The Enlighten Night Noodle Markets are back for another year. After last year's debut, in which 156,000 people thronged the lawns beside Questacon and the Portrait Gallery, they are going to be bigger - organisers have doubled the market area, leaving plenty of room to sit and chill. There are also more stalls, including 10 new Canberra stalls. Here's your insider's guide.
Japanese Peruvian bites
Peruvian street food: Brothers Carlos Ramirez and Moncho Ramirez with their van Mr Papa. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
You might raise an eyebrow to see popular Peruvian street food truck Mr Papa at the Night Noodle Markets. But you're in for a treat. Carlos Ramirez is bringing one of the most interesting cuisines in the world to the markets. He's doing Nikkei dishes - a fusion cuisine created by the large Japanese population in Peru, which blends traditional Asian flavours with South American food. These include lomo saltado, a Latino take on Asian beef salad, and salchipapa. "It's a very street dish that's pretty much hot dogs and french fries. We get Nikkei style sausages to combine with South American sauces," he says. Ramirez wanted to be involved in the Night Noodle Markets and was keen to showcase the Japanese-Peruvian hybrid dishes. "I was doing a bit of research, saying what can we come up with it. But there's nothing that shows greater influence on Peruvian food than Nikkei cuisine," he says.
Hot pick: Pork belly cooked in sake and mirin on a rice pancake with South American chillies.
The cult bao
Bao Stop Trifecta for the Night Noodle Markets in Canberra. Photo: Supplied
Matt Forwood and his partners have won a loyal following in Sydney with Bao Stop, their pop up bao shop. Now they're heading to Canberra for the first time with their Chinese buns stuffed with pork belly, peking duck and tofu. Forwood says he considers his team part of the "noodle markets mafia" alongside the team from Hoy Pinoy, Black Star and N2 Extreme Gelato. "We want to cook our bao for a lot of people who haven't had it yet."
Hot pick: Peking duck fries
Street boodle from Kusina Filipino restaurant in Canberra. Photo: Natasha Rudra
Canberra's own Filipino restaurant will be representing at the markets this year. Leilani Fox and her brother Jonathan Ora are on a mission to showcase their home cuisine to the capital. They've already turned heads with their monthly boodle feasts - a traditional meal where rice, chicken adobo, pork belly, fish and more are piled onto banana leaves in the middle of a table and people eat with their hands. Now, they're doing a "street boodle", a mini version of this feast, for the noodle markets. You can have individual serves of rice and beef brisket adobo, banana ketchup chicken wings, or sizzling thrice-cooked pork.
Hot pick: Street boodle platter for two - it's got a bit of everything.
Watermelon, rose and strawberry cake from Black Star Pastry. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Last year the folk at N2 Extreme Gelato brought their nitrogen ice-cream to Canberra and this year they're collaborating with hit Sydney bakery Black Star Pastry to create an extravagant dessert that combines one of Black Star's signature dishes - the strawberry watermelon cake - with nitrogen gelato. You'll also be able to get slices of the strawberry cake itself, and cups of N2's Ferrero Reveal gelato.
Hot pick: Cake smash - a combination of strawberry cake and gelato.
Lilotang head chef Shunsuke Ota prepares for the Night Noodle Markets Photo: Jay Cronan
Sister restaurants The Chairman & Yip and Lilotang are two of the city's most upmarket Asian eateries and they're joining forces to serve up some decadent offerings at the Night Noodle Markets - lobster rolls, slow cooked pork buns and a pho noodle dish. Co-owner Raymond Poon says the group is organising a special guest chef from Melbourne to put together the pho.
Hot pick: Lobster roll
An array of Japanese rice bowls are on offer from Canberra's own Donburi Station. The rice bowls are topped with a variety of meats, fish and vegetables. Owner Rob Whalan also runs Kiyamachi Tei, which will offer Japanese noodles at the markets last year. Whalan and his partner were so impressed with the markets last year they're back again and have added the new stall, Donburi Station. "The Night Noodle Markets surprised us, we had a great time. It really added to Enlighten," he says. At Kiyamachi Tei there will be yakisoba, or Japanese fried noodles, and they'll be doing rice bowls at Donburi Station. "It's going to be Japanese stews on rice, really fresh ingredients, it's not something you see here often," he says.
