Many Belconnians drive right past The Hungry Buddha on their way to Westfield without a second glance. But make no mistake, this restaurant’s prayer flags (the coloured squares fluttering from its second-story location) are a beacon, guiding you and your tastebuds to a unique cultural taste experience.
The design is simple and inviting. Atmospheric lighting, clever use of the space and lots of greenery set the scene with large windows looking out across Belconnen. Owners Amin and Lachhu have provided another window, one that gives diners a glimpse of Nepal. Up and to the right as you walk in, a painting rests high on the wall.
Don’t just pay it a passing glance. Stop and take it all in. The way the artist has captured the sunlight dancing across the Himalayan peaks is pure magic. Layers of landscapes draw you in, from the tropical Nepalese village in the foreground with green rolling hills behind to the villager walking along a rickety bridge over rushing water. Drink the entire scene in, and then you are ready to look at your menu and begin a Nepalese feast.
Amin describes The Hungry Buddha’s approach as fusion food. “It’s straight Nepalese with a bit of fusion with Indian dishes and dishes from Sri Lanka. There is also a Burmese fish curry on the menu. Our menu pulls them all together.”
“We try to keep the menu clean and simple. Our main dishes have never changed on the menu. In fact, the menu has not changed its prices since we opened 10 years ago.”
Head Chef Ammar is The Hungry Buddha’s original chef. He has worked in India, Dubai, along the South Coast and now in Canberra. He learned Nepalese cooking from his grandmother, highlighting rural Nepalese flavours of onion, tomato, bay leaves, turmeric and fresh chilli, ginger and garlic.
Ammar recommends diners order The Hungry Buddha’s Daal Bhat, which is the traditional Nepalese plate and is the foundation and definitive cuisine of Nepal.
We begin with Mo, a serving of four steamed chicken dumplings served with a spicy tomato chutney. The plump dumplings are full of chicken and herbs and the chutney is a unique dipping sauce with a tasty tang and a kick of heat.
The chicken chilli is a vibrant dish. Crispy pieces of battered chicken tossed with fresh vegetables, spices and a sauce redolent of sweet and sour, maybe with some tamarind in it. It is a hearty and flavoursome entrée.
Our first main is Jhinge Takari. This tiger prawn dish is a rich fusion of Nepalese and Thai flavours. Nepalese spices infuse a lush paste of lime leaves, lemongrass, and coconut milk and juicy prawns soak in all the flavour.
Our other main is Khasi ko Masu. Goat curry! Of course, we need to try this traditional dish. Think tender bone-in goat pieces in a rich onion-based gravy with sweet fenugreek and cinnamon notes in among the garlic, ginger and tomato base. This is a mild curry that’s utterly delectable. Remember to savour each mouthful and take care with the bones.
Ammar tells us, “the goat curry is the restaurant’s signature dish. It is cooked on the bone for added flavour”.
The Hungry Buddha co-owner Lachhu Thapa remains deeply involved with the restaurant, but his life focus and purpose transformed when massive earthquakes devastated Nepal a few years ago. Driven to help rebuild his homeland, Lacchu and friend Lou Nulley formed a charity called REACH for Nepal. REACH for Nepal stands for ‘rebuild, educate, assist, children, community, help’. The Hungry Buddha caters for the REACH for Nepal gala dinner and has done so since its inception. This year’s gala dinner is on 17 March. While seats are nearly sold out, donations for the auction on the night are most welcome.
The Hungry Buddha is open from 5:00 pm to 9:30 pm seven nights a week.