Tag Archives: Canberra

Sunday Splurge: The Old Bus Depot Markets

13 Aug

The Old Bus Depot Markets

Last Sunday, I spent my first morning in Canberra aimlessly wandering around Kingston to become better acquainted with my new home.   Mostly, I came across leafy neighborhoods and apartment complexes, as well as Green Square, where friends and families gathered at cafes for Sunday brunch. 

Eventually, I happened upon the Old Bus Depot Markets off Waverley Avenue and was delighted to see a big warehouse full of bustling activity, with a set-up of about a hundred stalls, selling food, houseware, clothes, collectibles, antiques and other trinkets.   The market is modest-sized—it’s smaller than Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market or Bangkok’s famous JJ Market—but this made the market approachable and easy to navigate.

It felt like stumbling upon a gold mine–I had spent most the morning strolling through the eerily quiet suburb, with a waning hope that I’d find much stimulation. 

By that point, I was tired from hours of walking, so I had a glance around and resigned to come back the next week, fresh and hungry, to take full advantage of what looked to be a food lover’s oasis. Old Bus Depot Markets

The following Sunday, I skipped breakfast, waited until I felt sufficiently starved, then headed to the Old Bus Depot Markets.  It was a beautiful winter morning in Canberra—not a cloud in the sky with a refreshing chill in the air, perfect for spending an afternoon at the market.

Coffee vendors were strategically positioned at both main entrances, catching the incoming shoppers who needed their morning cup of Joe before facing the lively market.  I waited in a long queue, under the usual zombie-like trance that precedes my first cup of coffee, as two baristas quickly cranked out cup after cup.  The coffee was made with Wagonga Coffee beans, and my flat white was hot and strong without being too bitter.

Old Bus Depot MarketsWith caffeine in my bloodstream, it was time to explore the market.  I headed to the lower level where the food stalls were set up, most of which offered samples to shoppers.  I walked around and tried different olives, cheeses, jams, fudge and nuts, revving up my appetite.  Normally, I feel slightly awkward about sampling if I’m not sure I want to buy the product, but there’s no shame at the OBDM.  You’ll be surrounded by hundreds of others doing the same, some making second and third rounds at the sampling tables.  If you’re a more serious sampler, there’s always a representative on standby, who will tell you how the product was made and where it comes from. 

Old Bus Depot Markets

I headed toward the back of the warehouse, where a circle of lunch stalls served customers fresh food cafeteria-style.  It was a diverse selection, including Laotian, Ethiopian, Mexican, Spanish as well as stalls dedicated to pancakes and potatoes.  Everything looked and smelled delicious, but I narrowed my choice to the cuisine I hadn’t tried before—Ethiopian.  Fekerte's Ethiopian CuisineI ordered a small portion of vegetable curry and chicken coconut over rice from Fekerte’s Ethiopian Cuisine, thanking God I didn’t get the large because I felt full after three bites.  It didn’t look like a lot, but Ethiopian food is dense and seemed to expand once it hit my stomach.  The meal was sweet and hearty, serving as perfect “comfort” food, and I’d like to try the spicier dishes next time.

Old Bus Depot Markets

Don’t need to tell me twice!

Old Bus Depot MarketsLeaving the lunch area, I stopped at the most vivid and interesting stall in the warehouse, where one man was serving orange juice and warm drinks.  He did an excellent job of creating atmosphere, piling up crates upon crates of bright oranges and hanging a giant orange decoration overhead.  Colorful signs advertised his products, and a large painting of lush fields was propped overhead.  Steam spiraled out of three giant pots, where hot drinks promised to quench a winter’s thirst, stopping shoppers in their tracks.  I wasn’t particularly thirsty, but between the display and smell of spices wafting from the pots, I couldn’t resist.  Carrying out the theme of “trying new things,” I opted for the mulled wine, in which giant cinnamon sticks simmered.  Mulled wine is a popular Christmas drink in England and warms Australians during the winter, but hasn’t caught on back in America.  Old Bus Depot Markets

One sip of this drink will bring you back to a Christmas Eve (in the Northern Hemisphere) by the fire, as snow falls outside.  Mulled wine, with its careful mixture of spices, sweetness and hot wine, has the power of warming you to the core of your soul—it’s that good.  The stall (Jo’s Juice) also sells spiced apple cider, a hot honey, lemon and ginger drink, as well as lemonade, orange and apple juice. 

