For a proper South East Asian food experience you need hawker stalls. Sadly the famous Mindil Beach Night Markets are closed during the wet season, but on Saturdays there are the Parap Markets. We skip the hotel breakfast and head straight there to start our day.
First impressions are great, with tents and vans selling fresh fruits and cooked foods. We order skewers of Indonesian style satay chicken and beef from the Sari Rasa van. The satay sauce is good. Next door is Yati’s laksa and B joins the queue and orders one bowl. Meanwhile, I have found the twice winner of the Darwin Laksa Festival, Mary’s, and order two bowls of laksa.
It’s a pity it wasn’t the other way around. Yati’s is real Malaysian style curry laksa. Not sure what Mary’s is, with cabbage and sweetness inside, but it’s not what we were looking for, yet the queue keeps growing for it.
A number of the stalls are Thai and look straight out of Thailand. The roti wraps are really good, we try one with chicken korma and another plain roti. The curry puffs are quite nice too. Alex and B eat all the spring rolls before I have a change to try. We buy some Thai sweets for later and some fresh herbs and vegetables for cooking. The fresh curry leaves smell so good and just need some prawns or crabs to cook them with!
There are other stalls selling handicrafts, clothes and even history books. We wander through the crowds before heading off as the day is starting to get warmer and our legs tired.
Our next stop is a regular supermarket for those essentials to sustain us at back at the apartment. That’s the problem when travelling, you often can’t bring along the little things you need in cooking.
After dropping off the shopping, we return to the city to Crocosaurus Cove, a tourist attraction dedicated to crocodiles and other reptilian wildlife in the Northern Territory.
Housed entirely within a building, you wouldn’t have a clue that it existed but for the sign at the front entrance. It was very different to the crocodile farm just down the road where I used to live in Central Queensland, but despite what I thought was my familiarity with the animals I actually learned a lot.
We arrive part way through the feeding of a rat to a black headed python, before the young presenter hands around a juvenile and a blue-tongued lizard for holding. The northern blue tongues have paler skins than their southern cousins due to the warmer climate and reduced heat absorption requirements.
All but one saltwater crocodile had been relocated here due to an inclination to eat livestock and any breeding females they had been introduced to. Kind of like federal politicians right now.
There are interesting demonstrations of crocodile jaw strength and a fascinating turtle talk. The reptile displays cover a wide range of species. There is a life sized replica of a komodo dragon in front of the perentie display and I struggle to see how they could have ever mated, which is something I recently read about.
The aquarium another surprise, with huge barramundi and giant whip rays amongst the other large fish gliding through the tank.
Eventually the heat wears us down and we retreat to the car, taking a drive out to Mindil Beach, before Alex insists we head to the waterfront and the wave pool.
I’m glad we did. The waters of the pool are a huge relief from the heat and humidity. There are boogie boards and float rings to borrow and plenty of shallow areas for young kids. The real fun happens when the wave machine is triggered and we bob up and down and body surf. They give it a decent run too.
We emerge from the water feeling much better for it, but also very hungry, for our breakfast has worn off and the daylight savings enhanced time zone change means our stomachs think it’s dinner time.
Our first attempt of Chok’s Place in the middle of the city is unsuccessful as it is closed for the weekend. So we drive out to the Laksa House (Warung Ibu Amye). It is run down, bare bones and quintessentially Asian. We order three bowls of laksa and sit at the side, where the garden section has been decorated up for a big event. Loud Country and Western music plays, then Amye herself appears.
Upon discovering that we are from out of town she assumes that we are hear because we saw her featured on the Amazing Race Australia or some cooking show. She tells us that she has even authored a cookbook with Pete Evans (I’m not sure I’d admit that these days because he is now a kook, not a cook). She says that a couple of race contestants are coming back for some reception tonight and that we must try her barbeque chicken.
So I return to the front and order the chicken. One difference between Darwin and South East Asia is the food prices. This is not a cheap meal, nor were the others earlier today. Fortunately I have just enough cash left (and it has been a cash kind of day).
I recall that I have read about Amye before, but sadly not watched her on any of those shows. We have relied on the magic Google to direct us.
The chicken arrives first and it is indeed excellent, with sweet kecap manis sauce, lemongrass flavouring, salad and rice.
Then the laksas come and we are already rather full. I assume they are Timorise style laksas, with more sliced wombok, bean sprouts, tofu, egg and chicken than thick noodles and a sweet flavour. More like Mary’s than Malaysian or Singaporean, and less to our taste. Obviously the Darwin Laksa Judges have different tastebuds to our own.
I have had various laksas from across Malaysia and Singapore, ranging from thick curry sauces, Penang assam laksa (and the less liked Johor version), Hoi Yin in Kuantan, Sarawak laksa and, my favourite, the Singaporean Katong laksa and its cousins with their strong belacan and lime leaf components. But obviously Darwin’s populace is more Thai, Indonesian and Filipino than Malaysian. That’s okay, at least we are trying something new!
That is also enough laksa for now. Looking forward to trying some other dishes over the next week.