Eat you way through regional Australia – from scones to chic country bistros

By Bev Malzard

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There’s always a good time to visit our country towns and villages throughout Australia. For so many reasons, the regions need your visit and they have the red carpet of hospitality out.

The changing landscape in and around the towns tells the story of what’s been happening locally. Often great swathes of land have been burn out by bushfires, streets and shops have been ruined by floods and a pesky pandemic can do damage and keep tourists away.

More the 60% of Australians are city dwellers and the rest of the population is scattered throughout regional areas. But despite city slickers being parted by distance there’s still a yearning for the ‘other’ that feeds our affinity to the unique landscape and ambience of the distant towns.

The bedrock of most towns is the CWA (Country Women’s Association) which has not rested on its laurels of perfecting scones, they are there for bushfire and drought relief, advancing the equity of women and basically – don’t mess with them.

To spend time out of your comfort zone is to enter into the realm of someone else’s comfort zone. Go for a pub lunch, a yarn, an afternoon tea, go shopping and spend your dollars to support the community – and that’s what it’s all about, community and remember, happily, that we’re all in this together, and Australia is a wonderful place to travel around and share the love – and the stories.

In a pickle

If you arrive in a country town or village on a Friday or weekend, you’ll most likely find trestle tables set up in the main street selling goods for charity: the local school, Lions Club, Rotary or Sports Centre.

This is where a plan of action is set in place: decide what you want before you approach the tables. Best buys ALWAYS are homemade pickles, marmalade, jams, fruit scones, loaf cakes, sponges and biscuits. Buy up big and keep focused on the food items. If your eyes wander, big mistake, you’ll be captured by the next table and you will not get away from the stalls without buying six crocheted coat hangers and a few beanies. You have been warned.

Teas to please

Have a light lunch and save space for a holiday necessity – afternoon tea – or for early birds – morning tea. There are towns that thrive on their ‘tea scene’. Afternoon tea, with fragrant cha and fresh scones or . . . cake, is a pleasant way to people-watch and chat with your café host.

Fortune follows the brave and you’ll never know what surprises are in store unless you open the door. An example of the great reveal is a tiny town in NSW, Rylestone – three and a half hours from Sydney and an hour’s drive from Mudgee. In an old pub there’s the tantalising sign – 29 Nine 99 – open the front door and there’s an elegant room with Imperial Chinese decor and the aroma of spicy food wafting through. The best you can have here is yum cha served at brunch and lunch. Sit in the incongruous setting out the back on the lawn under towering gum trees and be served fragrant, intoxicating Chinese tea and plates of delicious dumplings. This is a treat.

Throughout Australia there are hidden – or maybe just shy establishments that are putting on the Ritz quietly and modestly – go find them.

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While you’re mooching around town, seek out some postcards. “Old school”, I hear you say. Send some postcards to friends and family. You’re not only being nice, you’re promoting a country town. And a card in the post is a happier event than an email.

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Best of the best - prize winning pies 'n vanilla slices

Still on food . . . and isn’t it an important part of travelling? Mostly seen in Victoria and NSW, cake shops with their windows festooned with fancy gold writing saying: ‘The Best Vanilla Slice in Australia’ or ‘The Best Award-winning Pies in Australia’, and after reading this, best to go and try the best’ – it’s your patriotic duty. (Carefully check the date of the award!) And at the pub, take your measuring tape to check if the steak is as big as promoted for the pub lunch.

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‘The Best Vanilla Slice in Australia’ or ‘The Best Award-winning Pies in Australia’ – after reading this, best to go and try the best – it’s your patriotic duty.

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What ever your taste buds yearn for, even the fussiest eater and gastronom will find a meal that’s satisfyingly delicious made from locally grown produce so it’s going to fresh as it gets.

My tip – just take some elasticised pants as with all the regional produce on offer, you wont be coming home skinny but it’ll be oh so worth it.

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