Northern Territory’s Darwin International Laksa Festival has been running for three years now with no signs of stopping. This foodie festival provided a giant tourism boost by delivering more than $1 million of media coverage for the Northern Territory, including a 40 per cent increase of foot traffic and laksa popularity for participating venues.
Darwin’s International Festival runs from the 1st to the 28th November, and is divided into the two key elements of the Laksa Food Tour & Competition and the Darwin Laksa Festival. On the last day of the festival, the winners of the People’s Choice Laksa, Laksa-inspired dishes, Judges’ Choice and the overall Golden Bowl winner are announced at Chung Wah Society, Woods Street Darwin city.
What is Laksa?
Originating from Peranakan culture, the spicy noodle soup we love today has been shaped by Southeast Asian culture. Laksa traditionally consists of noodles, topped with ingredients such as chicken, seafood, egg, sprouts and/or other Asian vegetables. Then, the fragrant, sweet soup is usually served with a spicy flavoured broth and topped with fresh vegetables and spices.
Many have been creative with their laksa styles, adding and experimenting with other toppings such as crispy noodles, fish balls, signature freshly ground laksa paste, chilli flakes and more!
The Two Main Types of Laksa are:
Also known as Curry Mee is the type of laksa most people commonly think of for the delicious soup dish. The creamy laksa traditionally would be a bowl of coconut yellow curry broth and egg noodles, topped with bean curd puffs, bean sprouts, pork products and/or seafood. This creamy laksa pairs well with a glass of dry white wine or an ice-cold lager.
Originated from Malaysia, Assam laksa is traditionally a fish-based sour noodle soup. The method to creating an Assam laksa begins with a tamarind base used to make the sour flavour. Other ingredients used to build the laksa include rice noodles, lemongrass, mackerel, galangal and chilli.
Laksa Festival — Food Tour & Competition.
Australian’s Northern Territory is known for tourist destinations such as Alice Springs and Darwin, where you can enjoy barramundi fishing, larrikin locals and the tropical lifestyle. So, who would have thought the Laksa Festival would become a cultural attraction for the state!
Laksa creators that own restaurants, either a byo beer garden or even a tiny laksa stand across Darwin, Palmerston, and rural areas can compete. The Laksa food trail encourages people to rate their favourite dishes they have tried at Darwin markets stalls and other eateries through the Laksa Festival App.
The four-week-long trail begins at the Darwin International Laksa Festival, where the winner will be awarded the ‘Golden Bowl’ for the Best Laksa in the Top End.
The Darwin International Laksa Festival Awards.
Darwin’s Laksa Festival awards vary from people’s choice, laksa or laksa-styled creations categories to being judged by experts in the field. The following awards have been handed out over the past three years.
Award categories include:
- People’s Choice Award
- Judges Award
- Golden Bowl
People’s Choice Award.
There are two categories for the People’s Choice Award where contenders can win either People’s Choice Laksa or Inspired by Laksa.
Winners — Berry Springs, Pearl & Sid.
One of the People’s Choice Award winners of the Laksa Festival includes Berry Springs Tavern, who won the People’s Choice in 2020 with their laksa schnitzel and a laksa-inspired martini for a unique way for people to get their laksa fix.
Another winner includes Asian Pot owners Pearl & Sid. If you are interested in treating your tastebuds, you can find a family owned Asian Pot tucked away in Darwin Central Hotel.
In 2019, the Judge’s Award was dedicated for eateries who showed their personal flare with a bold laksa styled creation.
Winner — Cold Rock Laksa Ice-Cream.
Cold Rock Ice Creamery Darwin has gotten into the Laksa Festival’s spirit by creating your not-so-typical laksa dish. Owned by Susan and Rob, the business won the judges award for Best Inspired by Laksa in 2019. Eating frozen laksa might sound a little strange, however, it would be a necessary experience when at the event.
The Golden Bowl is awarded to Darwin’s Best Laksa from the Laksa Festival’s judging panel, the highest honour for laksa chiefs who win the award.
