Rapid Creek Markets in Darwin

I’m always on the look out for the fresh and cheap places to buy fruits and vegetables wherever I am. This morning I headed off to the Sunday morning Rapid Creek Markets in Darwin.

I was thrilled to find a busy market full of shoppers and stalls. This is a proper food market for the locals. Not a tourist market you so often see around the world, selling the same commercialised, overpriced items. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables at very reasonable prices. The focus is predominantly on Asian produce. There were lots of herbs, greens and vegetables that I could not identify. Coming home and Googling has not been fruitful so I’ll just have to go back to ask their names and buy some to try these weird and wonderful things for myself!


Vegetables for Sale at Rapid Creek Market


Lemons and Limes for Sale


Vegies for Sale at Rapid Creek Market


Fruits for Sale at Rapid Creek Market

In addition to the fresh fruit and vege, there were lot stalls selling Asian goodies both savoury and sweet. There were stalls that would make fresh fruit juices and smoothies. Other stalls selling savoury Asian dishes, either pre-made or cooked in front of you. I bought some interesting looking steamed glutinous rice packages. There were numerous other Asian sweets on offer as well. Some of the other weird and wonderful vegetables on sale include Kaffir limes, tiny chillies, pea eggplants, kangkung, four angled beans, bitter gourd, bitter melon and much, much more. There was even a store selling Tau Foo Fah (soybean custard) and Nian Gao, the sweet, sticky rice cake traditionally made at Chinese New Year time.


Fresh Fruit Smoothie Stall


A Collection of Asian Sweets for Sale


Black Sticky Rice for Sale


Sticky Rice Packages with Banana and Black Beans


Thai Food Stall at Rapid Creek Market


Indonesian and Malaysian Cuisine Food Stall


Paw Paw Salad Freshly Made in a Mortar and Pestle

This lady made my paw paw salad fresh as I waited using her mortar and pestle. She asked me if I wanted it spicy and I said “yes!” She got a crazy gleam in her eye as she smiled in acknowledgement and I knew instantly I’d probably regret it! The salad was very fresh and very tasty but VERY spicy, TOO spicy! Next time, I’ll have to swallow my pride and ask for it, less spicy!

The humidity of Darwin’s wet season means I’m sweaty and hot but I’m happy. Nothing like bags of cheap and fresh produce to put me in a good mood and carrying my loot home, I’m feeling great and looking forwards to my Darwin adventure!

Food Crazy Penang – Hawker Food Heaven!

Where in the world do you find the most food crazed population? My pick is Penang, an island off the peninsula of Malaysia. The people of Penang love to eat food, think about food, talk about food, plan around food and argue about food. They will go great distances and queue up for lengthy durations to get the best food. The priority is always the taste. They are happy to forego air-conditioned comfort, sit on plastic stools with rickety tables if it means getting the tastiest dishes. It is a culture that hospitality, generosity and affection are all demonstrated with food.

In my opinion, there are three factors that make the food of Penang so amazing. Simplistically, it boils down to diversity, specialisation and passion.

Firstly, Malaysia is a country where different races live side by side. The three most populous races are the Malays, the Chinese and the Indian people. There are many other smaller minority groups as well. Another group which are represented in Penang are the Peranakan Chinese, Baba-Nyonya or Straits Chinese. These are descendants from the Chinese immigrants that came to Malaysia many generations ago, as early as the 16th century. Due to their many generations of living in close proximity with the other races in Malaysia, Nyonya cuisine incorporates elements from the other cultures to form a cuisine which has a rich heritage, a distinctive combination of ingredients, delicious dishes and pungent flavours. More on Nyonya cuisine later in another post. The diversity of cultures in Penang leads to large diversity of great dishes.

Secondly, street food is huge in Penang. On every street corner, you will find hawker stands. Each hawker stand usually sells one kind of food or variations on the one kind of food. For example, a hawker may specialise in selling Hokkein Mee, a noodle soup dish with a prawn based broth. The hawker may have variations where you can choose to have more toppings on your noodles but it is still at its core, the same dish. Having to concentrate on one dish for income means that the hawkers are incentivised to improve and focus on making the best version of that dish as possible. This specialisation leads to immense deliciousness and for the best hawkers, queues of people waiting to buy their food and the ability to raise their prices due to the high demand.

Thirdly, the passion for tasty and delicious food by the people, drives improvements in taste and quality in the food scene. The people of Penang are a discerning bunch and they are always exchanging hot tips for the best food location. Before a meal is finished, discussion has usually already turned to the next meal and there would have been lengthy discourse during the meal about the merits of the dishes being eaten. I doubt that any shop selling bad food would survive for long in this kind of environment.

