Walking into the Old Bus Depot Markets brings a rush of nostalgia.
It’s been years – before the lockdowns – since I lunched at this market I used to frequent. It’s only 9:40 in the morning and already the food vendors I pass by are in full swing, serving up all their hot and cold offerings to steady lines of hungry Canberrans.
There is no agenda today – I plan to sample food from the first few vendors I encounter.
About a dozen South Asian dishes steam in bain maries at Song Laotian Cuisine, including braised pork belly, red and green curries (chicken or vegetable), stir-fried noodle dishes and massaman chicken. A main with rice is $13.
I opt for the Lao basil chicken and pork belly on flat noodles. These plump chicken chunks are the most tender I have bitten into in a long time, and the accompanying green beans are crisp yet al dente. The umami flavours are delicate, the spice factor mild, and I can distinguish the basil infusion.
I somehow missed the memo that there is a new Ethiopian food place, Seni’s, at the markets. The family behind Seni’s are dear friends of Canberra’s beloved Fekerte Ethiopian in Acton.
I watch as the customer in front of me receives a loaded plate, folds of soft injera (traditional Ethiopian flat bread) underneath hearty dollops of curry, just like you would eat it in Ethiopia, with another roll of injera balanced on top. Wow! My family love injera and eat it by the ream, so these generous portions have me salivating. Because my food is coming home to share, my meal is packed into take-home containers.
A large serve of two veggie dishes on rice or injera is $14, a large portion with meat dishes costs $15. I choose the three dishes I know my family like best. The yellow lentils are exceptional, lush in texture and rich with fragrant spices. They’re spot on as a traditional Yekik Alicha. The potato carrot dish is similarly satisfying – tender vegetables in aromatic Ethiopian seasoning. So good!
Last, the chicken and cauliflower dish in a coconut and tomato sauce, delicately kissed by an exotic mix of spices. I hadn’t experienced this dish in my childhood in Ethiopia or Kenya, but it seems to be in every Ethiopian restaurant in Australia. The flavours are very similar to a Swahili coastal dish. We all love it. It goes down very well with injera and rice.
Next, I visit the burek stand – Burek Bakery. Golden, stuffed Balkan pastries! And one of the best things about this stall is that the burek is pre-sliced, so you can select multiple flavours. And when it comes to flavours, prepare to be overwhelmed by choice.
I ask for help selecting and walk away with one cheese burek and a sour cherry slice. You can have your burek crisped up on the spot if you want to eat it right away. I heat mine in the oven at home. I love to eat pastry one layer at a time, and there are plenty of layers to peel through here, from flaky and buttery outer layers down to the tender strips that cover the delicious cheese filling in the middle. The cherry burek is tasty, but I keep going back to the cheese one. Several of the burek options are vegan, including the sour cherry.
The last place I visit on this day is The Cannoli Bros. Their bright blue tent beckons me to a gleaming display of crisp, bubbled rolls of cannoli. One cannoli is $4.50, or you can get 5 for $20.
I try the rare roast beef cannoli with fresh Tasmanian wasabi in a mascarpone chive. The house-made wasabi lifts the mascarpone to another level. The wasabi gently hits the back of the tastebuds and accentuates the tender beef. It’s a fabulous taste sensation.
How do cannoli shells keep their brittle exterior while holding the moist fillings? That big crunch that oozes out velvety chilled filling is just so satisfying.
I buy several of the sweet cannoli as well. My taste buds are flagging by this stage as they are still recovering from COVID; each cannoli I try is smooth and luscious with a sweet, creamy cheese-based filling.
By this time, I am full, and there are plenty of stalls that I have not stopped at. I will rectify this in a couple of weeks. Did I miss out on your favourite dish at the Bus Depot Markets? What should I try?