Saturday, 20 February 2010

Hobart: On the Trail of Epicurus

This week's guest blogger is fantasy novelist Narrelle M Harris, author of the acclaimed vampire novel The Opposite of Life.

I’ve just spent a week in Hobart, Tasmania, trying to live the life that Epicurus would have been proud of.

The ancient Greek philosopher, who lived from 341 BC to 270 BC, believed the secret of life lay in combining an independent existence with contemplation, good food and the company of friends.

Rather than a hedonist gorging himself on gourmet food, his philosophy was actually centred on simplicity. His idea of a feast might involve little more than a pot of cheese and a really nice loaf of bread.

Could I follow in his footsteps in the capital of Australia’s island state, Tasmania? Here’s the answer…

Good drink

When not on vacation I live in the Melbourne city centre, with the city’s best baristas operating within five minutes of my front door. Which means I’m used to going on holiday knowing I won’t have a decent cup of coffee until my return.

I never suspected that my caffeine habit could be successfully sustained by the cafes of Hobart. However… at Salamanca Place and adjoining Salamanca Square, a charming 19th century collection of shops and galleries by the Derwent River, excellent coffee could be had at several establishments.

Plum, for one, served a fine caffe latte in a cunning Bodum receptacle, made of double-layered plastic with a vacuum within, so that the cup was comfortable to hold but the excellent coffee remained hot.

Good food

But it wasn’t just the coffee that was superb. Tasmania is obviously flush with fine produce, and plenty of it trickles down south to Hobart. From a simple chickpea and chorizo salad at Tricycle to an indulgent seafood lunch at Catch, I was in culinary heaven.

The latter was an especially excellent meal – a dozen of the local oysters, served on a bed of rock salt with a squeeze of lemon, followed by the most perfectly prepared salmon nicoise salad, with a wee, warm cob loaf and a bottle of Tasmanian spring water. Simple. Perfect.

Also superb was the damper and dukkah, and the rich, earthy beef and stout pie served at the Cascade Brewery’s restaurant, followed by stout-flavoured ice cream, accompanied by the establishment’s own sparkling apple and raspberry juice. And the cool, creamy almond-topped custard pie (with more excellent coffee) at bakery-cafe Pane Cucina at 366 Elizabeth Street in North Hobart.

Home preparation

There were also the simple pleasures of local breads, excellent cured meats, tasty vine-ripened tomatoes, tangy fetta cheese and a curiously mild wasabi mustard. We bought these at the Salamanca Place greengrocer Fresh Fruit Market as ingredients for no-fuss lunches and dinners in our self-catering apartment at Salamanca Terraces.

Living the good life isn’t necessarily about fancy-pants restaurants and gourmet recipes. But good produce, simply prepared is most definitely one of life’s great pleasures, and Hobart delivered fabulous and welcome surprises on this score.

So that’s food sorted. But what about Epicurus’ other elements of the good life? Join me next week as I seek freedom, friends and contemplation in the Tasmanian capital…

Find details of Narrelle's vampire novel The Opposite of Life at her website, along with details of her other published work.

[read part two of Narrelle's Hobart experience here]