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Golden Bowls

Steaming bowls of delicious fragrant broth, teeming with fresh herbs and spices, noodles, vegetables and melt-in-your-mouth meats make laksa November’s dish of the month, as the humble Southeast Asian staple is celebrated at the second ever Darwin International Laksa Festival.

By Tierney White

There’s a lot to love about life in the Top End. The never-ending summer, with the Dry season during the winter months and steamy thunderstorms and moody clouds in the Wet. The friendly people that reside here. The close connection to culture of our First Nations people.

We are proud to celebrate our multicultural community, our weekend markets a melting pot of culture and cuisine, showcasing the flavours of the world. But if there’s one dish that has won the hearts of both Top Enders and visitors to our little slice of paradise, it’s laksa.

Many a Top Ender will agree that the unassuming laksa can scratch an itch like no other. Something quick for lunch? Laksa. Want to impress your interstate visitors? Laksa. Need a feed after a big night? Laksa. A versatile dish equally enjoyed from a weekend market stall or in a sophisticated restaurant. And no-one does laksa in this country quite like Darwin.

Known as the laksa capital of Australia, Darwin’s close proximity to Asia and our wonderful international community that have made the Top End their home, means we have the most authentic recipes hitting our tastebuds – recipes that have been passed down through generations.

Local hospitality business owner Jason Hanna, owner of food haunts including CHOW in Darwin and Good Times Bar & Grill in Palmerston, says laksa is a must on the menu.

“Most food is Asian-inspired, and we’ve been able to get a lot of fantastic Asian cooks on the team who consistently create great quality, authentic dishes. I love laksa – it’s just a really popular dish, particularly at lunch,” Hanna says.

“It started on the menu out at Palmerston, so having it at the other venues made sense. It’s all made in one place and transported to each business, but each one adds extra ingredients and flourishes so they have their own stamp on it. It’s a popular seller everywhere we go.”

This month, you’re invited to embark on a delicious, month-long culinary journey, to sample the best laksas Darwin has to offer.

Although traditionally a savoury dish, other laksa-inspired feeds feature on the menu, including unexpected desserts such as laksa ice cream and panna cotta.

An active member on the Activate Darwin board, Hanna says they’re hoping this year’s festival attracts more entrants.

“This year, we have gone out of our way to identify people who didn’t enter last year’s festival, as we started noticing other crowd favourites that didn’t enter. If I’m gonna [sic] win, I want to win fairly – not because the best laksa in Darwin didn’t know about it!”

These warm bowls of deliciousness are a culmination of local produce, with fresh ingredients sourced from local markets and pastes made from scratch. Most of Darwin’s restaurants source their noodles from a man called Shing Hee Ting – affectionately known as Mr Ting – who produces over 700kg of fresh noodles. Every. Week.

Food enthusiasts can track their Laksa Food Tour and vote for their favourites in the People’s Choice Award through the Darwin International Laksa Festival app. This scrumptious month winds up with a day-long family event at Chung Wah Society, where a select panel of judges decide on the winner of the highly coveted 2020 Golden Bowl. Last year’s winner, Jason Chin of Chok’s Place, says he’s received a significant increase in trade since winning the honour in 2019.

“It’s been a really positive year – business has been very good since the win. Everyday I’m seeing new faces and people coming in to try our laksa. Normally, we would do 10-15 laksas a day but I’ve been doing up to 60 per day. I’ve had to cap laksas, to be honest, just so we can maintain the quality and keep consistent,” he says.

“It was a surprise to win the Golden Bowl. We were a late entrant, so didn’t qualify for the People’s Choice Award and weren't listed. It was an honour to be judged the winner by the panel, including Jimmy Shu and Diana Chan, who won MasterChef.

“To be honest, I think it gave us a lot of respect in the community – we don’t really promote our laksas, but it felt pretty great to be crowned last year’s winner. I felt like I had the right to say I make the best laksa in Darwin!”

Get those tastebuds ready, loosen your belts and embrace the flavours of Asia, right here in D-Town. It’s laksa time!

Laksa Food Tour

Darwin International Laksa Festival

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