the planet. Score.