I always wondered what happened to The Mandalay Bus. I might have mentioned this earlier, but back when I first arrived in Canberra, it was just this graffiti’d up yellow thing on the side of the road, and to be honest I was never really sure why it was still there year after year, I figured it was our fantastically speedy government clean up crews at work (I kid) and no one had really gotten around to it yet.
One inspiring story later, I found out that this is actually an amazing food truck and joy was to be had by all! Then it closed. To this day, I don’t really know what happened to it, it was a complete hit, served awesome food to all the night crawlers and was really active and then one day it just all stopped. They stopped opening and there was absolutely nothing on their previously pretty active social media site. No one had a clue where they went, why or if they would be back. Like the sugarman of…food trucking.
Well, we’ve got some good news, The Mandalay Bus is back and the wild rumours seem to suggest that they closed because it was a bit too cold in winter. Yeah, I didn’t know how to make that more dramatic. Anyway I kind of get it, probably just wasn’t worth the hassle. Well, the crew at The Mandalay Bus are back up and serving their Asian inspired after-drink nibblies. The menu is still pretty similar to before, with new elements coming and going as they see fit.
After seeing that it was back and running we decided to head over after some drinks. Looks like word still hasn’t reached everyone yet because it wasn’t too busy when we were there on a Friday night. After looking at their menu for a bit we settled on a couple of plates and sat down, listening to some old school hip hop and rap, I think they had a theme for the night, the tip jar did say, ‘Biggie or Tupac’. After a pretty short wait, we were greeted with the below goodies.
The Canberra dog ($9), an institution that The Mandalay Bus has had from the very start, a dollar more expensive but that’s okay because it’s still just as delicious as ever. American skinless frank, sauteed onions, crispy bacon all smothered in thick melted cheese. This ain’t no dog for the health conscious out there, it’s thick and greasy but that’s me all over, so it probably doesn’t surprise anyone that I love this. The decision to go with a skinless frank just instantly gives this dog an American feel, and makes the sausage itself take a bit of a back seat to the other ingredients at play here, whereas a traditional aussie sausage would’ve overpowered the dog, and a traditional red frank would’ve just sucked. Seriously, who buys those sausages still?!
The one issue I have with this is that to be honest, I don’t think this dog really suits the name of Canberra dog. It’s a fine dog, and definitely one of my favourites in Canberra, but Canberra is not a greasy cheese covered bacon filled joy morsel, it’s more of a, sliced confit duck breast, foie gras papaya salad dog kind of town. Secretly I hate that this dog isn’t representative of Canberra, because it would be a better place if it was.
Some Buffalo wings ($9). A delicious little snack but I’m not really sure they’re buffalo wings. Now I might not know buffalo wings, there might be some sort of..buffalo wing sects and these are the non saucy variety. These wings though, were just drizzled in what seemed to be a sweet and sour sauce, not completely covered in the standard buttery hot sauce. Not sure how much this matters to you people, but they’re not really buffalo wings, I just feel like I need to get that out there.
Now whilst these weren’t actual buffalo wings they were delicious in their own right. The chicken wings were still lovingly deep fried and were really crispy on the outside whilst the meat inside was soft and tasty. To give these a buffalo tang to it, they’ve drizzled these with a sweet chilli sauce that gives it that standard buffalo sweetness, and covered it in spring onions for some great aromas and flavours. It’s actually a bit interesting, whilst not being standard buffalo wings, it had the chilli, it had the sweet, it had all the elements of a buffalo wing, but in a much easier to make (and eat!) form.
Not great if you’re expecting southern buffalo wings, but pretty good if you’re into good wings regardless of type!
Something more Asian inspired, the Crispy calamari noodles ($11) crispy egg noodles with carrots, cucumber and crispy calamari. I was tossing up between this and an eggplant dahl. After thinking about it for a little too long, I made a snap decision and went for the calamari. I can happily say, I had absolutely no regrets after digging into it. It was the perfect late night snack. It was essentially deep fried egg noodles (pretty similar to the ones you get at Chinese, Vietnamese etc restaurants) with shredded cucumber and carrots with a healthy sprinkling of super crispy and light calamari.Might sound pretty standard, but something about this just worked, absolutely amazing and made me not regret going with the more Asian inspired dishes on the menu.
The egg noodles were super crispy, almost like having chips or something. Every bite was just filled with texture. The carrots and cucumber were also crispy however they quickly absorbed the flavour from the fish sauce/nuoc mam sauce that covered everything. This gave the dish all the flavour it needed, savoury but with a hint of sweetness as well. The calamari then topped it off with a more mild flavour and a good type of chewiness. I’ve always been a bit wary about seafood in Canberra, and somehow, a midnight jaunt to a big food bus is what allowed me to face these fears. I hope that this experience can help someone out there as well.
I’ve done this a couple times now, but I ended up getting the Eggplant dahl with rice ($9) anyway. This was freaking amazing! It recently hit me that most people who eat at The Mandalay Bus normally get the more snacky treats like the waffle fries, hotdog, nachos etc. Which is completely understandable, after a couple of drinks that would be all I want too. But! There is so much more to The Mandalay Bus.
