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.
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.
With 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.
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. I 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.
Leaving 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.
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 and 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.
“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.
In 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