London Street Foodie on Tour: Sydney street food part 2
My final Sydney street food related port of call is the Haymarket branch of an ancient institution called Harry’s Cafe De Wheels, a popular pitstop that has been trading pie and mash or pie and peas from its various street outlets since before WWII. Eating there at around 4pm one afternoon is a fellow rucksack laden tourist in shorts, two men in suits who have just finished work and another younger man who pops in briefly to collect his treasure. Plastered over one side are excerpts and reviews in publications including The Washington Post, Good Life and Jamie, with one poster celebrating 70 years of trading and another showing the eclectic mix of celebrities – Frank Sinatra, Russell Crowe, Pamela Anderson, Olivia Newton-John, Elton John and Rupert Murdoch – who have eaten here or shown it support. I meet one of the servers who admits Harry’s is not a great place to work “although it’s a fun institution and it gets really busy.” Often he gets regulars who come and get two pies and take them back up to work, and others who come only for the hot dogs.
I am told that the Tiger pie is “what it’s all about” and this goes back to when the very first owner, Harry Edwards, who began it as a caravan cafe in 1938, was enlisted to fight in WWII and was nicknamed ‘Tiger’ for his prowess. In 1945 he returned, saw there was a space in the market for a late night feeding joint and continued trading. The addition of ‘de wheels’ came after a request arrived from the council asking that all mobile food caravans move forward at least a few centimetres a day. In 1975 it was bought again and in 1988 sold on to a man named Michael Hannah who as a boy remembers being taken by his dad to eat the very same pies. Harry’s, of which there are now 10 around Sydney centre and its suburbs, has since been classified by the National Trust of Australia as a “quintessential Sydney icon.”
Back at the grazing ground, I watch as the men bolt their own Tiger pies, clear up and rush out, leaving a flock of pigeons squawking around the dustbin. As I wait for mine to cool, the same group of pigeons eye up my plate, preparing to pounce. One comes closer, becomes momentarily fearful, retreats and another takes up his place. Then it goes around again, and they flap around idiotically until someone else orders something they want a piece of. They do a good act of looking confused but I can read their beady eyes: they want my pie.
Now, this place isn’t really somewhere to sit and contemplate food. It’s a basic caravan with some uneven chairs scattered around it and the filling meat pie with its stodgy lump of mash and perfect pool of sweetish gravy on top is brilliant sustenance. If I lived here, I can imagine grabbing some if I worked nearby or was on my way home from a night out.
It’s certainly different from the current wave of Sydney street food traders who for the most part seem to adore what they do and can’t wait to come up with their next menu item. It isn’t attention-seeking and it’s not making a point of sourcing local ingredients and having fun with food. But I think it’s still important to have these kinds of old chains like Harry’s around because it shows there has always been an appetite for eating food on the street; get the product right, and the people will come flocking.
Next: I take a walk around Melbourne’s buzzing street food scene
p.s. If you’re interested in more regular street food photo updates don’t forget to follow the Facebook group here