Two guys and two pie holes

Updated: 2013-02-24 09:20

By Belle Taylor (China Daily)

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A pair of Australians open up wide to share some favorite grub with Beijingers, and Oz expat Belle Taylor sits down for a chat between bites.

Two guys and two pie holes

Matthew Wong (left) and Andrew Papas say the meat pie symbolizes what Australia is about. Photo by Feng Yongbin / China Daily

In Australia, every major city, beachside hamlet and country town will almost certainly have three things - a pub, a bakery and a Chinese restaurant. You would be hard pressed to find an Aussie who hadn't enjoyed a plate of jiaozi or a dim sum lunch, but how many Chinese can say they have eaten the great Australian dish, the meat pie?

"You haven't actually been to Australia unless you had a pie there," says Matthew Wong, born and bred in Sydney and now living in Beijing. "It's completely symbolic of what Australia is about."

If you can't make a trip down under, never fear, Wong, along with business partner and fellow ex-Sydney resident Andrew Papas, are bringing some balance to the Sino-Aussie culinary exchange and are introducing China to the joys of a pie.

Their shop, Two Guys and a Pie, has recently opened its doors in Beijing's Sanlitun, giving residents of the capital an opportunity to get a taste of this simple but hearty dish.

An Australian style pie is a pastry with a savory filling, usually beef with gravy, and often accompanied with tomato sauce.

"A pie is just a very humble kind of food," Wong says. "You don't need to make it too fancy, it's what Australia is all about."

This simple approach is reflected in their Beijing shop. It's a tiny space, there is only room for a couple of stools for customers to eat at a counter, and a small warmer for the pies and their close cousin - the sausage roll. The biggest extra Wong and Papas provide is an enthusiastic Australian "g'day".

"You are introducing Australian culture," Wong says of the chatty atmosphere in the shop. "You get a lot of people come in and you get to tell them about Australia and for a lot of people it is their first time eating a pie, so that feels good."

Wong and Papas had both been living and working in Beijing for a number of years before the idea for Two Guys and a Pie came about.

Wong came to Beijing in 2008 to work in marketing at education exchange company IES Global, which is owned by his mother. He continues to work with the company while helping to run Two Guys and a Pie. Papas initially came to China in 2001 to travel and learn Mandarin. He fell in love with the country and wore a number of hats - from English teacher to tour guide - before finding his true calling, he says, as pie ambassador.

Two guys and two pie holes
A sausage roll and a meat pie. Photo by Feng Yongbin / China Daily

"We both came from Australia," Wong says, "and our love for the same football team brought us together."

The two friends would occasionally get together, talk about their homeland, and discuss the one thing they struggled to find in China - a good meat pie.

"One time I actually brought in a few packets of Four'n Twenty," Wong recalls, referring to an Australian pie brand. "I smuggled them onto the plane."

They were experimenting with recipes to sate their own hunger when they noticed an online forum for expats had a discussion running about the dearth of pies in the Chinese capital.

"Andrew said, 'Let's just write a reply in there and see what happens'," Wong says.

Before they knew it, they had half-accidentally started a pie delivery business, providing pies to foreigners craving a taste of home.

"Andrew likes taking risks while I am a bit more conservative," Wong recently told Agenda magazine in Beijing, "which makes us a good combination for doing business together."

It took about a year to open a shop front, and it means they are now reaching a wider customer base, with more Beijingers dropping by to discover a taste of Australia, and often getting a bit of cultural exchange in the mix.

"It's still predominantly foreigners, 80 percent foreign, but we get a reasonable number of Chinese and a lot of them do come back, which is good." Wong says.

And he believes China might just be able to develop a taste for the humble pie.

"We were thinking we could do a few shops across China, obviously that's a long way from happening but that's a nice dream to have and you've got to start somewhere," he says.

Who knows? With time, a pie shop might just be a staple of every Chinese city and country town.

The restaurant is located in the north alley of 58 Gongti Beilu, Beijing.

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