I ventured out to the other food stalls and browsed a collection of teas andGlenbog Fine Teas even noticed someone selling chia seed.  There was a lot on display, such as homemade pastas, pizza, bread, honey, chutney, curry paste, meats and sauces.  Every product was local and advertised as fresh, made with quality (often gluten-free) ingredients.  For many small food businesses in the area, the OBDM is a great opportunity to make a debut to the community.  A shopper doesn’t have to wait every Sunday to buy a product they like—most of the stalls have a shop, phone number or webpage to put through orders.

At this point, my mouth was watering at the sight of cookies, chocolate and muffins, making it time for dessert.  I probably made five laps around the food market before coming to a decision, since there was tempting macaroons, fudge and baked goods spilling from all directions.  Finally, I stopped at the Divine and Delicious stall and gazed in awe at their dessert cabinet, filled with muffins, cupcakes and brownies. 

Divine and Delicious

“What can I get you?” the girl behind the counter asked.

“Uh…uh…uh….” I stammered, at a loss whether to get the white chocolate macadamia blondie, the caramel and hazelnut fudge slice, or one of the other ten items that looked life changing. 

Divine and DeliciousIn the end, I chose a pecan and chocolate fudge slice, and divine and delicious it was.  The brownie was dense and moist, each bite providing chewy, sweet and nutty goodness. I went back to the stall to write down Divine and Delicious’s information and was floored to see that I had unconsciously ordered something gluten-free.  Who know gluten-free could taste so good and so unhealthy?

Feeling full and satisfied, I left the market and went to a nearby park for a walk, to ease the effects of a gluttonous afternoon. 

But what are Sundays for, if not to splurge and feel guilt-free afterwards?

The Old Bus Depot Markets are open every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  An upcoming event is “Green Savy Sunday,” on September 16th, in which the market will be geared toward sustainable living and stalls will focus on products that have been recycled or made with low energy or using organic techniques.  Find out more about the markets here- Old Bus Depot Markets


Alice’s Thai Restaurant

10 Aug

I was on my pre-lunch stroll around Canberra’s city centre, scoping the area for the perfect spot to eat, when a row of Japanese restaurants caught my eye from across the street.  Newspaper clippings boasting each restaurant’s excellency plastered the store windows, spiking my curiosity.  However, I never made it to the Japanese restaurants, stopping short at Alice’s Thai Restaurant, in East Row Sydney building.

Alice's Thai Restaurant canberraAlice’s restaurant is inconspicuous–you’ll see the restaurant sign then struggle for a minute to find its counterpart–but a large bulletin board on the sidewalk advertising lunch specials was enough to lure me inside.  The special menu offered ten meal choices for $10, mostly basic curries and stir-fry dishes, rice included.  I’m forever craving Thai food, but outside of Thailand, it’s one of the pricier cuisines.  I find it hard shelling out $25 for meals that didn’t exceed $3 back in the land of smiles.    

Despite its plain exterior, Alice’s inside is a dim-lit dining room thoughtfully arranged, with an authentic Thai atmosphere.  Colorful elephant tapestries hang from the walls, along with photographs of King Bhumibol and paintings of a golden temple and floating market.  There was a faint smell of incense, but I couldn’t find a source to confirm this.

The restaurant had a steady lunch-time crowd, but I was sat and gave my order of chicken green curry within minutes.  I went to the bathroom to wash my hands and wasn’t back at the table for more than two minutes when my meal arrived. 

“Wow, that was fast,” I said, thinking I had at least ten more minutes to chill out and look around before it was time to dig in. 

