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Tantalising Territory

It’s no secret Territorians love their laksa. This month, we celebrate the dish that’s stolen our hearts at the fourth Darwin International Laksa Festival, with a month-long food tour across the Territory. The Festival comes to a head in a Grand Finale Festival Day, where accolades are dished out to the best laksas getting around. And competition is heating up.

By Kate Conway

Darwin International Laksa Festival kicked off in the Top End in 2019 to celebrate the Territory’s “unofficial official dish” in an effort to support businesses during what is typically a quieter tourist season. Recognising the love of laksa extended beyond the boundaries of our tropical capital city, the Best Regional Laksa category was introduced last year, opening the floor to restaurants, eateries and stallholders across the Territory.

Many a Top Ender and welcome visitor spend a lazy weekend morning at a busy Darwin market, the sun beaming through build up clouds, the thick, tropical air laced with smoke trailing off sizzling hot plates. Regulars make a beeline for their favourite vendors, some possibly nursing a sore head from the night before, and it’s likely they’re there for the same thing. Laksa.

In such humid climates, you might think a steaming bowl of spicy goodness is the last thing on anyone’s mind. Yet we wait patiently in line for our fix. So what is it about laksa that keeps us coming back for more?

Sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami are the five basic flavours our mouth can recognise, and arguably, they’re all present in one, delicious bowl of laksa. There’s sweet creamy coconut, salty and umami shrimp paste, and bitter – at times controversial – coriander. Just add a splash of sour with some fresh squeezed lime juice and the whole gang’s there.

Throughout November, take your taste buds on a delicious journey, try as many laksas as you like, and vote for your hot picks on the Laksa Festival app. There’s a bunch of awards up for grabs, including the coveted Golden Bowl award for best laksa, but benefits for entrants extend beyond taking out a gong. David Wang owns Asian Noodle House in Alice Springs and says, although their laksa was already popular, sales went up.

“During the festival, we had people walking in just for laksa, and we sold 30 to 40 percent more laksa than we normally do,” he says.

Looking to the origins of the delightful dish provides more insight into the hold it has over us. When Chinese traders settled in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, the meeting of cultures, recipes and culinary influences resulted in laksa, the original fusion dish. For two-time Golden Bowl recipient, Jason Chin from Chok’s Place, it is this melting pot of cultures and influences present in the bowl that makes it so popular.

“If you break it down there’s the noodle soup, originally from China, then spices like curry powder and turmeric, often used in Indian cuisine. And thirdly, aromatics like galangal and ginger that are from southeast regions like Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Philippines. That’s why it’s loved by so many people – it is a multicultural dish with multiple ethnic backgrounds in one.”

Awarded the Golden Bowl in 2019 and 2020, Chok’s Place scored the People’s Choice Laksa and People's Choice Inspired-By Laksa in 2021 with their fusion Laksa Chicken Pie. This year, they’re sticking to their winning formula of fresh, local produce, combined with consistency, quality, and just a few minor adjustments.

“At Chok’s Place, everything is made from scratch – from the stock to the spice mix and the use of fresh ingredients. We try to source ingredients locally from the markets and our suppliers. We put our heart and soul into what we produce … at the end of the day, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” he says.

The festival concludes with a daylong celebration of all things laksa, as State Square transforms into the Laksa Lawns for the Grand Finale Festival Day. The day features tasty offerings from the Territory’s best kitchens and a cooking demonstration from Malaysian Celebrity Chef, Sherson Lian.

Perhaps the best part about laksa is that no two dishes are the same. With such a mix of origins and influences, there’s a version for everyone. Embark on a delicious journey through the flavours of laksa, and see for yourself what makes it so special.

Darwin International Laksa Festival Food Tour

Grand Finale Festival Day

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