A Foodie’s Guide to the Northern Territory

29 August 2013

From Darwin – a city that is closer in distance and degustation to Asia than its fellow Australian counterparts – to the red hot Red Centre, the Northern Territory enjoys one of the most diverse food scenes around. Where else do the phrases "bush tucker", "sand dune barbecue" and "sunset market" coexist so agreeably? It's here you will inevitably learn that nothing matches the encompassing feeling of butter and golden syrup melting into spongy damper cooked in the embers of an open campfire.

Contrary to popular belief, it's not all "shrimps on the barbie" on a Northern Territory food holiday: degustation platters are decorated with the likes of wattleseed dukkah and bush tomato pesto, wine expos explode across the Top End and an assortment of other exotic treats boasting Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Greek, Indian and Aboriginal influences are never hard to come by.

 

For the easy-going eater: Mindil Beach Sunset Market, Darwin

 Mindil Beach Markets. Image courtesy of Tourism NT.

Markets generally award the chance to really get a "feel" for a place. To give you an indication, even the frenzy at the locally loved fruit and veg stalls at Mindil Beach of a Thursday or Sunday afternoon is relatively laissez-faire. The Mindil Beach Sunset Market has been a Darwin institution for over 25 years, providing a little boost to the local economy and offering patrons a true taste of the tropics. There are more than 1,200 menu items to sample at the Mindil Markets, including Asian greens, an array of spices and infusions, dried fruits and fresh juices made-to-order. Market lovers will prefer to visit in the dry season (April to October), to appreciate the "sunset market" moniker.

 

For the bush tucker taster: Alice Springs

 Madigan's Function Room, Alice Springs Desert Park. Image courtesy of Tourism NT.

Alice Springs gets a double mention in this foodie's guide for their dedication to authentic Australiana cuisine. Unknown delicacies such as the witchetty grub and our national edible emblems of kangaroo and emu are just some of the natural staples you can sample in Central Australia. From river-fresh barramundi and crocodile to fragrant bush foods like finger limes, wattleseed, lemon myrtle and Kakadu plums, the sheer variety and taste of bush tucker can surprise even the most seasoned foodie. Join a guided bush tucker tour in the actual bush, enjoy a casual lunch at Kungkas Cafe or opt for a little elegance at the Red Ochre Grill – sugar cured 'roo fillet with poached quandong, anyone?

 

For the thirsty traveller: downtown Darwin

 Mitchell Street, Darwin. Image courtesy of Tourism NT.

Downtown Darwin is dotted with humble pubs and clubs that love to embrace their tropical surrounds, tempting Territorians and tourists alike with an ice-cold pint on a humid Darwin day. Make your way to Mitchell Street and pop into the beer gardens at the Fox Ale House, the Tap On Mitchell or Ducks Nuts Bar & Grill. Other institutions just off the Esplanade include Shenannigans and Outback Jacks, where the steaks are sizzling and there's always a benchmark brewski on tap. If you're in the mood for enlightenment, visit Wisdom Bar where 50 beers from around the world are waiting to be consumed. The warrior who meets this challenge is forever immortalised on the Wall of Wisdom –  indeed, the crowning glory of Northern Territory food travel.

 

For the desert dune diner: Yulara, Uluru

 Sound Of Silence. Image courtesy of Tourism NT.

The tiny town of Yulara fills its days catering to tourists who have travelled to Australia's heartland to tick off a common bucket list staple: visiting Uluru and Kata Tjuta (Ayers Rock and The Olgas). Home to the Ayers Rock Resort – the only accommodation around for miles – the dining options at the spacious site are distinct and diverse. In the magical twilight hours, the Sounds of Silence dinner awards the ultimate outlook across the arid plains to the great monolith as it changes colour by the hour, with "outback canapés" and three-course buffets served under the stars. Tali Wiru is equally as encapsulating: an exclusive experience where 20 patrons can sip Champagne around a sand dune fire pit.

 

For the pub fare fan: Alice Springs

 Image courtesy of Tourism NT.

Eating out in "The Alice" is like reaching your hand into a lucky dip box. Old school pizzerias, takeaway Thai joints and a melange of newborn cafes servicing the brunch crowd define Alice Springs' food scene. If, like many, you are simply in the mood for a solid meal with a slab of steak and a bottomless glass of golden ale, Alice Springs has you covered. After a dusty day working up an appetite at the camel races or trying your hand fossicking for gems a little further north, sink your teeth into ribs and rumps at the Overlanders Steakhouse or munch beneath the mounted crocodile at Bojangles – arguably the best bar in the Alice.

Ashton Rigg

When I'm not at home in Brisbane, you’ll find me wanderlusting around hipster bars, eclectic boutiques and arty nooks. From bagels in Brooklyn to strudel in Salzburg, I believe the best way to experience a destination is by taking a bite! Tweets & 'grams at @AshtonRigg