Dry Season in Darwin

The dry season has arrived in Darwin and fun events are filling up the calendar! The Mindil Sunset Markets are held twice a week and we’ve had a few wonderful one-off events like the Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival and an Opera Gala with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra on the Darwin Waterfront. The wet season afternoon tropical downpours have stopped and the oppressive humidity has significantly reduced. What a relief! The early mornings are gently cool and the evenings are the perfect temperature for a stroll.

A few weeks ago, the Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival was held and it stretched along the striking Nightcliff coastline. It was stunning to see the colourful coastline and feel the ocean breeze as we perused the food stalls and watched local performers on multiple stages. It’s really heart-warming to see a lovely community events where you can see a diverse cross-section of the Darwin community enjoying themselves.  This cross-section includes the whole bunch of happy dogs in attendance too!


Nightcliff Colourful Rocky Coastline

We made a yummy food discovery during this festival. It must be a Darwin creation! It’s the roti wrap. We had the beef rendang wrap. Tender, flavourful beef rendang, crunchy fresh carrot slivers, satay sauce all wrapped up in a giant roti paratha. It was filling, tasty and portable. Perfect festival food! (Sorry, too busy eating for a photo!)

Tree Roots

Tree with Exposed Roots

Check out this picture of a tree on the Nightcliff coastline. How often do you feel like that in life? Like the very roots anchoring you have become exposed and you may collapse into the crashing waves and rocks below. I have to return to this spot. I think the tree is probably still standing straight and tall because it’s roots actually go much deeper and it can withstand much more. (I hope so anyway, to make my life analogy more inspiring!)

Last night, we had a magical evening of opera under the moon and stars at the Darwin Waterfront and only for the cost of a gold coin donation. Some of the big names from Australia’s Opera community sang some operatic highlights whilst accompanied by the Darwin Symphony Orchestra. What a cultured event made totally accessible to the average person!  Nothing better than laying on a picnic blanket with a few delectable nibbles and being treated to a display of amazing musical talent. To put the cherry on top, there was a glorious fireworks display to finish off! What a great event!

Darwin Symphony Orchestra at the Darwin Waterfront

Darwin Symphony Orchestra at the Darwin Waterfront

People relaxing with their picnics ready to watch an Opera Gala.

People relaxing with their picnics ready to watch an Opera Gala.

Twice a week in the dry season, the Mindil Sunset Markets are open and the best thing about them in my opinion is the Sunset Oyster Bar. You can get a dozen natural oysters for only $20 and oysters with all kinds of delicious toppings for a tiny bit more. They’re such an indulgence and so good! I might go again tonight just for the oysters!

There are lots of other aspects of the Mindil Sunset markets which are lovely. The stalls are lined up under a whole bunch of big, green, shady trees. When you get your delicious food from the stall, you can cut through the dune and sit on the beach or you can lay your picnic rug down on the grassed area and consume your delicious finds whilst listening to some local performers. If you are looking for an unusual souvenir, this is the place! There are lots of interesting, unusual and unique things to buy. It’s pretty crowded but that’s sign of how good it is. Locals and tourists rub shoulders and enjoy the evening together in this relaxing location.

Cute little Dutch Pancakes on the BBQ

Cute little Dutch Pancakes on the BBQ


Colourful Paintings at Mindil Markets


Picnic at Mindil Markets under the Trees


Peruse the stalls in the shade of green leafy trees.


Beach Volleyball on Mindil Beach


Jerky made from all kinds of exotic animals!

Blue Extraction Fan

This blue extraction fan sucks the smoke from the spit roasting meats below and direct it to the leafy tree canopy.

Croc Hot Dog

Crocodile Hot Dog anyone?


You can even try out your new whip at the market!


Didgeridoo display


Interesting, colourful jewellery


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!

Nom Nom New York!

Food in the US is a punch in the face with flavour. It’s not mild or bland, it’s almost like turning up the volume on the taste. I find when I’m in the US that savoury foods are often too salty and sweet foods are too sweet. It’s all delicious though. It’s not healthy but it’s so damn good. It’s all that sugar, salt and fat! It makes our brains light up like Times Square!

Fine dining and Michelin star restaurants absolutely do not have the monopoly on tasty food. Often I think that food cooked with love, hospitality, generosity and plenty is the best. There are lots of cheap and cheerful places all over Manhattan with excellent food. We stayed in East Village and were thrilled to find a large number of excellent places to eat. We also did a couple of food/walking “tips only” tours which were great fun and delicious as well. Here are some of our eating experiences in New York. Nom Nom Nom!!