We all want our meals to come out in a timely manner, but this was almost too fast.  Behind a good meal, there should be some effort in the preparation process, but I suspected this dish might have done a quickie in the microwave.  But who knows, maybe there is a chef for every patron in Alice’s kitchen, and they all bring their A-game, cranking out five-star food by the minute.

I’d say I got what I paid for.  This is the first Thai curry I’ve eaten since leaving Thailand (with the exception of my boyfriend’s attempt to make panang), so perhaps my expectations were too high.  Alice’s is an authentic Thai restaurant, but I’m going to say it’s next-to-impossible here in Canberra to obtain the same fresh and traditional ingredients found in Thailand. 

Thai green curry australiaIt wasn’t the best green curry I’ve had, but far from the worse.  The chicken was thin and rubbery, and the curry a bit watered-down, perhaps lacking in coconut milk.  I was pleased with the amount of spice—mild, but enough to make my face tingle.  There was a generous portion of vegetables, including carrot, cucumber, red capsicum and bamboo shoots. My dining experience lasted no more than 20 minutes, and I’ll most likely forget I ever ate Alice’s after I finish this post.

By ordering from the low-price lunch menu, I may have sacrificed quality, so I’ll come back when I’m feeling less thrifty and order a meal from the extensive main menu (67 options excluding some tasty looking desserts).

Until then, I’ll keep dreaming of Thailand and its culinary ingenuity.

Alice's on Urbanspoon

The Fish Shack

8 Aug

As a newcomer to Canberra, it’s important I find not only a job, a place to live and perhaps even friends, but also a go-to place for fish and chips.

Back in Melbourne, I went to Sea Salt almost everyday, which serves arguably the best-quality, best-priced fish and chips in the city.  I can find no fault in Sea Salt, tucked away in the bustling, hip alley of DeGraves Street.  Between their filled-to-the-brim sushi, juicy fish burgers and quality fresh catch made to your liking, this place can do no wrong.  Their service is consistently friendly and unassuming, which is hard to find in the ever trendy and pretentious food realm of Melbourne.  Nothing will scare me away more from a restaurant than a jaded hipster who casts you aside with once glance and is burdened by taking your order, which is like, you know, their job, but whatever.

Enough spite.  I haven’t had any hipster encounters in Canberra (yet), and for that I am thankful.

My quest today was to find a Sea Salt replacement, which I didn’t expect to be easy.  After reading nothing but positive reviews on Urbanspoon, my hunt led me straight to the Fish Shack, located in the Petrie Plaza off Bunda Street.

ImageThe Fish Shack is hard to miss–just follow the delicious fish aroma wafting through Petrie Plaza and you’ll come across a cute orange hut, which stirred childlike excitement in me.  The design is inviting– even if I hadn’t done prior research I think the set-up alone would have been enough to entice me.

I got there right in time for the lunch rush, and man, it was busy.  The woman behind the counter kept saying, “We didn’t expect it to be so busy today,” in reply to customers who pointed out the obvious.  The staff tackled the non-stop orders with efficiency, keeping calm and friendly even though it didn’t look to die down anytime soon.

I decided beforehand to stick with good ol’ fashioned beer battered fish and chips, but I definitely wavered when I saw the menu.  The Fish Shack is aware of the growing gluten-free trend and provides options for the health-conscious, including steamed fish with lemongrass & ginger, which almost got me until I decided I was way too hungry to be healthy.  The menu stated their beer batter was superior to all because it was made fresh with Burleigh 28 Pale Ale, which I’ve never had, but it sounded good, so I went with my original instinct.  My meal came out to $10.50, a bit more than a Sea Salt outing, but still affordable if it lived up to the hype.

ImageI waited a reasonable 12 minutes and was pleased to see my meal came equipped with lemon and dip (I shook things up and ordered roast garlic aioli over tartar).  It’s a fish and chips sin when an order comes out sans lemon or dip, and there’s surprisingly a lot of places that will exclude one or the other, sometimes both.

When my food was dropped off, I was confident by the appearance that it’d be nothing short of seafood bliss.  The fries (er, chips, excuse the future Americanisms) looked a bit dinky, but it’s all about the fish anyways.

