Donuts of Salamanca Market: A comparative essay

“What is with Tasmania’s obsession with donuts?” (Someone I, Sapphire, served while working at a Tasmanian donut shop, 2022)
It’s fried dough, what’s not to love, is the obvious answer, but I think there is something deeper than that. In this essay I will explore the assumption, which is mine, that if you consider that most cultures have a fried sweet dough tradition dating back further than 5 generations then actually it should be argued that donuts are one of the most primal sources of joy known to humanity. Instead I posit a deeper question, who has the best donuts in the state? Starting with the highest donut vendor population conglomerate, Salamanca Market, which houses 9 stalls that sell donuts.

Sapphire wears a black face mask and sunglasses on her head and is standing next to Sommelier who is wearing a light blue shirt and a matching face mask.
The research team
Crowds form around the gazebos and sandstone buildings of Salamanca Markets
The secret to success in both the donut game and the Salamanca Markets game is to get in early. This is at 9am, it gets much busier.

This essay recognises “donuts” as the Oxford English Dictionary does: “a small fried cake of sweetened dough, typically in the shape of a ball or ring” or, less commonly, “a ring-shaped object, in particular a vacuum chamber in some types of particle accelerator.” Miriam-Webster also notes that the term has mathematical uses and can be applied to controlled skidding in an automobile, but as that perpetrates the myth that a donut MUST be ring-shaped I largely disagree with this terminology. This essay also uses the American spelling of the term, though each stall adheres to their own choices between American and British English. Research is conducted in a limited control group of 2 individuals sharing one of whatever the service provider recommends at each of the Salamanca Market stalls that have donuts on the menu. Donuts will be rated according to texture, flavour, price, and customer service. In the interests of full disclosure it is worth noting that we had already eaten an entire $30 box of 5 Lady Hester donuts before we thought to embark on this ambitious research project, so we were starting from a zone somewhere between giving in to all primal urges for donut, and being cognisant of the fact that we didn’t need anymore donut. I call these ‘monkey brain’ and ‘rational brain’ respectively.

Sapphire holds a donut up to each eye like very goofy binoculars.
Finding places to take masks off and eat is tricky, but we found Saint David’s Park to be our favourite, but we tried every grassy patch in the area.

Salamanca Donuts happened to be the closest stall to us when monkey Sapphire took over the brain, so we asked Wendy (all service staff will be called Wendy in the interests of protecting anonymity) for her recommendation.
“I’m usually a chocolate donut girl, but this vanilla custard is incomparable.” (Wendy, Salamanca Donuts, 2022) was her response. The custard donut that turned this chocolate loving Wendy into a zealous convert cost $5, which is firmly midrange as far as Salamanca Market is concerned. The donut was soft and cakey with a deep nostalgia to it. Heavily reminiscent of a very good cream bun. The custard is creamy and has a lighter mouth-feel than I typically expect from a custard which is preferable to me. Overall an 8/10 experience as a prefer more springy, less soft and cakey donuts.

The filled donuts of 'Salamanca Donuts' fill a display cabernet.
The Wendy converting custard donut in question.

The Lokoma stall, ‘Lokomanca’ came next. This particular stall comes with the added treat of watching Wendy splurt the dough into the oil in the background, so you know you’re going to get hot, fresh dough with a side of service razzle-dazzle. It is also worth mentioning that this stall is vegan. Wendy recommended the cinnamon and then shovelled the little balls of yum into the tub with such enthusiasm that there were lokoma rolling in all directions over the counter. $10 will see you with a large serve of small fried dough balls slathered in syrup and a topping of your (or Wendy’s) choice. They were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and warm and syrupy all over. These are a particularly strong choice for families or people who like to share multiple little bites of lots of tasty things. 10/10, a joy to behold.

Watching the Lokomi being made and just generally admiring the display cabinet.

