It might not be the best time of year for eating dinner outdoors, but when it comes to street food, even the cold winter nights aren’t keeping Canberrans away. This weekend I ventured out of winter hibernation to find Canberra’s best street food as voted by you in last week’s call out.
From the votes, it was pretty clear that Braddon leads the pack when it comes to the street food scene in Canberra. Miss Van’s Street Food at Westside got a few votes, but the rest overwhelmingly supported the food vans in Braddon.
There were two vendors, in particular, that stood out above the rest – Mr Papa and The Mandalay Bus. Over two nights this weekend, my partner and I rugged up and went out to try both.
First up was Mr Papa, a Peruvian food van located at The Hamlet on Lonsdale Street in Braddon. For those of you not acquainted with The Hamlet, it’s an outdoor-indoor space, described by some as an ‘urban village’, with a whole range of street food vendors and pop up shops for local creatives. Mr Papa is one of the resident food vans. After kicking around Canberra’s markets for a while, its permanent spot in Braddon now means Peruvian street food can be enjoyed most days of the week.
Mr Papa’s menu isn’t big, boasting only four options, but for its small size it really packs a punch. We tried the chanchito ($12) – a pork belly sandwich Peruvian-style, and the vegetarian empanada ($7) – a savoury stuffed pastry. The pork belly in the chanchito was delicious, the sweet potato gave it a nice hit of sweetness and the yellow hauncaina sauce was mysteriously good. The empanada was really good too, but a bit unusual – I wasn’t expecting the pastry to be dusted with icing sugar, but the savoury-sweet thing really hit the mark, especially topped with that delicious hauncaina sauce. The only downside was the chanchito bun, which wasn’t up to the same standard and a little underwhelming.
The next night we made our way up the road to The Mandalay Bus, the big yellow double-decker bus located at the end of Lonsdale Street near Haig Park in Braddon. If you don’t know what bus I’m talking about, you should head on over to Braddon to check it out – you can’t miss it, it’s big and yellow with the word Mandalay plastered across it. The Mandalay Bus is a Canberra icon which reopened at the end of 2013 after founder George Thaung closed up shop in the early 90s.
For a food van, Mandalay has quite an extensive menu including some pretty unusual items like chicken feet or jellyfish salad. While the idea of trying something different was tempting, we instead played it safe and ordered the spicy pork tortilla ($10) and the jalapeño poppers ($9). The tortilla was big, delicious and toasted to perfection, the pork was well-seasoned and the sauce tangy. It wasn’t super spicy, but there are about a million sauces on offer if you need an extra kick. The jalapeño poppers were my pick of the night, jalapeño peppers cut in half, stuffed with cheese, crumbed and then deep-fried – they had that perfect oozing cheese thing going on. It was all kinds of delicious.
Picking a winner out of these two was no easy feat. Mr Papa and The Mandalay Bus both serve up delicious street food, pretty quick and for a good price. However, in the race for Canberra’s best street food, The Mandalay Bus wins it by a small chanchito bun.