Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Eating Tiger Pies in Sydney

I could have put up this post under the title - "Not quite Nigella Lawson", but it would lose something in the translation, I reckon!

Let me say straight off - Tiger pies are messy!

There are old milk crates scattered around and a few stools to perch on to eat, but most punters stand to eat, leaning elbows on the counters in the shade of the awning that goes all around the pie cart. In addition to sauces (Worcestershire, sweet chilli and HP), white vinegar and salt and pepper, there are boxes of tissues readily available.

Harry's Cafe de Wheels, Wooloomooloo Sydney

Harry’s Cafe de Wheels is a Sydney institution. That is an understatement of the fact! Many a young couple have fled their Debutante's Ball in the wee hours of the morning after dancing the night away to seek some inner sustenance from Harry's Cafe de Wheels. They stood there rubbing shoulders with broke gamblers, carbohydrate hungry drunks and soldiers and sailors returning from their night on the town (even American marines in dress uniform indulged and gave 'Harry's' their stamp of approval).

Australia’s most famous pie cart was originally named “Harry’s” and served ‘pie and peas’ and crumbed sausages near the front gates of the naval dockyard at Wooloomooloo back in 1938. Proprietor and namesake Harry Edwards took a break from his food business to join the army and fight in World War II, and upon his return, reopened for business. Over the years, the pie cart has been replaced, upgraded, modernised and run by different owners, but Harry’s Cafe de Wheels has been operating continuously at Wooloomooloo since 1945, serving up hot tasty food to tourists, visiting celebrities, local workers, taxi drivers and late night revelers.

We are here for a Tiger, Harry’s Cafe de Wheels’ signature pie named after founder Harry Edwards (who earned the nickname “Tiger” for his boxing prowess - an asset for a purveyor of fast food on the Sydney waterfront). 

All the choices sound good and I love a Curry Tiger, but today I want the "Original Tiger", that is, a beef pie topped with mashed potato and smothered with mushy peas and gravy, served almost too hot to eat.

The Tiger Pie menu

Brown gravy, lumpy mushy peas and mashed potato all piled on top of a meat pie probably sounds like someone’s late night drunken invention, a nightmarish idea dreamed up during a serious attack of the munchies. It’s a beautiful monster of a pie I’m proud to love, a deceptively substantial savoury combination that brings comfort and pleasure.

Harry’s Cafe de Wheels doesn’t just serve pies. You can get pasties, sausage rolls, hot dogs and other snacks here. The hot dogs were introduced in the 1970s to cater for American sailors. I know quite a few people who will testify to the restorative properties of a Harry’s chilli dog or two at the end of a big night out. It’s fantastic late-night drunk food but it’s good tucker at any time of day.

I ordered my curry tiger (AU$5.60) and watched greedily as the cheerful man at the counter used an ice cream scoop to plop the mashed potato on top of the pie and continued to add the mushy peas and pour on the gravy. Carefully carrying my precious pie, I sat down at one of the tables. 

Be warned, if you’re not familiar with this Harry’s, the surroundings are dirty and not the most appealing or appetising; the tables have dried streaks of tomato sauce on them, and you may need to brush away the pastry flakes left by whoever sat at the table before you did. But it’s takeaway, it’s street food (you’re literally sitting at a table on the side of the road), and many people eat at Harry’s Cafe De Wheels after a hard night of partying rather than at lunch or dinner time. 

One of the great things about Harry’s is most of them are open until late at night or really early in the morning. If you’re a late-night/early morning Harry’s customer you probably won’t notice or care about all the dirt and crumbs and litter around you (it will probably be too dark anyway!). Me, I noticed the grimy surroundings (I was there a little past 6pm), but I was too busy breathing in the smell of hot brown gravy to care.

If ever you get to Sydney, ensure a visit to Harry's Cafe de Wheels is on your itinerary - even just for the "Photo-op" chance if you are too timid to feast on the delectable menu on offer!

Trivia Point: I
“The name Cafe de Wheels came about because of the requirement from the city council that mobile food caravans had to move a minimum of 12 inches (30 cm) each day. The cart has been moved by the city council five times over the past 55 years, and is now back at its original spot. Local legend tells that the name was temporarily changed to Cafe de Axle at one point when the wheels were stolen.
As the years passed, ‘Harry’s Cafe de Wheels’ gained new fame as a tourist attraction. A visit to the caravan became a ‘must’ for visiting celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum and Marlene Dietrich. In 1974, Colonel Sanders stopped at Harry’s and enjoyed the food so much that he ate three ‘pies and peas’ while leaning on his walking stick in front of the caravan. A picture of Sanders taken during the visit still hangs in the caravan today.”


Cindy@NorthofWiarton said...

That looks delightful, John !

The Elephant's Child said...

Not for me, but you are right, it is an institution.