Ayo Eat in Market Square

Victoria offers locals and visitors many places to dine out. With so many choices, it can be difficult to decide where your dollar—and stomach—will find a satisfying experience. When eating out, I look for something affordable and exciting, or a meal I would not normally cook for myself. Recently, a friend introduced me to a genuine Indonesian eatery. Snuggled into a corner on the second story terrace of Market Square (located in the heart of downtown and one of Victoria’s oldest brothel locations) sits the inviting kitchen of Ayo Eat. Although slightly hidden, I am still surprised by the number of people that have not yet discovered this gem. March marked the ethnic take-out joint’s fourth successful year. Anyone that has had the pleasure of trying the food knows why; it is not only deliciously spicy, but also prepared with a great attention to detail.


Although the authentic South East Asian food speaks for itself with rich, exotic colours, the man behind it all is a humble and talented individual who takes care and pride in what he serves. The owner and chef, Bana—originally hailing from Sumatra— moved to Victoria after living in the Czech Republic for several years. Gaining experience in kitchens abroad and then working for a few well-known companies around town, he opened up Ayo Eat in 2010.  His inviting demeanor as well as the enchanting scents that escape his kitchen and mingle with the crisp ocean air entices customers in.

TheownerBanaservinglunchThe impeccably spotless kitchen space is limited, keeping Bana’s menu short and simple. Mellow reggae music can be heard drifting over the veranda as you climb up the stairs towards the brightly painted kiosk in Market Square. Nothing on the menu is more than fifteen dollars and all portions are enough for one person to devour and feel completely sated. During my visit, I was lucky to have some sunshine to keep me company while I watched folks wander about the square with the relaxed sense of approaching springtime.

Perched on one of the two available stools at the cozy wooden mini-bar beside the cabin style door, I listened as Bana told me the story of his gado-gado roll while he delicately prepared my lunch. Known as a salad roll to most, Ayo’s vegetarian version of the common rice paper wrap is called Anjali’s spring roll (pronounced an-ja-lee). Bana named it after a friend he created it for in the kiosk’s opening months and, if that was not enough to make me smile, the price of his spring roll ($ 4.24) is also her birthday.

His menu offers both vegetarian and meat options and is meant for those with an adventurous appetite—his food is incredibly flavourful and makes your mouth water with intense and complex spices. Along with an Angalis spring roll (spinach, crunchy green beans, crisp lettuce, tofu, cilantro, boiled egg, and yam noodles all wrapped in rice paper and dolloped with luscious peanut sauce), I chose the Sate Ayam. This dish has three freshly sautéed skewers of chicken, served on coconut infused rice with either sweet soya sauce or savory peanut sauce, for only $7.50.

With such an affordable price, I find it hard to eat only one! I have tried each menu item more than once and all are equally scrumptious. The other choices on his menu include a traditional coconut-stewed beef (typically served during special occasions or celebrations), chicken fried rice, or a spicy boiled egg, all accompanied by colorful prawn crackers and pickled vegetables. Or a  choose the Green Thai Curry made with bamboo shoots, peppers, and basil with your choice of chicken, prawns, or vegetarian ($8.75-$12.50). It rarely takes more than 15-20 minutes, depending on lunch lines, for your food to arrive hot and ready to inhale. If you happen to be at the end of a line, there are many quirky shops to poke into and if you’re lucky, a band on the Square’s stage to keep you entertained, so the wait never seems long.

Being able to afford a delicious meal here and being greeted with a friendly smile every time I visit makes it a pleasure to be a return customer. I hope to challenge—and convert—many spicy food doubters to this underrated “hot” spot. So next time you are looking to impress your friends with a great undiscovered treasure or grab a quick snack and not spend a fortune, visit Bana at Ayo Eat for an unforgettable experience. Hopefully, the first of many.

You will find Ayo open from Wednesday to Monday (soon to be Monday – Saturday), and you can check out the Ayo website for weekly updates or to see if the business is closing early that day.

– Amy Morris

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