Located at the tip of the Northern Territory, in a region commonly referred to as the Top End, Darwin is known for its three Cs: culture, crocodiles, and cuisine.
Australia’s northernmost city and only tropical capital, the city is actually named for another C (Charles, of evolutionary fame) and was officially ‘founded’ in 1869. However, the region has been the homeland of the Larrakia people for time out of mind; it’s the birthplace of the didgeridoo and songlines (ancient paths which are recorded in traditional songs, stories, dance, and painting) cross the land.
While Darwin is the capital city with the largest population of Indigenous Australians, it’s also a multicultural melting pot. The 150,000 residents comprise more than 60 different nationalities and, at the last census, more than 35% of the population had been born overseas. Which certainly makes for a fascinating culture and an eclectic cuisine, but has little to do with the crocodiles!
Actually, that’s not true. Australian saltwater crocodiles (which average 5 metres in length, weigh up to 500kg, and are known to be the largest and most aggressive of all crocodile species) are occasionally part of the cuisine in Darwin; sometimes as steak, more often as laksa – the unofficial dish of the region.
A spicy noodle soup popular in the Peranakan cuisine of Southeast Asia, laksa consists of thick wheat noodles or rice vermicelli and some type of meat served in spicy soup based on either rich and spicy curry coconut milk or on sour asam.
It’s a dish that pays homage to the South-east Asian population in Darwin, with its roots in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Southern Thailand. The name is said to derive from a Chinese dialect, and means ‘spicy sand’, and the taste is said to be divine. And so enamoured are the locals with laksa that they’ve launched a local festival dedicated to the stuff! Ending today, November 24, this month-long celebration has spawned a healthy competition for Best Laksa, a city-wide app, and even a laksa ice cream of “intriguingly curried flavour, topped with crispy noodles, chilli flakes and coriander”! Of course crocodile laksa does make it onto the menu in the more avant-garde establishments, but is typically more expensive. And probably a sight more difficult to catch than chicken.