The pie floater (also known as a floater and a pea floater), is an Australian dish particularly common in Adelaide.
Pea soup with meat has long been part of English culinary history, with mentions in the 19th century, including Yorkshire "pea and pie supper", "pea soup with eel", "suet dumplings or saveloys", (Dumplings in soup were known as "Floaters"). It may have developed from those dishes, which are useful for feeding groups of people on a budget: for example at a sports match or at harvest time.
A pie floater commonly consists of a traditional Australian-style meat pie, usually sitting, but sometimes submerged (sometimes upside down) in a bowl of thick pea soup made from Blue boiler peas. It is often self-garnished with tomato sauce, and the consumer may also add a combination of mint sauce, salt, pepper, or malt vinegar according to personal preference.
Pie floaters were typically purchased in the street from pie-carts, as a late evening meal. Pie-carts are typically a form of caravan/trailer/cart, (originally horse-drawn), with an elongated "window" along one or both sides where customers sit or (more usually) stand to eat their purchases. The pie-cart was typically moved into position at lunch time and in the evening. As traffic became busier and on-street car-parking in demand, the carts evolved to have one window on "the footpath side", and were moved into position after afternoon peak-hour traffic had ebbed. They do business until late-evening or early-morning, after which they were returned to their daytime storage locations.
South Australia has had pie carts in the Adelaide metropolitan area since the 1870s. In the evenings, the Norwood pie-cart was located on The Parade adjacent to the Norwood Town Hall. It was also the only place where members of the public could buy draft Hall's "Stonie" ginger beer directly from the keg. In the Adelaide city centre in the 1880s, there were 13 pie-carts operating in King William Street and North Terrace. By 1915 there were nine pie-carts in operation. By 1958 this had reduced to two: Balfour's pie-cart on North Terrace outside the Adelaide railway station, and Cowley's in Victoria Square outside the G.P.O. In 2007, the Glenelg Tramline was extended from Victoria Square along King William Street and North Terrace past the Adelaide Railway Station, and the Balfour's pie-cart was forced to close.
In 2003, The South Australian National Trust traced the history of the pie floater: an impressive history tracing back 130+ years.National Trust of South Australia, but is now available at a very few locations, one being the Café de Vilis, Enjoy Bakery on Norwood Parade and another the Upper Sturt General Store. Floaters using traditional pea soup or the more new age pumpkin soup can also be found at Prices Fresh bakery outlets.
In 2003, the pie floater was recognised as a South Australian Heritage Icon by the
A well known version of the pie floater in Sydney is sold from Harry's Cafe de Wheels pie cart situated in Woolloomooloo, New South Wales. Harry's Cafe de Wheels is listed on the National Trust Register as an historic icon. Originally set near the graving docks (now Australian Naval Dockyards known as 'Garden Island Naval Base' Woolloomooloo), east of the Sydney Opera House, the current Cafe de Wheels has been permanently fixed on a masonry base for some years. Other Harry's Cafe de Wheels operate in the Sydney city and metropolitan area, and in the city of Newcastle, New South Wales.
Anthony Bourdain, Joe Cocker, Billy Connolly, Nigel Mansell, Shane Warne and Angus Young are high-profile fans of the pie floater.