Every night there are about three heavier dishes with plenty of Asian influences. My guess is that these dishes are to stay true to the soul of The Mandalay Bus, serving curries like it did back in the day. Every time we order one of these more traditional dishes, you can feel how interesting it is for them to cook it! Next time you’re in Braddon and not feeling too drunk, try one of these goodies out because 1. they’re absolutely delicious 2. they’re pretty much dinner 3. they’ll take you back to the roots of The Mandalay Bus.
Let me talk about this amazing eggplant dahl! I wasn’t really expecting much, as you can see its not the prettiest dish out there. Its just various shades of brown with a sprinkling of white stuff on top. Totally not appetising, but after one bite, you won’t be keen to be sharing any of it! It’s a simple dish with only four elements but together they bring so much flavour and deliciousness.
There is a good serving of rice at the bottom, which fixes in perfectly with the heavily spiced dahl curry. The rice is fluffy and perfect in moisture. The dahl is full of delicious lentils, rather salty on its own but combined with the rice and eggplant, every bite is absolute joy. My favourite part about this dish was the eggplant foam, that’s right fancy schmancy foam and a generous sprinkling of Vietnamese (or Asian, I’m not sure) rice crisp. I don’t know 100% if they’re called that, but for any Asians out there, did your parents ever microwave those relatively small rice paper looking like sheets and after a minute or so it would become like a massive prawn cracker but white with black sesame dots throughout them?! Well, this is what The Mandalay Bus used to garnish the dahl. It was great and it gave the whole curry just that little bit of lightness and a new great crunchy texture. The eggplant foam was amazing, it was like being at a hipster joint but paying less than $10. The favours were quite mild and light. It wasn’t overly salty, which worked great with the dahl. Overall, an amazing dish. I will definitely be trying out more of these traditional treats at The Mandalay Bus, it’s been 2/2 for me so far!
A Popcorn prawns po boy ($11). This was quite different to what I was expecting from a po boy but not in a completely bad way, I suppose that it’s kind of happened a bit with this place, but if they advertise an American item, well, you kind of have to forget about what you expect it to be because it probably won’t be the same. It gets kind of Asian, I mean think about it, you get an American po boy, and you turn it Asian and what do you end up with? You kind of end up with a banh mi, which is the word I’d use to describe this.
This roll contained a Vietnamese salad which included shredded pickled carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts, coriander and lightly battered deep fried prawns. Together they made a super light, refreshing and delicious treat. Each element was absolutely delicious, when I saw that the prawns were deep fried, I was honestly a little bit concerned but they were really light with just a light crispy batter on the outside. The carrots still managed to be crunchy and had a lot of flavour to them from the pickling, the coriander and cucumber brought about refreshing and a different sort of crunch and finally butter, because well, it’s bread. Together these elements brought me back home to Sydney, a Vietnamese salad with some fresh cucumber and prawns, only difference is the bread, which is a fantastic idea. This bun was fantastic but a slight warning, it isn’t massive. Its not your traditional size Vietnamese roll, its about 2/3s the size, I personally didn’t mind, but just some perspective for you out there. My close ups can be huge bear traps.
Can’t say no to some Waffle fries ($9). These increased in price by $1 but they also drastically increased the amount of waffle fries you get, I think you almost get double what we got the first time we ate at The Mandalay Bus, not a bad move because these waffle fries are addictive! I’m honestly not sure how much I can go on about chips, these are deep fried potatoes, if what I say here is going to make or break this purchase for you, you might need to rethink how much you trust me on these matters.
To be honest, I kind of love the cool novelty of waffle fries, they’re like, chips but thick! These are a nostalgic thing for me, when I went to visit Hong Kong, there was this time where I just missed fried chicken and decided to get KFC. When I did that, I found out that at the KFC’s over there don’t serve normal fries, they serve waffle fries as their standard, and they were just so much better than our fries here! Since that day, whenever I travel to a new country, I’ll go and try their maccas or their KFC just to see if it’s got a cool local menu item. Everyone thinks I’m stupid to go overseas and then go eat maccas but dammit it’s amazing. In America they have a triple fillet o fish! THREE FISHES. I feel like I’ve gone off topic here.
Something to cool down, the Homemade lemon iced tea ($2). By the time we walked from the city out to Braddon we were hot and uncomfortable, clearly shows that Summer is in full swing, even though it’s spring. We had to get something to cool down, instead of going for a soft drink we decided to try The Mandalay Bus’s home made iced tea. This was a delicious surprise and had real green or black tea in it. When I took my first sip of this drink I was expecting some instant sweet iced tea, I mean it was $2 for a cup, I don’t expect much from that plus I just wanted something to cool down that wasn’t water. Instead I was hit with a pretty strong tea aftertaste and that got me pretty excited. It was super tasty, a pretty sweet drink overall but there was that great tea after taste that helped to balance it out and also some lemon which made it quite refreshing and helped bring on a scene of Summer.
Again another fantastic midnight snack at The Mandalay Bus. I’m very glad to see The Mandalay Bus is back up and running, we’ll definitely be making plenty of late night trips out to the bus this Summer for delicious wings, snacks, curries, other snack foods and Asian inspired goodies. Its good to see the Canberra food truck scene is back and booming, I foresee a great Summer of getting fat and delicious food ahead of me.