Winner- Chok’s Place.
Chok’s Place from smith street mall has won the Golden Bowl in 2019 and 2020. Jason, the owner, opened his restaurant 13 years ago, and continues to grow its popularity after winning the Golden Bowl two years in a row. The smith street mall restaurant started becoming so busy they had to start limiting their laksa each day to keep up with demand.
Darwin’s Laksa Community.
Recently, Darwin has become the irrefutable laksa capital with its vast array of laksa dishes throughout the city. Darwin laksa makers agree quality and fresh ingredients will ensure the cuisine is at a premium level. Local Darwin chefs who specialise in laksa, also known as ‘Lakstars’, have been making a name for themselves in their local community.
Some of the biggest contenders in the Australian laksa game the festival, including Jimmy Shu, nominated for Senior Australia of the Year 2021. Laksa House Stuart Highway owned West Timorese Refugee Amye Un, well known for their Indonesian style laksa topped with beansprouts. While Guo Yang Yei (Mary) has also become influential in Darwin for her creamy laksa stall.
Hot Laksa Destinations.
Darwinian’s laksa obsession has continued to form as local eateries offer unique and creative styled dishes made with fresh ingredients and multicultural methods. Thus, making Darwin the home for some of the best eateries celebrating everything laksa.
Chow is one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Darwin, where you can grab a steaming bowl while enjoying local activities such as beach volleyball nearby. Other restaurants you need to check out when you are at the Laksa Festival include Uncle Sid for their signature Singaporean style laksa.
Alternatively, if you are looking for a hidden laksa delight, try Tara’s Soup at their famous favourite Mindil Market stall. Another unique laksa experience includes overlooking Raintree Park down at Ruby Vietnamese Restaurant on Knuckey Street.
Finally, head down Mitchell Street for a delightful Darwin culinary experience to find the popular eateries Noodle House, NT House Mitchell Street, and Transit Oriental Café.
If you still need to fulfill your insatiable laksa appetite, make sure to go for a walk around and discover the numerous Darwin laksa restaurants nearby!
How to Get Involved.
If you are an enthusiast for laksa style and want to do your part in supporting local businesses, check out the Darwin International Laksa Festival website.
Make sure to download Darwin Laksa Festival App if you are participating this year or interested in finding out more laksa restaurants in Darwin on the Apple App Store or get it on Google Play.
The 2017 Australian MasterChef winner is highly involved with the Darwin Laksa Festival, from the judging panel to cooking demonstrations. Check out Diana Chan’s Penang Assam Laksa recipe she shared with delicious.
- 10 dried red chillies (seeds removed)
- 150g tamarind pulp
- 500g piece mackerel,
- 1/2 bunch Vietnamese mint, plus extra leaves to serve
- 1/4 cup sunflower oil
- 2 tbs coarsely grated palm sugar
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 200g dried rice noodles
- Sliced red onion, small chillies and pineapple, quartered baby cucumbers and mint leaves
- 10g peeled galangal
- 5 long red chillies
- 8 red eschalots
- 3 garlic cloves
- 20g belacan
- 2 lemongrass stalks
- Soak dried chillies in water for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Soak tamarind pulp in a heatproof bowl with 2 cups boiling water for 20 minutes to soften. Strain and discard the seeds.
- Boil 2L of water in a saucepan. Add mackerel and boil for 14 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer fish to a bowl the set aside to cool. Strain fish stock into a new saucepan, stir through Vietnamese mint, Coarsely shred mackerel, set aside.
- For the spice paste, place drained soaked chillies and all paste ingredients in a food processor until it becomes a paste.
- Heat oil in a wok over high heat. Add paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 6-8 minutes or until darkened slightly. Return stock to boil, add paste, tamarind liquid, sugar and fish sauce, and simmer.
- Serve noodles and laksa then add toppings.
Check out some of Darwin’s top Thai restaurants on Localsearch.com.au