For one weekend in February, Civic (Canberra speak for city centre) is transformed by stalls, beers and music from across the world. What we love most about the NMF (Canberra speak for the National Multicultural Festival) is that much of the food is prepared by community groups, families, consulates and super tops aunties. It is so different from the usual noodle markets filled with expensive stalls serving food from restaurants located just a few hundred metres away that you can go to any old time.
Sniff around at this festival and you will find dishes, in fact whole cuisines that you would be very lucky to find in a restaurant. This is hard core b-kyu, homestyle food and plenty of street food.
The biggest queue we saw was for this soccer club-run Greek stall with rows of BBQ lamb over hot charcoals and heaped plates of honey sweet loukoumades. Next popular was a monster queue for langos, Hungarian fried bread and shots of spirits. We also saw lots of folks lining up for gozleme which seems to be ever present at any festival, and most amazing of all people actually eating at the Hogs Breath Cafe when a load of amazing food stalls was around the corner. There's no helping some people.
Peruvian food was featured through a few stalls, the food van Mr Papa had a spot next to a Pisco bar. Dangerous.
The queue for the Flavours of Peru stall was too long for us to wait. Missed opportunities abounded here, there was just so much to try.
Lots of our favourite types of food were here. This Pinoy Delakasi stall was tempting, but we were trying to save our stomach space for something new.
Yes, this is Civic folks.
We got back to our Celtic roots by getting into some haggis. There was fierce debate: black pudding or haggis on a roll?
The haggis roll won out, it was like a gamey savoury mince roll. Wish we made room for the black pudding one. We also realised too late we could have had a mix of both on one.
This Sri Lankan stall was run by the Lankan Lions Cricket Club, showing constant footage of Sri Lanka playing. They sold Lion beers for a $5 to an eager queue.
These sweet, stodgey Tongan donuts were very popular and only a buck each.
Many of the stalls were manned by lovely folk who served up their finest home cooking without any flash, almost like a fete or country fair style. If we hadn't been so far from home we would have bought up a truckload of this stuff and saved it for eating later.
Newtown's African Feeling has a food truck, who knew? Hope it's cheaper than the restaurant...
We give the Sicilian stall a crack, Alison gets a Sicilian beer called Messina...
Shawn goes for a rum baba - cake soaked wet with booze with a racing stripe of custard. Awesome.
Many of the stalls were run by church groups who are used to putting on a big fest for their community.
Bent Spoke Brewery up on Mort Street had a stall selling their craft beers (which we had a poke at later over the weekend), looks like they were off enjoying the goodies as well.
Alison was drawn to the Egyptian 'nothing over $5' stand. And the bright red fez on top each head.
A dish called koshary was the drawcard, a classic Egyptian street food of pasta, lentils and chickpeas, topped with chilli sauce and loads of fried onion.
A few of the Pacific nation stalls served a fruit drink called Otai that made us regret we didn't have a slug of vodka or rum on hand.
The Tongan Lu was Shawn's favourite feed of the trip: hunks of salted beef, most probably tinned as per tradition, steamed with coconut in taro leaves. Coconut and fatty meat are a good combo, but when those juices soak into the taro leaves, oh mama it's good. The side stodge of taro and cassava seemed not quite ready yet, but we didn't care. The 'Yummy Otai' drink is a mix of coconut, watermelon, mango and pineapple: drink and dessert all in one. These were very popular.
We grab another Pacific Island snack because this stuff is hard to find. We go for some Island nachos: super crunchy cassava chips topped with fried bacon and onion, with an optional sour cream dollop on top. It will kill you, but what a way to go out, eh?
The biggest lump of Korean BBQ you'll ever see.
Two snacks from the Timor Leste stall: steamed savoury rice and coconut milk and sweet creamed corn parcels. Potential future travels started forming in our heads based on a few bites.
Not a plate of Mongolian beef was in sight, but beers were readily on hand.
There's a queue of fifty odd folks lining up for the Langos, fried bread topped with cheese. There was a secondary queue for the shots of spirit.
The Malaysian stall also has a big queue but we were saving our stomachs for stuff we'd never tried.
We finish up with Moroccan sweeties, a jam filled soft ring coated in peanuts, balls of crushed chocolate biscuit and best of all, a fennel spiced biscotti style biscuit that we would have bought the lot of if we could.
There was way more food than we could ever hope to try, had we not other commitments we would have eaten there all three days. Alison regrets most not getting the Peruvian beef heart skewars. Shawn regrets not trying at least one of the many African stalls. Next time, this one is going in the diary for next year.