On Sunday September 8, a local culinary legend is quietly hanging up her apron at the Old Bus Depot Markets.
It is time to go, she has fed the hungry masses each Sunday for a quarter of a century, but Fekerte is already feeling tugs of grief at the thought of leaving.
“Being at the markets has been my identity in Canberra for so many years. I’m sad!” she said.
The Old Bus Depot Markets (OBDM) turn 25 years old next month, and Fekerte and her Ethiopian food stall have been an integral part of it since day one.
OBDM founders Diane Hinds and Morna Whiting, dreamed up a weekly market with music, jewellery, artists and great food. They envisaged their food stalls providing tastes from around the world and needed authentic African flavours.
Through word of mouth, they discovered Fekerte and she launched her Ethiopian food stall on the first day of the Old Bus Depot Markets.
“I’d never had a market stall before and we only owned a small car,” Fekerte recalls. “So Diane and Morna gave me space out the back to store my shop structure during the week.”
It’s been about relationships and community at the markets. Fekerte speaks about her regular customers with real fondness and knows many of them by name. They have shared history together over the years. They and the stallholders have become family to Fekerte and she will dearly miss seeing their faces and hearing their news each week.
“I am now feeding the second generation; regulars who came to eat at Fekertes as children with their parents”, she explains.
“The kids grow up, move out of home, and they still come to order my food.”
When they first arrived in Canberra, an ocean away from her extended family in Ethiopia, Fekerte did what comes naturally to her. She drew others in and created community around herself and her family unit.
Her culinary legacy originated when she began cooking food in her kitchen for friends. Fekerte’s reputation grew and she expanded to cater for larger events and friends’ parties.
Twenty-three years ago, I had her cater my sister’s 21st birthday. Having grown up in East Africa, Ethiopian food is how we mark special occasions, and Fekerte created a sumptuous feast for the celebration.
Why are the vegetables in Fekertes stews as organic as food can get? Community, that’s why. The folk in Fekerte’s neighbourhood are close; they grow and share their produce with each other.
Her own back garden is full of garlic, chilli, tomato, basil and her neighbours supply her with fresh onions, carrots and silverbeet.
Most of Fekerte’s early catering orders came from Canberran families who had adopted Ethiopian children and wanted them to stay connected to their Ethiopian roots and continue eating Ethiopian food. Fekerte rolled up her sleeve; she catered, gave Ethiopian cooking classes and showed the parents how to plait their daughters’ hair the correct way.
As her food stall thrived, the opportunity to run a restaurant was the obvious next step and for 10 years, Fekertes in Dickson served up huge sharing platters of sour spongy injera dotted with various wat – Ethiopian stews.
However, just as the season for Fekertes in Dickon ended six years ago, now the season has arrived for Fekerte to farewell the Old Bus Depot Markets.
Canberrans can breathe a sigh of relief, as she does not plan to stop cooking injera bu wat altogether. “Cooking for people is what I do!” she exclaimed when I asked her.
These days, from Monday through Friday you can still get your Fekerte fix at New Acton. Fekerte is serving her food from 11-3 pm in the Makeshift space at 2 Phillip Law St.
Fekerte, thank you for sharing your food and your smile with the Canberra community at the OBDM for so many years. And thank you, for drawing us into your awesome community.
Fekerte’s last day at the markets is September 8. Be sure and drop past to wish her well before then.
The Old Bus Depot Markets are located at 21 Wentworth Avenue in Kingston.
They are held every Sunday from 10-4 pm and Fekerte’s food stall can be found at the back section where all the hot food stalls are located.