I may get banished to travel blogger purgatory for the following confession, but here it goes:
I’m not really into food. Like, at all.
I grew up eating chicken for dinner every other night, and until I moved to New York I looked at eating out as a thing you only did for special occasions. I still don’t properly know how to use a knife. And my pitiful palette operates on a bad-ok-good-great-OMG scale.
Except I’m very into acai bowls. Argo on the Square in Adelaide does a killer Viva Brazilia!
Perhaps not coincidentally, the one Australian state I hadn’t sought out to explore is known as THE food and wine mecca in this country. Quite frankly, I’d had other travel priorities during my year studying abroad in Sydney, and last year on the working holiday visa: like frolicking around the Outback, sailing above the Great Barrier Reef, and roadtripping around Tasmania and Western Australia. But now that I’ve ticked off all my major Aussie bucket list items and then some, I feel like it’s time to dig a little deeper – venture to places I’d barely given a thought to previously.
An invite to attend the Words To Go food and travel blogger workshop during the now-annual Tasting Australia festival was as good enough impetus as any to get my tush to Adelaide and give it the attention it deserves. What follows is my first-ever travel adventure experienced through the foodie lens. Are you ready to see a whole lot of (amateur-hour) food photos? Here it goes!
Wine Tasting in South Australia
I couldn’t very well go to the wine capital of Australia without thoroughly sampling the best of the best wines here. Strictly for research purposes, of course *ahem*. So I made a point to arrange some wine tours during my first few days in Adelaide.
First, I toured the Barossa Valley: South Australia’s most famous wine region, about an hour drive northeast of Adelaide. The weather was not-so-great, but I was happily distracted by the fancy wine tasting facilities at nearly every vineyard we visited. There are some damn fine looking cellar doors up in the Barossa.
South Australia is all about Shiraz, though each wine region has a different take on it. The Barossa Valley is known for its heavy, meaty red wines – the kind that pairs perfectly with a carnivorous meal. I found myself digging not just the Shiraz, but also the red blends at most of the Barossa cellar doors.
Best find of the day? The newly-opened Lindsay Estate! They do things a little differently here, playing vinyl at their cellar door and inviting guests to a seated tasting. Maybe it was the thrill of tasting wine at my namesake, or Carole King crooning through the speakers, but I walked out of there declaring it my favorite winery of the day, with an $18 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon under my arm.
The next day, I did a half day tour of McLaren Vale on the most gorgeous autumn day. I really, really wish I’d had more time to frolic out on the peninsula here because LOOK AT THESE VIEWS!! Rolling hills meet sea, not unlike the vineyard landscapes on the Mornington Peninsula.
The cellar doors around McLaren Vale felt a little less fancy-pants than the ones in the Barossa Valley, but definitely no less in wine caliber. The Shiraz at McLaren Vale is lighter, spicier, and more fruit-driven than the Shiraz at Barossa, which makes for an entirely different tasting experience should you be contemplating touring both wine regions.
Gin in South Australia
I had no idea gin was a thing in Adelaide until I stumbled upon a cute little gin bar called The Howling Owl. I also had no idea how much I enjoy gin! For as little as AU$10 a drink (US$7), you’d enjoy it too. Their menu is sectioned off into world regions, but I only allowed myself to sample from the local gins – you know, in keeping with the theme of my trip to Adelaide.
I later learned that gin distilleries have been popping up all over South Australia in recent years, with winemakers often doubling as gin makers. There’s some excellent gin coming out of Kangaroo Island, Adelaide Hills, and McLaren Vale now with more local distilleries poised to enter the market in the coming years.
I’m glad that I arrived in Adelaide a few days before this festival kicked off because it gave me some time to ramp up my taste buds and stamina for the main event. I don’t think the added practice did much for me physically, but I felt mentally prepared to tackle as much food and drink as my non-foodie self could handle!
As of this year, Tasting Australia is an annual week-long food, wine, and beverage festival held in Adelaide. It’s said to be international, but I found it to be an event celebrating the culinary prowess of South Australia. Victoria Square gets decked out with tasting tents, where you can crawl from tent to tent sampling local wine, gin, beer, and food – FOR FREE. Vendors change near-daily, so you could feasibly visit every day and taste a completely different set of food and drinks. Not that I did that or anything…
Lamb salad and kangaroo kebabs from the Southern Flinders Ranges.
There are loads of excursions and workshops offered during Tasting Australia, from catered multi-course dining extravaganzas to dedicated tastings and appreciation classes, held not only in Adelaide but throughout regional South Australia. So many of them looked fantastic, but due to time and money constraints I opted out of these and instead attended the event I had specifically flown to Adelaide to take part in: Words To Go, a mini-conference for Australia’s best food and travel bloggers.
I’m obviously no foodie, but I thought it would be a good exercise for me to have a culinary-fueled travel experience for once. Food is a massive part of the travel experience, and one I typically cast aside in favor of outdoor adventures. And if I’m honest, I wouldn’t even know where to begin if I were to seek out the best food and drink in a new destination.
Thankfully I was well taken care of during this event, which kicked off with an evening of drinks, nibbles, and networking in the square. I was all over the wine, but the raw fish I had to force myself to try. I’ve really only been eating fish for a few years (thank you, Southeast Asia), and it’s nearly always cooked by the time it hits my plate. Baby steps, right?
