A cheer ripples along the packed wharf of drinkers, all bathed in the golden glow of Hobart’s long, summery twilight. They’re clapping in stragglers from the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. It’s the first time I’ve been to the finish line of our most famous boat race, or indeed, to the island state you find it in, so to me, the energy is exciting.
Truth be told though, it’s not the boats that have prompted my visit, it’s the thirtieth annual Taste of Tasmania festival. Running from December 28- January 3, this event was initially designed as a way to keep the arriving yachtswomen and men happy in Hobart after their race, but in more recent years it has outgrown this purpose and become a reason to visit Hobart all on its own. Last year, more than 220,000 attendees passed through the gates.
With six days of the week-long festival stretching out before us, on our first evening in Hobart we’re happy just soaking up the atmosphere. Circulating Süd Polaire gin carts keep us in cocktails made using their micro-batch distilled, Tasmanian gin.
Recommended for martinis, on this occasion we make do with negronis, gin+tonics and sour electric yuzu pre-mixes.
With more than 110 stalls arranged across a few distinct zones, this festival is a great place to get acquainted with Tasmanian booze, whatever your drinking predilection. And Tasmania makes some outstanding booze, running from wine to whiskey, cider to countless craft and ginger beers, to exotics like Hartshorn Sheep Whey Vodka and Absinthe Cocytus Shooters ($10) that you sip from shot glasses made of ice, courtesy of Winsome Spirits.
And what’s booze without food? Taste of Tasmania certainly offers up some unique food and booze pairings.
While some of them went fist-in-glove, like oysters Kilpatrick and Bloody Mary oyster shots from the Blue Eye Oyster Bar, others, like the stall offering pikelets and cocktails, Pikelets & Dreamz, were a bit more avant-garde.
Eating your way around this festival proved an easy way to ascertain what this island state does best. Seafood is an obvious category in which Tasmania excels, with everything from oysters drawn from places I’ve never heard of in Sydney, to the well-handled Spiced Blue Eye Wings ($6) we ate from Mures Tasmania. The latter is a trio of wharfside venues, serviced by their own fishing fleet.
Beautiful berries were everywhere, though the Tasmania product I couldn’t get enough of was wallaby. A far cry from the iron-heavy, gamey kangaroo, it’s a delicate meat that really lends itself to a variety of applications.
At Paradise Island’s colourful, Caribbean-inspired stall, it was turned into Wallaby Tacos ($6) with fermented pickles, lemon salsa and their two-year-old hot sauce.
Though the best use of wallaby I encountered at the festival came courtesy of Shambles Brewery.
We started with cups of Popcorn Wallaby ($6) then moved on to crisp Wallaby Drumsticks ($14) dripping with yellow rendang mayo.
Eating wallaby here at this festival helped to ensure I felt confident enough about ordering it at the restaurants I visited while I was in Tasmania too.
Later in my trip, I was lucky enough to meet up with the supplier, Lenah Game Meats, at Launceston’s Harvest Market. I profusely thanked them for making my Tasmanian eating journey so memorable with this under-utilised, sustainable, indigenous meat.
Scallop Pie Side-Bar:
One taste of Tasmania I was disappointed to see the festival skip over was the state’s famous scallop pies. This necessitated a bit of side-tripping for us, to try and locate the best exemplar.
My first experience was in Doo Town, a quaint little seaside town that had us in stitches over their house-names – Make Doo, Dr. Doolittle, Didgeri-Doo – to name but a few. Not to be outdone, the business we visited was a food caravan called Doo-Lishus, parked in the Eaglehawk Neck carpark.
The surrounding area boasts a blowhole (under-performing on the day we dined), as well as some shaded picnic tables with a scenic view.
The Doo-Lishus Curried Scallop Pie ($8.50) contained a few, big, tasty scallops bathed in a saucy, yellow curry made using Keen's Curry Powder. I would have liked to see the powder cooked in a little better and the scallop to sauce ratio a little higher, but I rated the pastry and thought the meaty, roe-on scallops contained within were high quality and perfectly cooked.
The van also makes a tasty Venison & Red Wine Pie ($7) and most everyone was walking around carrying a white cardboard Fisherman’s Cone ($9) full of hot chips and crumbed mussels. The umbrella hole in our picnic table made for the perfect holder as we enjoyed our first ever scallop pie.
Doo-Lishus Food Van
Blowhole Circuit, Eaglehawk Neck
Ph: (0437) 469 412
Heading to Tasmania? Does My Bomb Look Big In This? has you covered...
The Taste of Tasmania: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4.
Breakfast (Hobart): Born in Brunswick, Dandy Lane, Room for a Pony & Macquarie St. Food Store.
Lunch (near Hobart): Willie Smith's Apple Shed & The Dunalley Store.
Dinner (Hobart): The Source, Franklin, Frank & Templo.
Beyond Hobart: Freycinet Marine Farm, Harvest Launceston & Mudbar Restaurant.