How would you like to win the ultimate Canberra night out? We’re talking a chauffeur-driven…
Living in Canberra has given me the opportunity to enjoy lots of cuisines that I’m not sure I would have tried otherwise, including Filipino, Peruvian and Ethiopian. I can now add Nepalese to that list, after my first ever visit to The Hungry Buddha in Curtin.
One thing I’ve learnt during my time in the ‘berra is that, while there are a lot of great places to eat, the trick is being able to find out about them, as a lot of them can be quite hidden (as are our petrol stations, according to some of my Sydney friends). The Hungry Buddha is one such place.
Located down a flight of stairs between a chemist and a seafood takeaway, you’d be forgiven for not realising it was there if you were running errands or in a hurry. But once you discover it, you might find it hard to forgive yourself for not finding it sooner.
The stairs looked quite old, and I ventured down them not knowing quite to expect. I was pleased to find that the outside belied the interior, which, with its green walls and wooden furniture, felt calm and inviting.
I particularly loved this metal decorative piece, which I later found out was bought on a whim before the restaurant had even come into being.
I perused the menu as I waited for my brother to join me for dinner, not sure if we should ask for recommendations, as we were unfamiliar with the food. One of the owners, Lacchu Thapa, suggested that since we hadn’t been there before, that we just choose what we liked the sound of, and he’d let us know if there was something we hadn’t ordered that he thought we should really try.
It didn’t take long for my brother and I to agree what to order, the main deliberation being about how much food we should get, as he was performing later that night and didn’t want to be too full (he’s a rapper, stage name Nix). We started with some entrées, first some mo:mo, which were delicious traditional nepalese steamed chicken dumplings served with homemade sauce.
While we were enjoying our mo:mo, our other entrée arrived, a Nepali samosa, which was filled with beef and potato and served with vegetables and yoghurt. I really liked the samosa and would have been happy to eat it without the veg and yoghurt, although my brother said he thought it was better with the yoghurt. It’s probably worth pointing out that he was enjoying a rockmelon lassi with his dinner, while I was just having a lemon, lime and bitters. Clearly one of us likes yoghurt more than the other.
After polishing off our entrées, it was time for mains. My brother and I both really like goat, so we’d both picked the khasi ko masu almost straight away, which was a goat curry with fenugreek, cinnamon, tomatoes, coriander, bay leaves, ginger and garlic (and which the menu declared was a famous specialty of Nepal). The goat was really tender and went really well with the sauce.
We thought we’d better be good and get some veggies as well, so the goat was accompanied by a serve of jogi tarkari, a Nepalese style mixed vegetable curry with cauliflower, peas, potatoes, capsicum and bamboo shoots, amongst other things.
I can’t eat curry without some form of carbs, so we’d gone for the exotic-sounding pulao rice, which was saffron rice spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, cashew nuts and peas.
I really, really liked the pulao rice and would have quite happily eaten it on its own (which I ended up doing the next day, as we couldn’t finish it all so yay for leftovers for lunch!). For once I was too full for dessert, but they did have some intriguing sounding ice cream on the menu which I think I’ll have to try next time.
While we were eating dinner, I noticed there was music playing, which I assume was some kind of traditional Nepalese music, and was just the right volume—loud enough to add to the ambience but not so loud that it interfered.
I also noticed that the owners, Lacchu Thapa and Benjamin Richardson, were going around chatting to their customers, which I thought was a nice gesture. When it came our turn to talk to them, I was surprised to discover that they both have full-time jobs as public servants, and that the restaurant is their hobby. That said, I’ve observed that a lot of public servants (myself included) seem to have a creative hobby on the side, whether it be writing, rapping, scrapbooking or dancing, so I guess a restaurant is really just another form of it (albeit on a larger and potentially much riskier scale).
I was curious as to how Lacchu and Benjamin had come to the decision to open a restaurant just for fun. After hearing their story, it just sounded like one of those things that was meant to be—though admittedly with a bit of hard work and a lot of trust, especially given that they’d only known each other for a few months at the time.
They met when they moved to Canberra (Lacchu from Sydney and Benjamin from Wollongong) and ended up living in a sharehouse together. They got along pretty well and at one point had a little venture fixing iPhones. By chance, Lacchu had a relative moving to Canberra who he was helping to find a place—and one of the places that he looked into was owned by a person who’d owned an Indian restaurant for 22 years and was wanting to sell it.
Something made Lacchu think that maybe it would be a good idea to buy the restaurant, with Benjamin as his partner. They did the maths and figured it was achievable. This seemed to be an easier decision than coming up with a name, which took them a few weeks (and might have taken longer if they didn’t have a deadline to register a business name with their ABN). They got a logo by putting a call out on the website 99designs.com.au and, armed with a name and a symbol, could then figure out how they wanted their restaurant to look and feel.
The Hungry Buddha opened in July 2011 and its clientele has been steadily growing since, including a couple from Sydney who came to Canberra just to eat there, and purposely booked their accommodation in Curtin so they’d be nearby.
For those of us who are lucky enough to live much closer, it’s a great place to eat if you want to try something different, and if you’re vegetarian or gluten or dairy free, there are a lot more options than you might get at other places. So next time you’re at a local shopping area running errands, it might be worth slowing down a bit and checking out what else is there—who knows what delicious food you might find!
The place: The Hungry Buddha
Where: 44 Curtin Place, Curtin (down the stairs between the chemist and seafood takeaway shop)
When: Dinner Monday – Sunday, 6pm-10pm
Food: Nepalese food, including lots of vegetarian and dairy and gluten free options
Drinks: Wine, soft drinks, lassi, Nepalese beer
Contact: Call 02 6285 2425, visit the website at www.thehungrybuddha.com.au or check out their Facebook page.
The author and her brother dined courtesy of The Hungry Buddha. But we will definitely be going back, for more goat and to try the ice cream!