A few months ago I abruptly abandoned the hipster foodie comforts of Melbourne for a new life in the Territory.
Before you ask, I’m not wanted by ASIO… Like many of my skivvie-wearing cousins, I was lured to Darwin by a hard-to-resist career opportunity. In doing so I left behind a number of things typical of the southern food scene; queueing for two hours outside diners with ‘no bookings’ policies, cold-filtered-slow-drip, sustainably-harvested-by-albino-nuns organic coffee, food trucks whose location can only be obtained by tweeting their menu then answering a series of riddles about beards, and ‘authentic’ Mexican taco bars whose primary credentials are the ability to distinguish between a flour tortilla and a nacho. Thank god I’m here.
In this column I’ll be exploring the best corner shop produce the Territory has to offer, from lunchtime noodles and iced coffee to market stalls and local favourites, with a couple of takeaway pies thrown in.
Issue #1: Best Chicken Laksa
One of the first things I’ve learned since I moved up north is that laksa is a big deal in this town. With so many contenders, and so many people nominating their favourite, I’ve embarked on a mission to try them all. Rather than confuse myself with exotic ingredients, such as prawns and barbecue pork, for basis of comparison I have focused exclusively on chicken. Here are the most memorable (thus far).
During the course of my research I destroyed so many white t-shirts that the ladies at Cotton On now greet me by name.
Rendezvous – Smith St Mall
Chicken with extra chilli
I received about 437 recommendations to Rendezvous within two days of arriving in Darwin, including some via email from people who had never been further north than Woolongong. So one recent morning I foolishly announced to the office at large that I was going to try it out, and did anyone want me to bring them back something? I consequently found myself a couple of hours later wobbling down Smith St Mall with an old cardboard box tucked precariously under one arm and three shopping bags in the other, heading back to the office to deliver $128 worth of laksa to my colleagues.
It was totally worth it. Rendezvous’ chicken with extra chilli is everything a laksa should be. Dainty rice noodles fill the top half of the container, thick egg noodles lurk down below, quietly soaking up the whole tin of coconut milk that you’re sure is in there, and a 2mm oil slick the colour of a Darwin sunset floats gently on top. Once stirred through, the whole concoction is rich and creamy, and mercifully free of that off-putting gristly bit you usually encounter halfway through a tub
While I don’t much care for tofu, Rendezvous takes special care to insert a large chunk at the top, and I actually appreciate it floating there on the surface like a particularly spongy garnish, patiently waiting for you toscoop it out delicately with a soup spoon without sacrificing any of the broth. Delicious.
Good food always tastes better with good service, and I have to say the staff at Rendezvous are excellent. Although I would give them a special place in the Laksa Hall of Fame if they introduced a Bitch Slap policy to deal with the many customers who leave the sliding door open when they leave.
If you consider yourself a chilli aficionado, be sure to ask for extra; despite being freshly chopped with seeds included, the standard serve is surprisingly mild.
Also, be sure to have many serviettes close at hand. By the end of the meal I had transferred the majority of the broth to my chin, eyebrows, t-shirt, glasses and a small area on the back of my left knee. A neat trick as I was wearing jeans at the time.
Chicken and veggie
Despite numerous trips to Mindil I must admit I haven’t actually been to this stall in person. However, getting home late from work the other night I found my supremely awesome housemate Lynda had taken pity on me and included me in her regular Thursday laksa run.
Lynda swears by Ghet Some, so I asked what put them above the rest. After some careful thought and finally admitting that despite her six years in the Top End she hadn’t tried that many, she adds: “I found a few that I didn’t like, then one that I DID like, and now I’m not budging.”
Well, I can tell you, I understand why she hasn’t budged. The welcome inclusion of broccoli and carrot, not too crunchy but fresh enough not have gone mushy, allowed me to convince myself that I was being 94 per cent healthy.
The chilli came as a zingy paste that was spread liberally on the surface of the whole mix, allowing the dainty of palette to scoop it off then add it back in bit by bit as you go. It was also tofu free, for which I was thankful, as there is only so much sponge garnish I can handle.
I don’t know if it’s because I knew it came from the Market, and therefore had a slightly romantic sunset attachment to the whole idea, but I ate/drank the entire thing standing up at the kitchen bench in four minutes and 27 seconds, then spent a considerably longer amount of time chasing slivers of crushed peanut and chilli residue around the bottom of the container with a finely-tined dessert fork.
It was bloody delicious, and I am absolutely going back this week. By which I mean Lynda is going back, and I expect to find a full container on the kitchen bench when I get home come Thursday.
Lynda scores 11/10. There’s nothing quite like coming home to a good, unexpected feed.
Mindil is always busy, but just on sunset (when most of the other punters are on the beach) is probably your best bet.
Laksa House (Warung Ibu Amye) Stuart Highway
Chicken and chicken
One of the other laksas that Lynda DID like is to be found at Laksa House. This dodgy looking establishment serves up Indonesian and Timorese food, is a favourite of locals and well off the tourist map. From the outside it brings to mind an abandoned ‘We Sell Spark Plugs and Cut Keys’ type of place, but with fairy lights. However, the proprieter Amye, something of a local legend with a social media presence to rival some of the Melbourne food trucks, so Laksa House has developed a loyal and appreciative following. I had high expectations.
Unfortunately, when we got there and were served up a fairly watery broth, Lynda (who is quickly becoming my laksa partner in crime) looked genuinely surprised and exclaimed that they must have been having an off day. Looking at some of the photos on their Facebook page afterwards, this appears to be
The chicken was delicious, the noodles plump and tasty, but the broth let the whole thing down. It was a shame, as this goes against everything I have heard about Laksa House so I’m willing to give it another go. Particularly for their thoughtful inclusion of a BYO beer garden next door where most places would stick a car park.
We didn’t get to meet Amye, but she was there in spirit (and on the oversized banner hanging inside, which makes her seem like some mythical, untouchable rock star) but the staff there were lovely. Due to its popularity, it was a bit of a wait, so make sure you take advantage of the garden and bring a cold beer.
Laksa House also specialises in BBQ chicken cooked over coals out the back, which smells incredible, but seems a little on the expensive side.
Mystery laksa – No idea
Might have been chicken but can’t be sure
I wandered back into the office the other day after doing some chores, and found a surprise laksa from an apparently appreciative co-worker (clearly aware of my mission) on my desk. She had already left the building so I have no idea where she obtained it from; while I appreciated the gesture, this is a good thing as it was terrible.
The chicken was grey and rubbery, suggesting it had all been scooped into the container the day (or week) before. The broth was both greasy and flavourless. The noodles were turning to slush, not unlike the time I unthinkingly filled a thermos with the two minute variety and was genuinely surprised to open the container four hours later to find a solid, cat food-like mass that needed eating with a spoon.
On second thoughts, perhaps the co-worker hadn’t been so happy after all…
You really can’t complain about shop-to-desk delivery.
None. There was nothing special about this laksa.
Mary’s Laksa at Parap market and the laksa at the Deck Bar.
Regrettably, I haven’t made it to either of these two yet, but based on the advice of everyone I have ever met, I’ll have sampled both before the ink
dries on this column. Keep them on your radar.
It’s a line ball between Rendezvous for service and efficiency, and Sunset Laksa for creamy goodness.