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A pie floater is a meal available in Australia, particularly South Australia. It consists of the traditional Australian style meat pie sitting, usually inverted, in a plate of thick green pea soup. It is traditionally garnished with tomato sauce, mint sauce, salt and pepper. Another popular condiment is malt vinegar. The pie floater is typically purchased in the street from pie-carts as a late evening meal.
The pie floater was originally created during the Great Depression. People fled their farms and tried to find work in Sydney. However, many ended up homeless and unable to feed their families. Pie manufacturers would donate their leftovers to soup kitchens where the leftovers were often added into a bowl of soup. The most popular variety at the time was pea and ham soup, as it was easy and inexpensive to make and had more nutritional value than most other soups being commonly made at the time due to the limited availability of produce (e.g., strawberries, corn).
The most famous place in Australia to get a pie floater is Harry's Cafe De Wheels, originally set near the graving docks (now Australian Naval Dockyards known as 'Garden Island Naval Base' Woolloomooloo), east of the Sydney Opera House. This was the site of the first 'Harry's Cafe De Wheels' as there was such a concentration of unemployed workers in that area who needed an affordable but nutritional meal to sustain both themselves, and in some cases, their families.
Currently, the most popular version of the Pie Floater is a traditional meat pie with mushy peas set on top, with a depression made in it to make a bowl where gravy is poured onto it. The pea soup provides extra flavour and dietary fibre, and extends what otherwise may be considered a snack to a full meal. Anthony Bourdain, Joe Cocker, Billy Connolly, Nigel Mansell, Shane Warne and Angus Young are high profile fans of the pie floater.
The pie floater is probably best known in the metropolitan areas of the capital cities of South Australia and New South Wales.
Across the rest of Australia, a similar taste experience can be found in a pea pie, a meat pie with a layer of mushy peas under the crust, often sold at local bakeries. A variation on the pie floater is to substitute the pea soup with mushy peas.
The pie floater also makes an appearance in the Discworld novel The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett, where it is sold by Fair Go Dibbler, one of a number of similar characters who sell "regional delicacies" across the Disc.
Pie floaters are typically purchased in the street from pie-carts, as a late evening meal. Pie-carts are typically a form of caravan/trailer/cart, (originally horse-drawn), with an elongated "window" along one or both sides where customers sit or (more usually) stand to eat their purchases. The pie-cart was typically moved into position at lunch time and in the evening. As traffic became busier and on-street car-parking in demand, the carts evolved to have one window on "the footpath side," and were moved into position after afternoon peak-hour traffic had ebbed. They do business until late-evening or early-morning, at which time they are moved to their daytime storage locations.
A well known version of the pie floater in Australia is sold from Harry's Cafe de Wheels pie cart situated in Woolloomooloo, New South Wales. Harry's Cafe de Wheels is listed on the National Trust Register as an historic icon. The current Cafe de Wheels has been permanently fixed on a masonry base for some years. Other Harry's Cafe de Wheels operate in the Sydney city and metropolitan area, and in the city of Newcastle, New South Wales.
South Australia has had pie carts in the Adelaide metropolitan area since the 1870s. In the evenings, the Norwood pie-cart was located on The Parade adjacent to the Norwood Town Hall. It was also the only place where members of the public could buy draft Hall's "Stonie" ginger beer directly from the keg.
In the Adelaide city centre in the 1880s, there were 13 pie-carts operating in King William Street and North Terrace. By 1915 there were nine pie-carts in operation. By 1958 this had reduced to two: Balfour's pie-cart on North Terrace outside the Adelaide Railway Station, and Cowley's in Victoria Square outside the G.P.O. When, in 2007, the Glenelg Tramline was extended from Victoria Square along King William Street and North Terrace past the Adelaide Railway Station, the Balfour's pie-cart was forced to close.
- The meat pie and humble pie floater abc.net.au/sa Retrieved 2010-11-27
- Australians do not use the word "ketchup"; ketchup is made with vinegar, and is a pickle sauce; tomato sauce is made without vinegar.
- samemory.sa.gov.au Retrieved 2010-11-27
- Marks, Kathy (2003-12-06). "Adelaide's 'pie floater' fights losing battle in fast food war". The Independent. Retrieved 2007-03-29.
- Pie Floater entry at the National Trust of South Australia[dead link]
- "Harry’s Café de Wheels". Nsw.nationaltrust.org.au. 2004-03-20. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
- Peter Goers (19 May 19, 2007). "Floaters sink as station pie cart gets the push". Sunday Mail. www.adelaidenow.com.au. Retrieved 2011-04-16.
- Excerpts[dead link] from Billy Connolly's World Tour of Australia (including a description of a pie floater)
- Pie Floater article (includes a photo of the South Australian version of the pie floater)