After our giant serve of lokoma the monkey brain was starting to lose a structured debate with the rational brain, who felt strongly that we might be nearing the recommended limit of fried cakes to eat in single day. Monkey brain won and ‘Stand By me Espresso’ came next. It also came with the added benefit of iced coffee which, it turns out, was something we were in urgent need of. Wendy recommended the cinnamon sugar sourdough donut, and gave us 2, even though we asked for one; we suspect because she was deeply sceptical of our ability to share, and because she had no idea the donut strides we had already taken. At $4.50 for 1 or $16 for 4 these are a stunning option for those seeking a quick and easy coffee/donut combo. Texturally there were no faults at all and the cinnamon flavour is present, warming and perfectly matched with coffee. An all round wonderful hub to stop at for a morning pick-up before heading deeper into the belly of the beast that is Salamanca Market. 10/10, loved it.

Glazed and sugared donuts sit in stacks in a display cabinet, a large sign the reads "Iced coffee" in pink writing on a blackboard sits above them.
I think they sell out pretty fast based on how empty the cabinet is at 9 in the morning.

In the interest of journalistic integrity we returned to Lady Hester to find out which donut Wendy would recommend. “I haven’t tried them,” was the utterly flabergasting response, “they’re new today.” (Wendy, Lady Hester, 2022). This is something I know to be untrue as I’ve tasted all these flavours over the years as a long time follower. This was a disappointing response, but not a surprising one. A second Wendy intervened and pointed out that we had already tried them all. We explained that we knew that, but we wanted to know what their recommendations were. We managed to press a very grudging “custard” recommendation, but were generally distressed by the sheer lacklustreness of those allegedly in charge of selling balls of literal primal joy. At $6.50 they are the best donuts in terms of flavour and texture. They have a strong local cult following, but the service was joyless and I’m not convinced anyone on staff tastes the product regularly. The dough is chewer than a typical yeast dough, with a firmer exterior than Salamanca Donuts, the custard is thicker, with a deeper mouthfeel and the sliver of gingerbread on top indicates an extra element of work to make it worth the price. We would rate Lady Hester 7/10 at present, points off for customer service. Would have been a firm 10/10 is service wasn’t a category.

a large sign reads "Lady Hester: Sourdough Donuts" a small display cabinet sits beside the sign with the flavours of the day written on it.
Lady Hester, the flavours change often, and service staff attitudes are also, obviously, variable.

Monkey Sapphire was starting to lose fervour when rational Sapphire stepped in and demanded and ending to this saga. An ending with adequately researched answers! The debate was almost entirely derailed when we embarked on the ‘budget donuts’ part of the adventure, starting with ‘Side Walk Cafe’ a fish and chippery with hot cinnamon or jam donuts. The cinnamon donuts are $1.20 each and jam are $2.50 each. Wendy recommended cinnamon, which was a relief, because we weren’t sure how many more stalls we were going to find donuts at, but we were certain we were nearing our sugar capacity. The donuts were perfectly adequate for the price, perhaps a little too crispy on the outside, but no specific faults. 6/10, a simple, not mind-blowing, not bad.

Thus begins the budget section of the tour. In hindsight we should have eaten a savoury at one of these fine eateries.

‘Oriental’ another fried food stand that threw donuts on for added one-stopitude had Wendy very enthusiastically tossing up between the jam and the cinnamon eventually settling in the cinnamon, but assuring us that the jam was also very good. At $1 for cinnamon and $2 for jam, and range of iced coffees to choose from we found ourselves reinvigorated in our studies. $1 donuts from Oriental, served warm are everything you hope for a donut to be. They are a cosy little treat. A lovely budget option. 9/10, exceeded expectations.

Sommelier sits crossed legged on the grass holding a donut on a serviette.
The best of the best of the budget ones!

‘Spice Lotus’ is a plant-based stall with vegan donuts in the $5-6 range. Wendy engaged us in a philosophical conversation about the importance of basing your recommendations on your mood. We settled on a custard donut after an extended interview wherein our specific needs were determined; we brought an extra challenge to his plate because we were sharing every donut and therefore he had to make a recommendation for 2 completely different people. Spice Lotus has donuts which are smaller than the others in that price range, and a much softer dough without my preferred crunch to the outside. The custard is butterscotchy and very fulling with a more cloying mouth feel than a dairy based custard. 6/10, the custard and the dough were both strong, sweet flavours that competed against each other rather than complementing each other. We strongly suspect the chocolate one would better suit the dough profile though.