Hot pick: Donburi
Chef 'Budz' leads the Hoy Pinoy cooking crew. Photo: Simon Schluter
The other Filipino offering at the Noodle Markets are Hoy Pinoy, who are back again for another year with racks of barbecued skewers. They'll be offering up chicken skewers with a traditional glaze and pork belly skewers with banana ketchup.
Hot pick: Pork belly skewers
Sakura burger from Everybody Loves Ramen. Photo: Instagram/@littlemissburger
The wonderfully puntastic Everybody Loves Ramen is another Melbourne street food truck that's grown out of Hoy Pinoy's success. Owner James Meehan says he created Everybody Loves Ramen to play with Japanese fusion flavours. You can expect to try the sakura burger - an eye popping pink burger with chicken that's been fried in ramen ("yep, it's dipped in a noodle batter," Meehan confirms) and served in a bun glazed with cherry-blossom sake. There will also be miso butter popcorn, and cups of ramen fried chicken, which have been coated with ramen and served with kewpie mayo.
Hot pick: Hot pink sakura burger
Miss Van's chef Andrew Duong will be selling noodles at the Night Noodle Markets in March. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Andrew Duong has been turning out pho, pork rolls and other delights from Miss Van's at the shipping container village at Westside Acton Park. Now he's coming to the Night Noodle Markets. He's making a Vietnamese chicken curry noodle soup and is teaming with Owen Saddler from Dream Cuisine to do freshly baked custard tarts. "We would have loved to do our pho out there but it's impossible, you need to have your kitchen. But this chicken curry noodle is Nan's recipe from 40 years ago, it's untouched, it's incredible," he says.
Hot pick: Curry noodle soup
Thirst restaurant chef Jeff Piper will be serving up quick and easy snacks. Photo: Graham Tidy
Fine-dining chef Jeff Piper and Justin Kavanagh brought casual but elegant Thai food to Civic with their restaurant Thirst. They're back at the Night Noodle Markets this year and will be serving up quick and easy snacks. "We'll be doing a curry puff, a spring roll, a chicken skewer and a beef noodle salad," he says. "It's all easy food that you can get on a plate and eat without mess."
Hot pick: Thai beef noodle salad
Pink Pham started her street food truck East Street Canberra in July last year, taking a modern Vietnamese menu to festivals and events. She'll be at the noodle markets for the first time. "We'll be bringing some family recipes to showcase some of the other side of Vietnamese street eats - I'm hoping to bring out the younger and funkier side of Vietnamese street food," she says. There'll be vegetarian spring rolls and a "fresh" noodle dish.
Hot pick: Pho spring roll
Soi Noodle Bar
Karaage chicken. Photo: Rohan Thomson
This hip little takeaway on Bunda Street actually grew out of the Night Noodle Markets last year, when owner Adam Elchakak brought his Thainabox stall from Sydney to Canberra. He was so impressed by Canberra that he opened a restaurant here. Soi will appear at the markets with a range of little bites - entrees from the menu - and a noodle dish and refreshing dessert.
Hot pick: Lamb bun
Organisers have doubled the market area this year - both wings of Reconciliation Place will be used.
Divide and conquer - come with a group, split up and join all the different queues. Send someone else to hold down a nice spot to eat, and meet there with your bounty. Or meet at the person in the longest queue (it's probably going to be N2).
If you don't have alcohol, you can take your food out of the designated market area. Stroll around the Enlighten art installations, take the food down to the lake, or sit on the grass.
Take a picnic blanket and make your own dining area
Bring a jumper. It's Canberra - there's always the chance of the temperature plummeting once the sun goes down.
Where to park
■ There's parking all around the area.
■ Questacon and the National Library, off Parkes Place West.
■ On the street at Parkes Place East and West (between Old Parliament House and King Edward Terrace)
■ The National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery, off King Edward Terrace
■ Treasury, off Langton Crescent, Newlands Street and Parkes Place West.
■ Department of the Environment, off Dorothy Tangney Place and Parkes Place East
List of stalls
Black Star Pastry
Chairman & Yip
Everybody Loves Ramen
Korean Twist Potato
East Street Canberra
Let's Do Yum Cha
Soi Noodle Bar
Thirst Wine Bar
Waffles on a Stick
Thai in a Box
The Enlighten Night Noodle Markets run from March 4-13 at Reconciliation Place on the lawns between Questacon and the National Portrait Gallery. Free entry. See canberra.goodfoodmonth.com