The result of all this food crazed madness is an island famed for amazing food. You can eat solidly for a week and not have to consume the same thing twice!

Let’s have a look at the delicacies I consumed when I visited Penang. I’ve broken it down into 2 categories, snack and meals.

Snacks are very popular in Penang. The culture is not to turn up empty-handed when visiting so visits by relatives and friends are usually accompanied with delicious goodies!


Ban Chang Kueh

These tasty pancakes are called Ban Chang Kueh. They are pancakes which are usually filled with sweetened ground peanuts. For extra deliciousness, creamed corn can also be spooned into the centre. The result is an amazing textural and tasty bite with their crispy edges, soft and fluffy interior, a nutty, sweet filling as well as the creamy, slightly salty taste from the creamed corn. Bliss!!



This is another pancake snack. These are called Apom and are made from a batter which contains some coconut milk. Unlike Ban Chang Kueh, these are usually eaten without a filling. When these are fresh, they are flakey on the edges whilst being soft and fluffy in the centre.


Tao Chang – Glutinous Rice Dumplings

These rather unattractive blobs are Tao Chang. They are part of a family of glutinous rice dumplings known as Chang in Malaysia. In China, they are known as Zongzi. They are wrapped in bamboo leaves usually in a pyramid shape where they are boiled. These are laborious to make, tricky to wrap and secured with string. Wrapping the Chang neatly and tightly is essential or else they will not survive the boiling process well. It is a bit of a dying skill. There are savoury Chang filled with marinated pork, mushroom, Chinese sausage, salted egg and/or bean as well as sweet Chang which are to be eaten with a sweet, fragrant, dark sugar syrup. Whilst these are addictively delicious, glutinous rice tends to sit in your stomach like a brick and greedy over-consumption will lead to a very uncomfortable few hours to follow!!


Vadai – Deep Fried Indian Snacks

Putu Mayong

Putu Mayong

Onwards to two snacks which originated in India. Firstly, these delicious deep-fried morsels are called Vadai. These are a savoury, spicy, deep-fried snacks which originated in South India.  Then we have Putu Mayong, a slightly salted, soft, vermicelli like snack which is eaten with desiccated coconut and brown sugar. The “strings” are made with rice flour and extruded on an overturned basket and then steamed.


Lor Bak, Prawn Fritters and Fried Tofu

This plate of yummy deep-fried titbits for dipping include Lor Bak, fried tofu and prawn fritters. Lor Bak is five spiced pork wrapped in thin beancurd sheets and deep-fried till golden brown. These are quite a Nyonya food delicacy and worth trying if you see it on the menu.

Ok, enough with the snacks. Let’s move on to the big hitters of the Penang hawker meals, starting with Penang Char Koay Teow.


Char Koay Teow

Penang Char Koay Teow, is one of my most favourite dishes in the world. Char Koay Teow or Fried Koay Teow is a dish of flat rice noodles usually stir fried with bean sprouts, chilli, cockles, Chinese sausage and prawns. There are many versions of Char Koay Teow depending on the location but by far, the very best is the Penang Char Koay Teow. It’s more spicy, not too sweet and it has a smoky flavour imparted by the use of an extremely hot wok. Char Koay Teow is best fried in small portions. If you mention this dish to anyone in Penang, you will probably start a verbal stoush over the best source of this famous and much-loved dish. It’s not great for your waistline as traditionally pork lard is used for extra flavour but I think this dish is definitely worth those extra calories.

Assam Laksa

Assam Laksa

Another dish which is the pride of Penang is the famous Penang Assam Laksa. This is a Nyonya dish and is different from the coconut based curry Laksa that is more common. This has a tamarind and mackerel based broth. Together with the fragrant mint, crunchy cucumber, sweet/sour pineapple pieces and spicy chilli, you have a balanced, heady bowl of heaven.

Curry Mee

Curry Mee

So if a Laksa in Penang is has a tamarind broth, what if you want a bowl of the creamy, coconut curry type Laksa? Well in Penang, you have to order Curry Mee. This usually comes with “tau pok”, cuttlefish and coagulated blood. The best part of this dish is the “tau pok” which are tofu puffs. These absorb the delicious curry gravy like a sponge and then floods your mouth with this flavourful gravy as you bite into them.


Hokkein Mee


Chee Cheong Fun

Another popular dish is Penang Hokkein Mee. This is a noodle soup dish which combines yellow egg noodles and thin rice noodles with a spicy prawn broth. It is served with all kinds of toppings including prawns, pork and eggs. In this version I have pictured, it was topped with curls of pig skin. The hero of this dish is the broth which needs to be full flavoured and spicy.   

