Whoever made the first pie floater must not have been shy about making a mess. The dish, which is the Australian offspring of two traditional British foods, consists of a beef pie—heavy with gravy, encased in flaky pasty—turned upside down into a bowl of thick pea soup.
The pie floater is a specialty of Adelaide, South Australia, which was settled by the British in the 1830s. By the 1870s or 1880s, vendors sold them from horse-drawn carts. Likely inspired by English “floaters,” a dish that mixed pea soup with dumplings, eels, or saveloys (a hot dog-esque sausage traditionally made of brain), it was the late night eat of Adelaide for decades. Hawkers served pie floaters with plenty of tomato sauce (essentially Australian ketchup that contains no vinegar) and optional Worcestershire sauce for a peppery kick.
While a pie floater is certainly a hearty meal, its popularity has been in decline since the Great Depression. Losing its monopoly on the after-hours meal market seems to be the cause; some commenters credit the arrival of fast food options such as McDonald’s for the near-total disappearance of pie carts.
In modern Adelaide, a city of over one million, the pie floater has acquired a nostalgic feel. Although it’s less well known than other Aussie culinary stalwarts—the Lamington, the Tim Tam Slam—the pie floater was named a South Australian Heritage Icon in 2003. One of the best requiems for the pie floater was penned by a journalist back in 1937:
“Hungry citizens will no longer know the warm intimacy of these sheltered canvas retreats … honest hearts and sturdy stomachs will mourn the passing of … the floater—an institution apparently peculiar to Adelaide—a hot pie launched on a sea of peas.”
Need to Know
Pie carts make sporadic appearances at Australian Rules Football games, when the local team, known as the Crows, are playing. Pie floaters are available in local pubs, but if you’re not local, the Library of South Australia website has a recipe used by a famous pie cart.
Where to Try It
Bakery on O'Connell128-130 O'Connell St. North Adelaide SA 5006, North Adelaide, 5006, Australia
It's no pie cart, but this tidy bakery serves filling pie floaters.