I often describe Canberra as a hidden city. When giving advice to new arrivals I tell them that you have to do your research, there is plenty on but it is hidden away. It isn't like you can just go into the city and find a heap of stuff to do. However there is one exception to that rule, and that is the National Multicultural Festival.
Over one manic weekend, the city really does come alive in a massive celebration of all the fantastic elements brought to our community by the many cultures present here. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people turn out and the whole centre of the city is cordoned off and filled with stages and stalls. There are bands, dancers, all sorts of festivities but what it is really about is the food and drink. In fact the colloquial name for it is Beer and Meat on a Stick Day.
S is not a big eater but I was determined to eat my way around the world. We actually only had one thing on a stick, a fantastic satay from the Mong Chinese stand. I could have eaten several of these but there were more tasty treats to be had.
Our favourite item of the day was larp from the Laotian stand. We got the very last serve of the day (much to the annoyance of the woman behind me in the line). We had never eaten it before and its rather bland appearance belied its fresh, spicy flavours. We loved it so much that when we got home we quickly started googling recipes.
However it was quite hot, especially with the extra chilli flakes we added so a mango lassi was in order. Unfortunatly it was a little light on the mango, definitely not the best we have had but the yogurt was still nice and cooling to our chilli filled mouths.
A few years ago I travelled through South America, so the Peruvian street food stand caught my eye. We had a Peruvian chilli which I really enjoyed, although S didn't rate it. It was full of corn, beans, potato and meat, I thought it was delicious. We washed it down with Inca Kola, the ubiquitous Peruvian drink. If you haven't experienced it, it tastes somewhat like creaming soda, is luminous yellow and has enough sugar and food colouring in it that I was hyperactive for several hours after.
Finally, I had to get myself a chip on a stick. I've got no idea what the multicultural part of this is, but who can go past a whole potato cut into a spiral, stuck on a stick, battered, deep fried and tossed in your choice of salt flavour (we had salt and vinegar). It was super!
We wandered through the crowded city streets filled with people in national costume, stalls sending out delicious scents and stages where music from all over the world was playing.
In past years S has performed in various salsa routines but this year we just went to cheer on friends. We saw one of dance teachers giving the crowd a meringue lesson (and nearly falling off the stage) and watched friends perform a rueda (a type of salsa from Cuba that is danced in a circle with a caller calling the moves).
The atmosphere was wonderful. Sure it is crowded and noisy, but the sights, sounds, smells are brilliant and the crowd is happy and ebullient - probably helped by the beers of a dozen nations or more that are on tap.
I think Canberra has a very white image. White faced public servants dressed in grey suits. Certainly if you watch the evening news that is what you see. The National Multicultural Festival gives a brilliant insight into what a complex and culturally diverse place it really is and I for one do my best to never miss a Beer and Meat on a Stick Day.