Sapphire and Sommelier pose together with a custard topped donut on a brown serviette.
Spice Lotus has a smaller donut, but it does have lots of custard

After ‘Spice Lotus’ we came across another fish and chippery with donuts on the menu. The name of the place was unclear, but the sign read “fresh Tasmanian fish and chips”. I would not typically order a donut from a fish and chippery, as they obviously have their speciality (and it’s not fried sweetened cake, particle accelerator parts, or controlled skidding in an automobile), but rules are rules and rational Sapphire is a stickler for rules. Wendy recommended the cinnamon, but did have to consult a few other staff members to ensure an appropriate level of research was done. At $1.40 they are the highest priced of the budget donuts from unexpected places. The cinnamon flavour was limited, mostly due to too coarse a sugar granule being used, but the dough was hot and crispy. There was a small hint of chip oil flavour to the product which we did agree was hugely preferable to any trace of fish at all. There was a queue for the fish and chips so I am confident they have perfected their speciality and the donuts are just for some one-stopitude. It’s okay to shop around, but these are also an adequate purchase. 4/10, not their speciality.

…starting to doubt the sensibility of some of the decisions we have made this morning….

By now our bodies, as I’m sure you can imagine, were begging for a vegetable. For some reason donuts and coffee in obscene gluttony weren’t satiating, more on that research later. In a flippant bid at vegetable consumption we stopped at a juice stand and bought a celery and ginger juice. While Sommelier waited in line for the juice I continued with the donut reconnaissance. I made it about 3 stalls before coming to ‘Top Nosh’ a tempura mushroom specialist with oliebollen and churros on the menu. This posed a huge quandary for me. As a sulphite intolerant I cannot eat the dried fruits in an oliebollen in any quantity without some intestinal distress (and eating 10ish donuts with coffees and celery juice can have some negative side effects too), but as a stickler for rules I must order whatever Wendy recommends. Also churros, oliebollen and mushrooms are just the wildest collection of things to see in one place, but that is not something this research project is currently judging.

An absolutely bonkers combination of menu items, but they know what they’re about.

Now, this essay, and this essay writer recognise that donuts are typically ring or ball shaped – but that is not at the exclusion of all other fried sweetened dough shapes. By this metric a churro is considered a member of the donut family and therefore up for review. Nervously I asked Wendy whether he would recommend Oliebollen (and my allergin) or churros: “….those…are 2 radically different things” (Wendy, Top Nosh (TN), 2022) he very earnestly explained.
“Yes, but I have to order what you recommend” (Sapphire, deep in the throws of a sugar high and losing communication skills, 2022)
“Then obviously the churros” (Wendy, TN, 2022)
The wait for churros was longer than that of all the other donuts, which was not an issue, fried dough fingers lathered in dulche de leche sauce (Wendy’s pick) are worth the wait, and arrived sooner than celery juice (they were also significantly more delicious – through no fault of the juice’s), and came with a little bag of oliebollen “for you to try, and decide for yourself” (Wendy, TN, 2022), I assume because I was the strangest social interaction he had that day.
At $5 for 3 churros, and $2 for 1 oliebollen (which Sommelier assures me was very delicious “with pillowy dough and little tasty fruit treasures” (Sommelier, letting the monkey brain out for a spin, 2022)). The churros were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and delicious all over. They’re another great option for anyone looking for a family friendly shareable option, or 2 people looking to end an 9 spot, 2 hour donut walk on a high note. 10/10, and Sommelier would like the record to show that he would actually recommend the oliebollen over the churros.

If you just drink a green juice then all the sugar in your body will be balanced out.

What is with Tasmania’ obsession with donuts? Are 9 donut selling stalls in one market too many? Each of these questions has merit, but upon exploration, while the fundamentals of a donut are culturally universal the room for interpretation is so broad that each sample the group engaged with was unique in its strengths and recommendations. The primal desire to fry sweet dough is so deeply ingrained in the human psyche that, even given access to the same instructions and instruments the personality of the provider will show through in a manner that is synonymous with an edible Rorschach Test. We are thrilled to conclude that there are no actively terrible donuts at Salamanca Market, but Stand by Me, Lokomanca, Top Nosh, Oriental, and Lady Hester would be our top picks for anyone looking to do a “Best Of” tour of the market. We can safely confirm that the human body can handle at least 10 donuts within a 2 hour period, so long as you also have an iced coffee and a green juice.

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