How can you go to New York and not have a “dirty water” dog! These are the famous New York Hot Dogs. They are called “dirty water” dogs because the sausage is cooked and left in a vat of warmish water and pulled out when a customer requests a hot dog. We were advised that locals would ask for a “dog” and not a “hot dog”. If you ask for a “hot dog”, you reveal yourself to being a tourist and then become exposed to price gouging. We found that most food cart vendors in Manhattan do not advertise their prices openly. This is against the law but they do this to price gouge unsuspecting tourists. Beware! Do not support these unscrupulous vendors. We made a conscious decision only to support food establishments which openly display their pricing.

Enough about pricing, let’s discuss the hot dog. Well, it was very small and underwhelming. The bun is made of fluffy soft white bread which has no substance. The entire hot dog is consumed in three bites and in 15 minutes you’re hungry again.

NY Hot Dog

New York Hot Dog

Instead of spending a few dollars on an average hot dog, get a taco instead with the money. We found Otto’s Tacos in the East Village to be so scrumptious that we went twice during our stay in New York. They prepare each taco as you order them with home-made corn tortillas (really authentic rustic flavour). The chosen proteins are accompanied only with some coriander and sauce. The simplicity allows the taste of the filling and the texture of the taco to really shine. It makes for a religious eating experience!

Ottos Tacos

Tacos from Otto’s Tacos

Also in East Village is an outlet of Xi’an Famous Foods. This shop boasts Anthony Bourdain as one of its biggest fans. They specialities include Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger and the hand ripped spicy noodles. Even though Xi’an is in China, this tastes unlike most Chinese food. Due to the heavy use of cumin, it tastes almost Middle Eastern to me. Xi’an is situated at the start of the Silk Road and it explains the fusion of flavours and Middle Eastern spices. The hand ripped noodles are a surprise with its addictively chewy texture and a spiciness that builds in your mouth as you work through the dish. The lamb burger was delicious. It reminded me of a kebab with the bread and the cumin spiced filling.  Everything is served in typical American style for this sort of cheap eatery on disposable plates which of course you throw away once you’re finished.


Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger from Xi’an Famous Foods


Spicy Hand Ripped Noodles from Xi’an Famous Foods

In America, one cannot visit without having a hamburger. The consumption of a hamburger is totally normalised in the US. It’s not so much an occasional treat but an everyday food. We chose to get hamburgers from Steak ‘n Shake based on a recommendation from a Californian friend. These burgers were indeed delicious but for health reasons, we limited ourselves to only one meal of hamburgers during our visit. Greasy, cheesy burgers are not everyday food!  The best burgers I’ve had in the US are from Red Robin, a burger chain on the west coast of the US. Those burgers are utterly divine but also a heart attack waiting to happen!  Anyway, what do you expect from the nation that brought us the Hashbrown Double and deep fried cheescake?

Steak n Shake

Steak ‘n Shake Burgers

One of the most fun ways I’ve found for discovering new places and food is to do “tips only” food walking tours. Whilst in New York, I did a food tour of Greenwich Village and of Flatbush Brooklyn. Both were excellent.

In Greenwich Village, we stopped for falafel at Mamoun’s falafel. These were nice but not the best falafel I’ve ever had. This was followed by two pizza stops. First was Artichoke Pizza followed by Bleecker Street Pizza. It does seem crazy to do two pizza stops in one tour but this is New York City, home of some of the best pizza in the world AND, these two pizza were so very different yet both distinctive and delicious. The speciality at Artichoke Pizza is of course Artichoke Pizza. It’s a bit like creamy artichoke dip on top of a pizza. The crust was more robust to support the topping. It was creamy, tasty and rich. I don’t think you can eat a lot of it. By contrast, the Bleecker Street Pizza had a thin crust and had “Nonna Maria’s” special tomato sauce on it. Much lighter, but still very tasty and the crust was just beautifully cooked and a little crispy.

Artichoke Pizza

Sign at Artichoke Pizza


Pizza from Bleecker Street Pizza

Onwards to arancini balls at Faicco’s. This store sells lots of different Italian Specialities but on the day, we tried the arancini balls. These are risotto balls coated in breadcrumbs and fried. When I bit into the arancini ball, I was surprised to find a very plain and simple risotto inside and yet the ball contained so much flavour. It was surprisingly good. Often, arancini balls are made with fancy flavoured risottos e.g. sun dried tomato or mushroom but even without the frills, these arancini balls were still so flavourful. Is it the use of parmesan for umami?


