In the far north of Australia, closer to Bali than Sydney, the sparsely populated, blisteringly hot “Top End” still feels like a frontier province. Despite its remoteness, Darwin, the biggest city in this tropical region, is remarkably cosmopolitan. Known as Australia’s gateway to Asia, it has a 135,000-strong population featuring over sixty nationalities. You can find authentic Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi food here, plus countless fusion options.
The best place to sample this diversity is the twice-weekly Mindil Beach Sunset Market, 3km northeast of the city centre and home to almost 200 stalls. On Thursday and Sunday evenings during the “dry season” (end of April-October), it seems as if most of the city is here. The market is a hive of didgeridoo players, yoga demonstrations, tarot card readers, masseurs, and vendors selling everything from goat’s milk soap to crocodile-skin handbags.
Although you can find stalls offering souvlaki, roast lamb shanks and freshly-shucked oysters, Asian food dominates. Highlights include: Borneo Intersection, which serves Indonesian-Malaysian dishes like jackfruit curry and chilli tempeh (similar to tofu); Gourmet Sushi, whose rolls feature ingredients such as local fish barramundi, kangaroo and crocodile; and Bangladesh Curry Kitchen, which produces a fine okra-and-tomato curry.
First-time visitors, however, should head to the Darwin Laksa Co. A hot, spicy, coconut-rich soup served throughout Southeast Asia, laksa has become a fixture on menus across Darwin in recent years. For $10 (around £6) you get a steaming bowl of potent yellow-orange broth packed with noodles, sliced chicken, pork, beef or prawns, and a spongy cube of tofu. After customising the laksa with help-yourself sprinkles – ground peanuts, crispy onions, chopped coriander and chilli sauce – the only thing left to do is to join the locals on the beach for the sunset.
This is a longer version of an article that was first published here.