I’m disappointed to say that this was one of those occasions where what you see is not what you get.

I could taste a hint of fish with mostly salt, but the beer batter didn’t make itself apparent to my taste buds whatsoever.  I should have went with the steamed option, because the beer batter wasn’t worth splurging on–I couldn’t detect any distinct flavor.  I finished the small portion of fish (it’s not as generous as it looks in the picture) within minutes and was left with a heap of chips, which were also forgettable.  I was still ravenous so I didn’t hesitate to finish the soft and lifeless McDonald’s-like chips.  Even the aioli dip was bland.  I suspect it was fat-free, which would offer an explanation, but I didn’t stick around to ask.

I’m willing to give the Fish Shack another shot.  It was busy and everyone else seems to rave about their food, so I’d be hasty to write it off just yet.

In the meantime, I’m keeping my eye out for other candidates to replace Sea Salt, whose best catch was its consistency.

Fish Shack on Urbanspoon


Sea Salt on Urbanspoon

The Burmese Curry Place

7 Aug

Alas,  I’ve on embarked on my Canberra food journey…

The first place I stumbled upon was the Burmese Curry Place, which was fortunate because I was craving something cheap, Asian, and of course, delicious.

I moved to town a few days ago and haven’t found a source of cash flow yet, so it’s a time to be stingy.  My objective is to dine-out cheaply until I get back on my feet, which hopefully will be soon because I’ve seen some tempting pricier venues.  I really shouldn’t be eating out at all, opting instead for canned food, bread and butter, but old habits die hard.

The Burmese Curry Place has a stark and spartan set-up—I would have missed it, but the colorful, straightforward restaurant sign pointed me in the right direction.  The dining area is void of décor and atmosphere, but it doesn’t matter because no one eats here to look around or feel comfortable–it’s all about the food. I was so engrossed with my meal that I forgot where I was.  Seriously, I didn’t look up from my plate once until I had scarfed down my meal, in time to notice I had dribbled some rice onto my shirt during the eating frenzy.

Before entering the restaurant, I’d recommend studying the menu and deciding exactly what you want before approaching the counter (Tip: tell the cashier the numbers you want, as in, “I’ll have 2 and 7.”  I ordered the actual food and this threw the woman off..oops) .  This jam-packed place isn’t for the indecisive–during lunch time there’s a queue, but it moves quickly, so be prepared–you’re entering a get-in-and-get-out environment.  The food is served cafeteria-style–it’s already been prepared, but don’t be put off by this–the turnover ensures that you’re meal will be fresh and piping hot.  You can choose two of the nine items over white rice, and I know the menu seems limited, but it’s still a hard choice.  I don’t know what I would have done had there been more options.

During my first visit (yeah, I came back the next day), I went for the fish curry and beef with potatoes.  I’m used to the spicy, coconut-milk based curries of Thailand, so I found the taste to be underwhelming at first, but I added some chilli in fish oil as well as brown chilli flakes, and this complimented the meal well.  The fish was white and moist; the beef tender and savory.  Sometimes I order chicken or beef at cheap Asian restaurants and honestly can’t identify it, half-suspecting that I’m eating someone’s family pet.  Here, quality ingredients are used despite feeding you for a low price ($8 dine-in, $7 take-away).  The portion is generous–enough to leave you full but not in a disgusting, roll-me-outta-here way.

When I came back the next day, I went with the sweet pork and chicken with potatoes.  Whatever flavor my first meal lacked, the sweet pork definitely compensated for.  The chicken and potatoes were nice ( a lot like the beef and potatoes, really) but the sweet pork stole the show.  The pork was juicy with just a bit of spice to accentuate its sweetness.  I want to try all the menu items, but it’s going to be hard steering away from the pork every visit. Had I known…

The Burmese Curry Place has charm in its simplicity and efficiency, and manages to offer something to most palates, so if you’re passing through City Walk, don’t be put off by what’s on the surface.  You’ll thank yourself (or me, perhaps) later.

Burmese Curry Place on Urbanspoon