Arancini Balls from Faiccos

At this point of the Greenwich village tour, I’m getting quite full. We are now onto the sweet stops. First is a place called, Bantam Bagels which sell mini stuffed bagel balls. I tried one called “The Jack” which is a cinnamon and nutmeg spiced bagel filled with a pumpkin spiced cream cheese. This was a special flavour due to Halloween coming up. The cream cheese in the centre was yummy! In general, I don’t care for the texture of bagels. I think they are an underwhelming and dense bread and I can’t understand why they are so popular in New York. Give me a chewy sour dough any day!


The Jack from Bantam Bagels

Last dessert stop. I’m now rolling and waddling along the streets of Greenwich Village when we head into Molly’s Cupcakes for a seat and a cupcake. Due to my extreme state of fullness, I chose a Mini Molly Filled Cupcake. It was chocolate with chocolate icing and a chocolate mousse filling. How many times did I say chocolate in one sentence? Can you understand why I did not remember to take a photo. My mind was clouded in a chocolate fog! I had to laugh when I bit into this indulgent cupcake. It was intentionally tiny but between the icing on top and the filling in the centre, I was amazed at how little cake there was and how that tiny bit of cake could support all the icing and the filling.

Upon completion of that tour, all I wanted to do was to go back for a lie down while all that food digested.

A few days later, we’d arranged to go on a food walking tour in Flatbush Brooklyn. I had never explored Brooklyn before and this was a great opportunity. First stop was De Hot Pot serving classic Caribbean food and roti. Roti is an unleavened flat bread from India. What is awesome is how this Indian originated food travelled with the Indian diaspora to become an integral part of the food culture of the Trinidad and Tobago and of South East Asia (e.g. Malaysia).

In this shop, we tried a Trinidad street food snack called doubles. This is a sandwich of two pieces of fried bread with chick pea curry in the middle and a dash of spicy sauce. The fried bread is similar to poori, a deep-fried Indian bread.  What a delicious savoury snack! We saw the shop prepare roti for other patrons as well. Their rotis were huge, maybe 50 cm in diameter and goat curry was spooned into the centre along with other fillings and condiments and the entire thing wrapped up like a burrito wrap on steroids! If you ate that, you would not need to eat for 3 days afterwards!


Doubles from De Hot Pot

After a pie stop, at the Pels Pie Company for some sweet treats, we meandered along the leafy green streets and stately homes of Brooklyn before sharing a spicy cocktail at a neighbourhood cocktail bar. This was followed by Jamaican vegetarian food at Scoops & Plates Eatery.

We had a dish of soy based mock chicken and a vegetable stew called Callaloo on a bed of emperor’s rice. Callaloo is a Caribbean dish which varies depending on the region. This particular version was thickened using okra and contained dasheen bush. Dasheen bush is a leafy vegetable. The dishes were served with emperor’s rice or forbidden rice, black rice, so named because it was once reserved for only the emperor and royal family in ancient China.


Jamaican Vegetarian Food from Scoops in Brooklyn

At the next stop, we tried Jamaican Escovitch fish, which is deep-fried fish marinated in a spicy vinegar and served with pickled vegetables. This was really interesting because pickling the fish helps preserve it for a few days which makes a lot of sense back when refrigerators were not so widespread. Turns out, there are pickled fish dishes in many cultures. A quick Google search showed South African, Indian and Malaysian pickled fish recipes. Isn’t it amazing how the same basic need to preserve food safely has led to a similar approach in vastly different cultures?


Escovitch Fish

Our last stop on the tour of Flatbush Brooklyn is Jerk Chicken at Peppa’s Jerk Chicken. This place is unassuming but produces tasty and surprisingly tender jerk chicken. I can’t wait to try my own version of jerk chicken at home. I think an overnight marinade with jerk spices and a slow roast will give a wondrous result.

Jerk Chicken

Jerk Chicken

I learnt a lot during the Flatbush Brooklyn food walking tour. I had never tried food from Jamaica or Trinidad before. These are entire regions of food which are totally new to me. It always excites me to taste new food and learn new things about the origins of dishes.

I am now starving after writing this post and will now head off to start cooking my dinner!

Happy Exploring and Happy Eating!