Who knew raw fish could look so pretty? Props to Hiramasa Kingfish for the spread.
Feasting at the Hilton Coal Cellar & Grill
Things cranked up several notches the following morning with a full day of talks by bloggers, writers, editors, and PR folk. Neither foodie nor food blogger, I felt a bit like a fish out of water amidst my fellow bloggers who I’m pretty sure all cite food and eating out as one of their main passions. They all jumped at the chance to shoot our food, sometimes even removing it from the table to take photos outside in better light (their photos are AWESOME, by the way – see them here).
Meanwhile, I was all like:
Uh, what do I do with this?
For someone who considers herself a photographer, shot weddings professionally for 5 years, and has some of the best camera gear available, I am alarmingly terrible at food photography. It’s just not something I normally shoot, so when it came time to get snap-happy here at Tasting Australia, I sort of froze up.
Also, I didn’t have my go-to 35mm/1.4 lens nor my flash, which would have been ideal in these low light, limited space dining situations I continually found myself in. In fact, I’ve never travelled with so little camera gear – but I was flying with smaller bags than usual and was in no mood to experience another Jetstar carry-on baggage fiasco. Throughout my whole week in Adelaide I found myself missing one lens or another, so I don’t think I’ll attempt to travel as a minimalist again anytime soon. Oh, #photographerproblems.
Just a portion of our spread during morning tea at Words to Go, courtesy of Le Cordon Bleu.
Make no mistake, though: I had an excellent time. Most of the speakers covered non-foodie topics that all of us bloggers could relate to, and I ended the day feeling all sorts of inspired – but definitely not hungry, because OH MY LORD did we feast for dinner!
They gave us the special treatment at the nearby Hilton, where we dined in a private room at the Coal Cellar and Grill. I took one look at our *Seriously South Australian* menu and was instantly overwhelmed. How the heck were we supposed to choose between so many incredible-sounding plates?
Guess what, we didn’t have to because they brought out samples of every dish for each course. The real issue wasn’t what do I order, but how do I fit a little bit of everything past my utterly unrefined palette and into my vastly-underworked stomach?
I’m proud to report that I managed to try everything! Significantly less proud of the photos I captured of it, though. The dark room and crowded table presented an insurmountable challenge for me and my inadequate camera gear. Throw in a few glasses of wine and, well, you understand, right?
I did surprise myself in terms of what I most enjoyed: my favorites were the scallops, the steak and beef fillets, and the jaffa fondant (aka chocolate cake). Ok, maybe not so surprised about loving the chocolate dessert!
But what I loved above all was how most of what we ate was sourced from local produce. South Australia continues to impress!
Dining at the Adelaide Central Market
I hadn’t yet recovered from the food coma induced by Day 1 when I turned up for the start of Day 2 at the Adelaide Central Market. I figured I could handle the yogurt, granola, and fresh juices that were set on the table for us upon our arrival; but what I didn’t know was that we were in for a bottomless brunch. We were served damn near everything on Jamface‘s all-day breakfast menu without any warning. I did not pace myself for such gluttony…
Bacon and egg sandwiches with parmesan/thyme crust. SO GOOD.
I also wasn’t aware that a pseudo-celebrity would be serving us breakfast! Poh was runner-up on MasterChef Australia, and now she owns/runs one of the most popular restaurants in the Adelaide Central Market. I don’t know anything about her reality tv presence, but I do know that she crafted one of the best brunch experiences of my life (“wholesome, not healthy”, she makes a point to clarify). I’m still not over how incredible everything tasted. If and when I return to Adelaide, I’ll 100% be dining at Jamface again.
I always have room for pancakes! <3
Post-breakfast, we enjoyed a quick tour of the market. And by that, I mean we waddled from stall to stall meeting the friendly local vendors and refusing their samples. No wait, that was just me. And I refused everything but a gin tasting (gin! <3) and precisely *one* cheese sample, a creamy and astoundingly delicious cheese that I promptly dribbled on my shirt. Sheesh, you can’t take me anywhere!
With about an hour to kill before lunch, we prayed some room would clear out in our stomachs so we could actually eat again. Some of us even ordered tea in hopes that it would speed along the digestion process. No such luck.
With my stomach refusing to cooperate for lunch at Lucia’s, I called on my mostly-in-tact liver to pick up the slack. My version of lunch was Shiraz with a few pieces of cured meat on the side. I’d totally recommend it.
Could I Be A Foodie?
I’m so, so glad that I finally made time to get to know Adelaide and South Australia – and that I did so in a totally different way than I normally would discover a new place. I would wholeheartedly recommend a visit if food and wine are an integral part of your typical travel experience.
As for me, I’m happy to resume my Plain Jane manner of eating dotted with the occasional brunch or dinner out. I like the way I feel when I eat mostly clean, not so much when I gorge myself on uber-flavorful meals whose ingredients I’m not 100% aware of. I do feel like I have more appreciation for what goes into a meal now, and that I’ve maybe-just-maybe improved my wine tasting palette a slight smidge. But don’t worry – this space won’t be morphing into a food blog anytime soon.