I, Uppy "no chilli please" Chatterjee, score the spiciest dumpling I've ever had the misfortune to experience.
It's a shiny blue day in ol' Orange when we wake up and smash through the best bacon I've had in ages at Byng Street Cafe and Local Store - I'm told it's Trunkey Bacon's smoked streaky bacon and now I'm determined to find it back in Sydney. The cafe has a huge porch and a little decked courtyard we sit in, accented with fire engine red paint and Astro turf.
It takes just under an hour to get to our next stop, Canowindra, and we drive among bright yellow canola fields, winding roads and fields of farm animals along the way. Canowindra is a real step back in time to the federation: with historic NSW railroad houses and old pubs painted in iconic shades of green and cream standing tall amid the wide country streets, we head to the Age Of Fishes Museum. The Museum is a testament to the town's rich history of fossils dating back to the Devonian era about 400 million years ago, and the Museum houses a cavalcade of slabs immortalising 100, sometimes 120, ancient species found in the bottom of a Canowindra billabong. It's a small museum but it's still great to see evidence of our storied history in such small regional town.
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Our lunch stop is at Taste Canowindra, a bottleo-come-restaurant that hosts musicians like Christine Anu every now and then. Owner/manager Bob takes it upon himself to seat himself at our table with his laptop (very cute) and pop on YouTube videos of the artists playing there soon, while we dig into my first taste of Balmain bugs seasoned with lemon and olive oil.
Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory is a repurposed flour mill built in 1935 and when you enter its age is starkly obvious. Everything is rustic and either made of copper, old wood or corrugated tin - there are crooked rusted hoes, pitchforks and fire stokers hanging from the ceiling. The smell of licorice immediately envelopes you and there are even golliwogs for sale (how did they ever even exist?). Our chirpy guide Gab explains through the entire process of creating organic licorice in a really simple way and we watch a few other employees undertake the art of chocolate-coating almonds, strawberries and licorice. Finally we play a couple of games of vertical licorice bowling (I'm awesome off camera, but bomb as soon as I get on Periscope. Go figure), but Gab takes pity on the embarrassment I now have to face and gives my partner and I both prizes. Win!
We make it to Wagga Wagga and check into the Mantra Pavilion - which resembles a circus tent but is actually a really cool hotel.
Our next appointment is with Pennie Scott at Eat Local farmer's markets. She's the vivacious founder of the series of markets, greets us like she's known us since birth and introduces us by name to every one of her vendors, who are selling everything from relish, fruits, handmade soaps and oysters. Every vendor is up for a chat and we even touch base with the owner of the Junee Licorice Factory.
There's a young high school band, Polar Groove Club, dishing up mostly instrumental tunes. The singer/guitarist is chilling on a seat: he's having a knee reconstruction and he offers, "There's screws and everything. There's a real party in my knee." The others look after a cajón, a Fender-strat and a sax, and as we leave the markets, I realise our short time with Pennie really captured the warmth and southern hospitality of Wagga.
Thirsty Crow Brewery is just opposite our hotel. It's a bustling bar and brewery and shortly after we arrive, we're shown around one side of the beer hall, where the brewing vats live. The brewery have a lot of unique beers on offer - one of their most renowned is the Vanilla Milk Stout, but they also offer such creations as the Liquid Bacon or the Murder Pils.
We're brought out Dumpling Roulette on the house and I, Uppy "no chilli please" Chatterjee, score the spiciest dumpling I've ever had the misfortune of experiencing. The bile that rises up my throat is akin to Satan's vomit and despite the fact that I only kept the dumpling in my mouth for a mere three seconds, it burns for ages and we have to grab milk from the bar. The Brewer who showed us around throws us a cheeky thumbs up from across the room. Now, my weak attitude to chilli has nothing to do with the battle my mouth and oesophagus is fighting right now - there's a solid warning on the menu about the dumpling, too - "seriously, it will ruin your night." After my recovery, we fill ourselves up with a number of bar dishes - the popcorn prawn is a MUST-TRY.