On the weekend we decided to go to our very first mussel festival, held annually at the Portarlington Pier. It was a beautiful day, and the long car trip from Melbourne down the coast had made us all hungry and so we eagerly anticipated the awesomeness of fresh mussels, delivered in the unique way that only festivals can! We all kind of expected there to be mussels cooked in all manner of unique and tasty ways. I think we all secretly wanted our own "wish" flavour to be present, I was hopeful for some Spanish style mussels, and I think Daz was pretty much happy with anything.
When we arrived at Portarlington, the sheer mass of people congregated on the pier could only be a good sign. So, stupidly we thought that the epicentre of the festival HAD to be at the end of the Pier. Nope.....wrong, it was in the other direction.
Portarlighton Pier, with lots and lots of people.
So we decided we should walk to the end of the Pier. Past the quaint Jazz band and fishing die-hards who despite the amount of noise and people around, were still hoping for a bite. Along the way I was getting a little bit suspicious. I would look at the people walking back from the journey and no yummy mussel morsels to be found. Not even the scent of the bounty that awaited us. I really thought that was odd. Then we started seeing more and more people with large boxes, obviously filled with fresh mussels, to take home and cooked to your liking. I all of a sudden got a terrible feeling that there would be no cooked mussels to speak of, and the only mussels present here today were the kind you would have to prepare yourself. Thankfully, after some quick investigation work from the detective in our group, Miss V, we discovered we needed to walk up the large hill behind us, and there we would find all the splendours that would make our day perfect. So off we went.
Crowd of people walking along the pier
One of the many vessels on the water that day
Once we got to the top of the hill, there seemed to be all of the sort of stuff you would see at any run of the mill festival, German Gourmet Sausages, Dutch Profiteroles, wine/olive oil tastings, ice-cream and 'you name it' funky jewellery store.....but.....no mussels! We walked to the very end of the main drag, and there we saw a line of people. Lines made up of people at festivals are a good sign. A) it means you've found the right thing and B) it means that it will be GOOD. So we got in line.
After a little bit more investigation work, care of me this time, we discovered there were only two places that were selling mussels and the flavours were; Larger, cream and thyme (which in the end I think was white wine instead of larger) and Garlic, tomato and chilli, all with crusty bread.....to soak up the juicy goodness. So we bought our tickets, at $10 a pop, and got into the right lines, left for chilli, right for cream. Soon thereafter all hell broke loose (well not really I just like to over exaggerate).
At first they were cooking each pot of mussels using fresh mussels. Which was very time consuming, the lines did not seem to move at all. Not to mention that there was only one man person flavour station.
Poor guys slaving away in the heat
Soon after they abandoned the idea of cooking them from fresh and started bringing out large boxes of what looked like half cooked mussels. The lines then started to move again. Woo hoo! Then it looked like the guys were going to get a bit of help. An assistant came to help. She was to take the bowl of mussels from the guys and then hand them out. She managed to totally stuff it up. At one point she announced there was no more bread. When Miss V said to me 'oh man they've run out of bread' I said, what are you talking about there is stacks of bread over there (I pointed to bags of bread). The assistant must have given out 10-15 bowls of mussels without bread until one patron pointed out the bread to her. Oopps.
Then she started selling tickets from the very front of the line and handing out mussels, they obviously hadn’t been waiting in line and got to jump the queue. At one point we notice she was giving out mussels without exchange of money or tickets. Then, to top it all off, she totally ruin the whole organisation of the lines. She started handing out whatever flavour the patron wanted. People had figured out that if you got into the cream line she would just give you what you wanted, and hence holding up the chilli line, which now was very long. We waited an hour for our mussels. After we got really grumpy, Miss V pointed out to her what she was doing (by the way, she is officially my hero now). She stopped doing it for about 3 seconds and then went straight back to what she was doing.
I had been through the line and collected my cream mussels, the other guys were in the exact same position as me to get their mussels in the chilli line. After all the stuffing around this girl did to the organisation my mussels managed to get stone cold by the time the other guys finally got the chilli mussels dished up. I asked for a heat up, and the guys were nice enough to just give me another bowl.
Finally, hot and juicy mussels
Mussels baby.....ooooh yeah!
After all that waiting I would love to say to you that they were the most delicious mussels I have had the pleasure to eat, but unfortunately....they were terrible. Because the wok's had been working away all day long, and the ingredients didn’t seem to be put back into the pot to restart the process, it just tasted like old gym socks.
In the end, we walked back to the end of the pier and bought ourselves some mussels to cook up at home. I made my own version with white wine, garlic and cream and I finally got to satisfy my mussel expectation. I must say though, the batch I cooked up, after three days in the fridge were really fresh and flavoursome. I don’t know what these guys did to them to ruin the flavour.
On the way back to the car we saw a doughnut van. I was really puzzled by the picture on the side. They were called Devil doughnuts, I can explain the diaper, maybe it was a baby devil, by why the elf ears?? Strange.
Despite the let down of the quality of cooked mussels, it was a pretty good day. Daz got sun burnt, I got to each Dutch profiteroles, Miss V got to buy some sherbet and rekindle her youth days and Mr V got to play with army trucks.....but that’s another story.