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Satay chicken—one of the bus’ most popular dishes

Review: The Mandalay Bus

Michelle Brotohusodo

You don’t need to be in Canberra long to become familiar with many of its icons. Spend a weekend in the capital and you can easily recognise both Parliament Houses, the carillon, and the giant swirly thing at the National Museum of Australia. Spend a little longer, however, and you become acquainted with some of the lesser known, but very quickly recognisable icons like the bus shelters, the Belconnen owl, the Drakeford Drive moth (which I totally thought was goldfish until I googled it just then)…and the Mandalay Bus.

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Trevor Dickinson’s (Newcastle Productions) awesome drawing of the old Mandalay Bus

This year marks a decade since I moved to Canberra. For most of that time, the big yellow bus in Braddon was a mystery to me. I saw it often, but had no idea about its significance. Was it a remnant of a time gone by? A political statement? An art installation? Why was it there? Then I began to hear stories that it had once been a food truck (well, bus). These stories were confirmed in 2013, when an announcement was made that the Mandalay Bus was re-opening for business at the end of that year.

Despite living in close proximity to Mandalay, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it took me pretty much a year after it re-opened to finally make it there. My brother, on the other hand, was (and still is) a very frequent visitor, and did his best to convince me to go there. In hindsight, all he had to do was bring some of their food home for me to try…but more on that later.

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The Mandalay Bus now

My first visit to Mandalay at the beginning of this year was on a late night quest for something to snack on. I wandered over with a friend, who got a Canberra dog, while I opted for something sweet: a crepe with marshmallows, peanut butter, Nutella, and banana. It was a delicious dessert-y dream (and I’m craving one now thinking about it again).

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Mandalay’s wickedly delicious crepe.

I had my first taste of Mandalay’s savoury offerings about a month later, when my brother brought home some takeaway: a Canberra dog (hot dog with cheese, bacon, and onion), and satay chicken with kimchee on roti.

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The Canberra dog—Mandalay’s take on a classic.

All I probably need to say about this is that my brother said I could have a try, and after having one bite of each, I ended up eating almost all of both of them myself (sorry bro!). Yes, they were that good. Apparently some of my brother’s friends like the satay chicken so much they often buy two serves at a time.

Satay chicken—one of the bus’ most popular dishes

Satay chicken—one of the bus’ most popular dishes

My next visit was with a friend from Sydney who was down for a weekend. After first dinner and a Brumbies match we were ready for a second dinner, so off to Mandalay we went. We got the Canberra dog and satay chicken, as well as the Mandalay fried wings, which were sweetly sticky and very, very moreish.

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Mandalay’s fried wings–sticky deliciousness.

 

My friend loved Mandalay so much we ended up there again the next day after a night out, so she could try the triple chilli wings she’d spotted on the menu the night before. Being a chilli wuss, I don’t think I was game to try them, but she said they were amazing, and she ate the whole lot in one go.

Mandalay’s fried wings–sticky deliciousness

The chilli chicken wings are as hot as they look.

I’ve had a few late nights at work recently, and have been really grateful that the Mandalay Bus’ opening hours means I’ve been able to grab a decent dinner at a not-so-decent time. Plus it means I’ve been able to justify eating their Spanish almond cake with baked custard and apple puree, because it’s totally deserved when you’ve been working hard, right? This cake is currently only on their specials board, but both my brother and I are hoping it moves to the permanent menu.

The Spanish almond cake.

The Spanish almond cake.

Speaking of the specials board, on my most recent visit to the bus on Wednesday night I decided to be adventurous and try their special for that day, which was chicken feet yum cha style (in addition to a serve of Mandalay fried wings and more Spanish almond cake). While eating chicken feet still weirds me out a bit, the sauce on these was amazing. Thinking about it now I should have cooked some rice to eat with the leftover sauce, it would have been awesome.

Chicken feet yum cha style

Chicken feet yum cha style

There’s still so much on the menu I need to try—not to mention the ever changing specials. As I was writing this, my brother was raving to me about the waffle cut fries and mozzarella sticks (these have never been brought home – I think it’s a mix of how much he likes them plus maybe a (justified) fear of me eating all of them), and the Burmese chicken coconut noodles.

But it’s not just the food that makes Mandalay special. The atmosphere is great and the service is fantastic. I’ve been served by Stew all the times I’ve been there, and have been really impressed that he makes a real effort to learn his customers’ names, and I’ve heard that the others do too. As my brother said to me, it’s not just a business to them, it’s a community. And we are lucky that it’s here in Canberra.

The essentials
The place: The Mandalay Bus
Where: Cnr Lonsdale and Girrahween Streets, Braddon (in the carpark next to Haig Park)
When: 6pm-late Wednesday to Friday, 7pm-late Saturday
Food: A real mix, including Burmese, Chinese, Spanish, ‘gourmet fast food’ (for want of a better description), whatever’s on the specials board. Almost everything is $10 or less.
Drinks: Soft drinks
Contact: Call 0405 551 782 or visit their website

If you liked the look of the Mandalay Bus drawing by Trevor Dickinson, you can check out more of his work (including other Canberra icons) at his website or Facebook page.

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Michelle Brotohusodo

Michelle moved to Canberra vowing to stay for two years, tops. 10 years later, she’s a bona fide Canberra convert. When she’s not working in her day job as a public servant, she’s enjoying Canberra’s culinary delights or finding fun things to do/see in and around town. More about the Author

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