If you don’t feel like a noodle soup dish, you could eat Chee Cheong Fun. This is a Cantonese dish and consists of steamed flat noodle rice rolls. Versions of this dish can be found at dim sum restaurants usually with a prawn or BBQ pork filling. In Penang, Chee Cheong Fun is eaten without filling but coated with a pungent concoction of sweet sauce, prawn paste and chilli sauce.  Whilst this is nice, I prefer Chee Cheong Fun in the Cantonese style with a filling of prawns and a much lighter sauce.


Rice Porridge with Salted Egg and Century Egg

When you’ve had too much greasy hawker food and need to give your digestion a break, rice porridge makes for a lovely lunch. Rice porridge is eaten across Asia with various toppings as a meal or as food specifically for young children, the elderly or the unwell. It’s simple to make and easy to digest because it is not greasy and can be eaten plain and unseasoned. For this meal, my creamy,rice porridge was topped with pieces of deep-fried dough, salted egg, century egg and spring onions. For me, this is very comforting food and feels therapeutic to eat when I’m unwell.

Bihun with Offal

Thin Rice Noodle Soup with Offal

Now, on to the most shocking thing I ate whilst in Penang! I ate a bowl of soupy thin rice noodles and offal. This bowl contained pigs brains, liver, intestine, stomach and kidney. Oh, and also a few pork meatballs! It was quite good. The brains were still quite creamy!

I like that in every culture there are recipes and dishes which include all parts of the animal. Once upon a time, it was critical to eat everything to avoid wastage and possibly even starvation. Eating all parts is also very healthy, for example liver has very high iron content. We have become distant from the eating of offal these days. There are many offal based dishes from many different cultures and they are part of our food history. It would be tragic if they were lost due to some squemishness and a lack of a willingness to try.

Well, this was only some of the food that I enjoyed whilst in Penang. I will write another post about Nyonya cuisine shortly. I think that Penang has the most diverse, interesting and delicious street food scene in the world. Put on your elasticised shorts, visit Penang and eat! It’s a foodie heaven!

New York City on a Budget!

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

I love the buzz of New York City. It’s one of my most favourite places to visit. I love the fact that the population density supports so many small mom and pop owned businesses. Many big cities can start to look very similar with the same globalised, franchised shops in every one. It’s a vibrant, walkable, big city with lots of things happening and fantastic attractions to visit. It is unfortunately, quite an expensive city. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of wonderful things to check out and do if you are on a budget. Here are my favourites.

Check out free attractions.

The stunning Central Park is free, massive and utterly beautiful. I visit every time I am in New York and the park is pleasing in different ways in every season. Check out the Central Park website before you go. They often have free special events and tours. We were lucky to get there when they opened the Hallett Nature Sanctuary to the public. This area is not usually accessible to the public. It’s a pretty, green, rustic haven which is as close to “natural” as you will get anywhere in Manhattan. There were also helpful volunteers happy to discuss their little waterfall or lend you binoculars to spot the cute raccoon sleeping in the tree.

Another free attraction is the 9/11 Memorial Plaza which is set within the footprint of the Twin Towers in downtown Manhattan. It costs to enter the 9/11 Memorial Museum but the plaza is free to access. It’s well worth the trip because the plaza is, in my opinion, is a well executed and touching tribute to those who died.

Suggested Price Only at the Two Big Museums!

The two big museums in Manhattan are definite must-sees in my opinion. Both The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History are utterly massive and absolutely stuffed filled with interesting and often astounding treasures. What is less well-known is that the ticket price at these museums is a suggestion only. You can pay as little or as much as you want. Don’t feel bad paying less. Most Manhattan locals never pay the full price to enter.

This is my favourite painting at the MET. It’s an oil painting by Pierre-Auguste Cot called Le Printemps or Springtime.  Look at this romantic duo, totally and utterly smitten with each other! Beautiful!


Le Printemps by Pierre-Auguste Cot

Go up to the MET rooftop garden

This was by far the best tip I have ever received in NYC. When a French expat heard that I was heading to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, he recommended the rooftop garden. You will probably have to ask the museum staff how to get up to the top because it is a little obscure. Do it! Because the rooftop view is stunning. There is an amazing vista in so many directions. Due to the proximity of the museum to Central Park, you are at canopy level to the trees with a view of the skyscrapers of Manhattan as well. It was such a surprise and thrill to find this extraordinary spot!

MET rooftop

Panoramic View from the MET Rooftop

Look out for “pay what you want” days

Do your research and check if your visit coincides with “pay what you want” times or days at the museum you want to visit. We braved the queue that snaked around the block to enter the Guggenheim museum during a “pay what you want” evening. I’ve adored this Frank Lloyd Wright building since I first saw it. Inside, you ascend the building on an ascending spiral ramp as you view the artworks displayed. It’s a modernist style, clean, white building with curves!

