Posted by: travelrat | May 9, 2010

The Pie Cart

Pies at the Café de Wheels

It was my first visit to the LG Arena at Birmingham, and I was surprised at the variety of food on offer. There was a separate queue for fish and chips, hot dogs, hamburgers or whatever you wanted. I joined the queue for Pie and Mash, and was delighted to learn that the pies were ‘baked to an Australian recipe, with British ingredients’.

Oh, my word!

A crunchy crust, filled with meaty, spicy goodness. And, served with a scoop of mashed potatoes, mushy peas and onion gravy. Exactly the same as you can get in Sydney, at Harry’s Café de Wheels, near the Naval base at Wooloomooloo … there, such a dish is called a ‘Tiger’, after the original owner of the iconic pie cart, Harry ‘Tiger’ Edwards.

For me, those pie carts sum up all that’s democratic and egalitarian about Australia. They became a meeting place where cabbies, policemen and other workers rubbed shoulders with theatre patrons in formal evening wear, musicians, politicians and businessmen.

One ex-sailor recalled once seeing a Captain in full dress uniform sitting on a nearby wall eating his pie, for Navy personnel were Harry’s best customers. They liked it so much that, in 1978 they decided to mark the 40th Anniversary of the opening of the Café de Wheels in a rather unusual way.

It was officially commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy as one of its ‘unsinkable’ ships, HMAS Harry’s !!

Café de Wheels is probably the best-known pie stall … Colonel Harlan Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame ate three ‘Tigers’ there, and declared Harry’s pies were the best he’d ever tasted . But, pie carts actually started in Adelaide.

An English ex-sailor called Gibbs opened his pie stall on the corner of King William Street and Rundle Street in 1864, looking to cater for workers in search of a wholesome, but inexpensive meal. Nowadays, that site is probably the most trafficked street corner in Adelaide, and the last place you want to stand around eating a pie.

But, only a short step away, Balfour’s Pie Cart still trades on most nights. It’s still a cart, too; Harry’s is now a static stall … the original cart is in Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. Balfour’s speciality is the ‘pie floater’, peculiar to South Australia, and consists of a pie in a bowl of pea soup. And, it’s claimed the pie floater is the cheapest meal to be had in Adelaide … which is probably why the pie cart’s pitch is just outside the Casino.

It’s not just a pie, it’s a memory, too. There’s another place in England sells the Aussie pie; Jumbuck’s, on Bournemouth pier. Just one bite, and I was instantly transported to the banks of the Murray River, waiting for the Murray Princess … and trying not to share our pies with an over-importunate pelican.

The pie research isn’t over yet. In July, we’re visiting Queensland, and one of the first things I’ll do there is check out the pies.


This post has been entered into the Grantourismo and HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition



  1. Love it! Thanks for the memories!

    Terry and I used to live at Potts Point not far from Harry’s and we’d often go there – they were delish!

    Thanks for your entry, Keith! Good luck!

  2. You can’t beat a good pie. Isn’t it funny how the peas go so well with it? When I first bought one I wasn’t sure they would, but they are delish. Mmmmm.

    • Pie and peas are a favourite in Yorkshire, and pie & mash is almost a London icon. Can’t help thinking the ‘pie floater’ and the ‘Tiger’ are derivations (and improvements) on these.

      Closest we’ve got in Britain (apart from one or two places where you can get ‘Aussie pies) is one of my favourites, ‘snake and pygmy’ pie; the crust isn’t as crusty, though

  3. I wish pies were more popular in the US. I swear… I’m the only person who eats them. When I was in Cornwall I had the signature pastie, which was to die for, but probably not nearly as good as the pies which you’ve described. YUM

    • They make Cornish pastys in Michigan, where the recipe was brought by immigant Cornish miners, & you can buy them online at

      They’re not quite the genuine article; they use carrots in them, which, for some reason, aren’t grown in Cornwall, And (quirky fact) in Cornwall, the plural is ‘pastys’, not ‘pasties’.

      But, nevertheless, food writer from Seattle tells me they’re almost as good as the ones you buy in Cornwall.

  4. YUM!! these sound fantastic. good luck!

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