The melting pot on the street

National Multicultural Festival 2011

February 11-13


Bustling masses brushing past each other, jostling for position in queues to buy food from street vendors. It could be nearly any country, any big city in the world, but it’s not really an image you would usually associate with Canberra, is it?

And yet for one glorious weekend every year the people in the capital spill out onto the streets to feast and drink and celebrate the rest of the world. This is the National Multicultural Festival, and it transforms Canberra into a real city.

With so much choice, spread across the globe, I always try to sample as much as I can, but to stay away from the things I can get every day. So it was no to Thai and Italian, and yes to Lithuanian and Chilean.

Everyone will have their own favourites, but for me there were a few highlights. From Sri Lanka came hoppers, thin, crispy shells of sour rice flour bread, served with an egg, a basic curry, and some spicy red onions. It is simple, beautifully balanced dish, with the soft cooling egg yolk along side the spice of the curry and onions, and the crunch of the hopper.

We all know that everything tastes better on a stick or in bread. The Bangladeshi stall proved that, when you do both, it takes it to the next level. Lamb skewers, basted in some herbed oil, were served on a barbecued paratha brushed with the same oil. We pulled the meat off the skewer and rolled it in the bread, making for a smoky, meaty sandwich. Exceptional.

Kabapis are Macedonian meat, minced, spiced and cooked on a hotplate sounds deceptively simple. And it is, but it is also stunning. It is rich, juicy, and with as much sexiness as a meatball can be.

There were many other exciting plates that didn’t quite live up to these lofty heights. Hungarian lumps of fried dough, slathered in garlic sauce and cheese were simple but morish. From Lithuania, beef dumplings with sour cream and bacon (the Lithuanians seem to put bacon on everything) made for wonderful drinking food. A spicy banana and polenta cake from Ghana combined  sweet and  hot, and El Salvadorian pupusas, a round dough filled with spiced bean, made for a perfect breakfast. Not to mention the wonderfully rich, fatty Filipino Lechon, or suckling pig.

And then there were sausages, unavoidable at an event such as this. Of your basic sausage, the Croatians had the best for my tastes, although the Germans always put up a good showing.

There were a surprising number of national takes on the humble hot dog. For me, theclear winner was the Chilean Completos, with avocado, diced tomato and mayonnaise. However, there something is to be said about the Danish combination of fresh and fried onion with lots of pickled cucumber, which was tangy and cooling.

And all of this washed down with copious amounts of beer. I mainly stuck to the Eastern Europeans, but the wider choices were there.

Obviously I couldn’t try every dish, and there would have been many other great bites somewhere along City Walk. But that is what is great about this festival. It is what multiculturalism is all about, with everyone demonstrating their own culture, while respecting and appreciating everyone else’s.

I wish that Canberra was like this all the time, but for the moment I am happy with our one weekend a year where we become a truly global city, and live the melting pot. So next year, make sure you’re on the street.


About freehugstommy

Food, films and politics are my triumvirate of passions.
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