Whilst I love this building, I cannot say the same for the art they choose to display in it. I was so glad that I didn’t pay full price because I thought most of the modern art pieces inside were just terrible!


Guggenheim Museum

Go on “Tips Only” walking / food tours.

I love the “tips only” walking tours concept. These tours are often advertised as “free” and the idea is that you tip the tour guide what you think the tour was worth upon completion. I look for these tours in every city I visit and find the vast majority to be informative, fun and excellent value. How can such a good thing be improved upon? Add awesome food to it of course!! I’ve found in London and New York, there are “tips only” food walking tours. They are awesome. A bit of walking, a bit of history, some trivia and lots of delicious food stops along the way. It ticks all my boxes!!! I did the Greenwich Village food tour and the Flatbush Brooklyn Food Tour. Both were delicious and excellent.

My favourite thing about doing these tours is that you end up places that you would never ever find by yourself. In Brooklyn, we were walking on streets lined with these old style family homes. I would never ever expect these stately, beautiful homes set in green leafy streets to exist in Brooklyn, only a short subway ride from the dense, high rises of Manhattan.


A Pretty Street in Brooklyn

Save money by Self Catering

We all know that you can save money by self catering. It’s also much healthier than eating restaurant food 3 times a day. Healthier for your waistline and for your wallet! Enough preaching, here are a couple of weird and bizarre things I learnt when self catering in New York City.

Firstly, there are no cheap, massive grocery shops on Manhattan. Our preferred choice tends to end up being Trader Joe’s as the prices are reasonable for Manhattan. The crazy thing about this shop is the queue’s. At busy times, the queues for the cashiers snake up and down the isles and there is a staff member at the end of the line who holds up a lollipop sign to indicate that “This is the End of the Line!” I’ve never seen anything like it!

Pumpkin Dog Treats

Pumpkin Flavoured Dog Treats!

Secondly, Halloween is big business in the US. I’m always amused at the efforts people go to with decorating their houses or businesses. There are pumpkin spiced products everywhere including pumpkin flavoured dog treats for your precious pooch! How insane!

Get cheap Broadway Tickets

If you are in New York, you should catch a Broadway show. The tickets tend to be quite pricey. There are several ways you can save money on the tickets. You can queue up for discounted, same day tickets at the TKTS booth in Times Square. Various theatres often hold back a number of seats to release as cheap tickets on the day of the show. Some theatres also hold a ticket lottery about 2.5 hours before the show. If you win, these tickets are at a significantly discount on full price. It helps to do your research to maximise your chances of getting a cheap ticket to the show you want.

If you are in New York for a very short duration and desperately want to see a particular show. You should buy tickets in advance. Many of the biggest named shows will never give out cheap tickets. These tactics I’ve suggested are more appropriate for if you have more time to spare and are less picky about what you want to see.

Use the Subway instead of Taxis

There is no need to use taxis in New York. The Subway system is safe and all of Manhattan island is within walking distance of a subway stop. Wear comfy shoes and ride the subway and explore! One thing I love about Manhattan is emerging from the subway station. There are so many varied areas that every time you surface from the subway, it feels like a different city with its own distinctive vibe.

Walk and Explore

Walking is free and Manhattan island is a very walkable city. Walk, window shop, check out the architecture on the tall skyscrapers and look out for the weird and wonderful just around the corner.

Check out this awesome street art on the side of a building in Little Italy.

Street Art

Street Art in Manhattan

We also found an empty block which had been converted to this charming community garden space. It’s a beautiful, quiet and magical sanctuary amongst the tall apartment buildings. A secret green haven to sit and have lunch or read.

Community Garden

Community Garden in East Village, Manhattan

Look out for special events

Look out for special events that happen during your visit to New York. These are sometimes free and give an interesting insight into the city. New York is such a big city that there is always something interesting happening.

We were visiting New York during the weekend of Open House New York. This is the one weekend a year that selected, important buildings are opened to the public. It’s a chance to check out some interesting architecture and design.

Also held that weekend was the Marco Polo festival. This is a festival celebrating the Chinatown and Little Italy historic districts. It’s only a small festival with a small parade and a stage set up for the local band and performances by school children. I love it because I’m always amazed that in such a big city, there can still be the feeling of community and family.

Marco Polo Festival

Dragon, Marco Polo Festival Parade

Ok. Those were my money-saving tips for New York City. Hope they were helpful. Let me finish up by showing you my favourite sculpture in New York City. This is Atlas holding up the heavens. He’s located in front of Rockefeller Centre. This photo is taken from the back of the statue to catch the blue sky above and the massive Neo-Gothic St Patrick’s Cathedral across the street.


Atlas Statue at Rockefeller Centre