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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Karen Hardy

Is something moving at Mandalay? Who else has noticed a fresh lick of paint?

The Mandalay Bus has been given a fresh lick of paint. Picture by Karleen Minney

The Mandalay Bus has been part of Canberra's heart since original owner George Thaung first came to town in the 1950s to work as a chef at the Myanmar embassy.

In those early days, he had a caravan he would park in different places, selling Burmese food from his childhood. He bought the bus which now sits near Haig Park in Braddon in the early 1980s, and for years he filled the stomachs of late night revellers.

The food truck closed down in 1992 after Thaung was brutally bashed and since then it's sporadically opened for short periods. There's even been talk of it being towed away.

But is it about to reopen again?

The G Spot is a Gunghalin favourite. Picture by Dion Georgopoulos

The bus has had a fresh lick of paint. The Canberra Times has reached out to the owners but have heard nothing back.

Canberra has always had a love of food trucks. Braddon is awash with them, there's three literally in the car park of Waves.

Remember The Hamlet which closed in 2017? Or the Westside Container Village on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin? When the Night Noodle Markets, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival hit town there's more food trucks then you can poke a chip on a stick at.

Andrew Dale and his wife Lee-Ann opened Gungahlin's The G Spot in 2001.

In the early days fans would line up for two hours for a burger at Brodburger at Bowen Park. Picture by Marina Neil

He's recovered without a scratch from an incident where he was hospitalised after one of his food trucks down the coast where he now lives exploded in September 2023. He laughs when he says one of the best things about food trucks is seeing the flames from the kitchen right there at the window.

"Ha, maybe that's not the right thing to say given the explosion, but one of the best things about food trucks is that connection with the customer," he says.

"You're cooking, you're talking, you're getting to know people. A successful food van is all about the vibe, the community, as much as it's about the food."

Braddon has always been a haven for food trucks. Picture by Karleen Minney

Dale's daughter Laura, who's previously worked at Akiba and Ginger Catering, has been running The G Spot for five years now. She's still got the original Fat Bastard burger on the menu.

"It's in our blood," says Dale.

That's exactly how Brodburger's Sascha and Joelle Brodbeck feel. They opened the window on the original red van in Kingston's Bowen Park in 2009. Are you really a Canberran if you didn't line up for two hours for a burger? That actual van is now parked in Phillip and they've got venues at the Glassworks and at Capital Brewing and a new Tuggeranong venue isn't far off.

A Burton and Garran Hall formal dinner at Dolly's in 1984. Picture Tumblr

"I grew up around food trucks," says Sascha. "I remember stopping at Checkers after you'd finished at the nightclub and ordering a hot dog and some chips with gravy.

"It was always our dream to put a bit of a spin on that idea."

They love the connection they make with customers, even now.

"I remember being at Bowen Park in the early days and people didn't seem to care that they had to wait," says Joelle.

"They'd sit around under the trees, have a chat to strangers. They could see us cooking and serving in the van and they knew this was a different way of doing things."

The Tuggeranong venue is set to open soon, and Sascha is keen to get back on the hotplate to impart that particular Brodburger brand.

"There's more to it than serving food."

Canberra's love of food trucks harks back to the 1970s when Dolly's reigned supreme in the car park behind where the original Canberra Workers' Club once stood on the city's western edge.

Michael Oliver and Uni Jang have opened the Jandokdae Korea food van in Turner. Picture by Karleen Minney

While it's never been scientifically proven, the large white van, with its burgers and hotdogs and seating made out of upturned milk crates, was the halfway point on a straight line between the Private Bin and Bruce Hall accommodation on the Australian National University campus. Not speaking from any experience at all.

Late at night there'd be an eclectic crowd. In a 1998 interview in the ANU newspaper Woroni, then owner John Baxter said customers were "anyone living in Canberra; politicians, prostitutes, the whole lot."

As well as Dolly's there was The Doghouse in Braddon, Ralph's over in Woden (which became Marty's), Checkers in Belconnen.

As Sascha Brodbeck says, perhaps food trucks have always been about more than serving food.

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