Isn’t it fortuitous that food is at the heart of culture and eating is a universal language? The humble dumpling or slice of pizza can therefore be a delectable passport to experience other cultures… with the added bonus that you won’t be filling up your suitcase with kitsch souvenirs.
Canberra is the perfect hybrid of multiculturalism and food aficionado, meaning it is possible to take a trip around the world of food without the long haul flight.
Condensing Canberra’s impressive selection of multicultural eateries into a list of five not-to-miss destinations would be a challenge for most. There is an abundance of exceptional street-food style vendors at places like the Hamlet, Westside Village and various markets and events that occur across the city, not to mention Dickson as a hotspot for Asian eateries. Some might even be so bold as to include a certain furniture shop’s Swedish meatballs on their list of international cuisines of Canberra.
The following list will appeal to those looking for aspects of authenticity… a slice of a foreign country to be savoured at home.
142-152 Mawson Place, Mawson
Packed to the gunnels with dried pastas, oils, cured meats, cheeses, chocolates and other delicacies, Tutto Continental is an Italian mamma’s larder complete with Italian locals. A place to simultaneously do your groceries and graze on Italian meats, cheeses or paninis, you can have long chats to passionate Italians about making woodfired pizzas or pastas from scratch… a great way to practice your Duolingo Italian.
Stacks of different varieties of dried and cured meats are piled next to wedges of pecorino, manchego and reggiano amongst others ready to slice at your desired thickness, while dried sausages and herbs hang from above and over 60 varieties of dried pasta line the walls.
In the summer sit outside amongst fresh herb planters and foosball tables while you nibble on cheese, slurp down fresh made pasta or munch on crunchy cannoli with a creamy chocolate hazelnut filling that explodes out the end as you take a bite.
Pick your time to venture here though because the deli line can move at a cracking pace of an Italian mamma with a food coma, or perhaps that’s just the Italian way – refreshingly unaffected by the bustle of life.
Iori Japanese Restaurant
41 East Row, Canberra City
A domineering samurai statue greets you as you enter Iori, Canberra’s hidden Japanese gem located discreetly in the middle of the Civic bus interchange.
From the outset it is obvious that this little Japanese eatery draws eclectically on both Western and Japanese influences. Kimono-clad waitstaff greet you at the entrance and show you to either a normal western-style table, a high stool perch at the sushi bar with full view of the chef, or to the conventional Japanese dining space where, only after removing your footwear, you’ll find yourself kneeling beside a low table to dine. Light pine-wood decor, and Japanese art pieces feature the walls, while lanterns hang from the roof and give the restaurant and warm and cosy glow.
The menu is as eclectic as the restaurant itself. Expect all Japanese delights like bento boxes, sushi, sashimi, tempura and hotpots featuring everything between wagyu, eel, onson eggs, and of course a large selection of sake.
Don’t be surprised if the chef comes to serve your meal and have a chat – the friendly hospitality makes you feel like you are a welcome guest in a Japanese minka.
Le Tres Bon
40 Malbon Street, Bungendore
There is a romantic ambience surrounding French cuisine, and it doesn’t get any more romantic than a rustic farmhouse cottage in a country town. Just 40 minutes from Canberra in the municipal of Bungendore, Le Tres Bon is a French restaurant serving up a traditional French fare.
Chef Christophe Gregoire and his wife Josephine are passionate about combining both local and French produce with French techniques and heritage. The infamous escargots of course feature on the menu, as well as fois gras, duck confit and crème brulee. If you’re not sold on the escargots, just wait until the waiter or waitress asks you in their French accent, those slippery morcels will disappear before you can say merci beaucoup.
Neat table-clothed tables adorned with fresh flowers sit beside a rustic red brick fire place feature, amongst framed pictures of France hanging on the walls.
If a dining experience is not enough, Le Tres Bon also hold numerous French cooking classes at the farmhouse, and run gourmet tours to France and New Caledonia.
Rama’s Fiji Indian Restaurant
Corner of Macfarland Street and Pearce Shops, Pearce
Tucked away in the unassuming suburb shop of Pearce is a Canberra institution frequented by loyal patrons for over 25 years. Rama’s is the unusual but undoubtedly successful fusion of Fijian and Indian cuisines, run by a team with an incredible memory for names, and a passion for feeding friends old and new. After being greeted into the restaurant as if it were a family home, you’re fully immersed in the lavishly gold and crimson hued decoration, making you feel fully absorbed in the moment.
The menu is as rich and opulent as the restaurant’s ambience. Deeply spiced and comforting flavours are consistent to the whole menu. Whether it be the crispy pillows of samosas drizzled with a sweet tamarind sauce, or the creamy butter chicken, you’ll be wanting parathas to mop up all the delicious juices.
38 David Street, Turner
Polish is a cuisine not commonly seen, but in Turner at the White Eagle Club there is a restaurant called Polo energetically serving up polish feasts. Among schnitzels, bigos (a traditional hunter’s stew) and pierogi (polish dumplings) Polish sweets such as paczki (plum jam doughnuts) draw inquisitive customers.
With a busy events calendar including Pierogi & Pint Nights, or Paczki & Vodka deals show Polo’s enthusiasm for the enjoyment of a satisfying Polish feed, and sharing specialty beers, vodkas and family recipes from their home country.
The cultural experience does not end after the vodkas however, as every second Saturday they hold a market with a plethora of Polish goods to delight in until your hearts content. Paczki and freshly baked rye bread are some of what to expect, along with a variety of other unpronounceable Polish sweets and delicacies.
So next time you think of jumping on a plane, a culinary tour of Canberra may be just what you need to cure you of any feelings of wanderlust you may have.