Darwin’s iconic markets are a tropical fantasy come to life: an overindulgence of smells, tastes and colours that take you from northern Australia to far-east Asia, the Mediterranean and beyond.
1. Mindil Beach Sunset Market
You know it’s Thursday evening in Darwin when a steady flow of tourists and locals starts arriving at the gorgeous Mindil Beach Sunset Market, esky and camp chairs in hand.
This magical market attracts thousands of people each week, offering a multicultural feast, live entertainment and a sunset worthy of any postcard.
Hungry hordes graze their way along the food stalls, which serve up tastes from Turkey to Timor. From made-to-order papaya salad to the sugary goodness of Spanish churros, there are hundreds of picnic-friendly dishes, including flattened fauna from the quirky Roadkill Café, whose motto is: ‘You kill it, we grill it.’
At the Sunset Oyster Bar, seafood lovers queue for their freshly shucked half-dozen before heading down to the dunes for a different kind of sunset: the famous Darwin one, garishly pink and orange, like a highlighter across the sky.
2. Parap Markets
Market madness continues on Saturday at vibrant Parap. This is the locals’ favourite for a progressive brunch. A Malaysian laksa noodle soup, with its creamy coconut broth, and an icy fresh-fruit shake are non-negotiable.
But don’t stop there; there’s also Cambodian prawn pancakes, Indonesian satays, Lebanese snacks and authentic Thai sweets to try.
“The market is a weekend institution,” says Sousou Elayoubi, while serving up kofta, hummus and falafel at her Lebanese food stall.
“It has a relaxed vibe and is a great place to catch up with friends, have a quick massage and check out the crafts.”
Look out for some terrific Territory gifts such as Humpty Doo Spices and the well-regarded Vanilla Mozi products. Walk off your meal with a wander through the Parap galleries.
3. Malak Marketplace
In the late afternoon you can head over to Malak in the northern suburbs, one of the city’s most culturally diverse areas, for the Malak Marketplace. This is Darwin’s youngest market and it has more of a focus on organic produce, locally handmade crafts and great entertainment. Think raw vegan cakes, spray-free oranges, Congolese cooking and terrific flea-market finds. Running during the dry season from April to October, Malak is open until 9pm.
4. Rapid Creek Markets
For weird and wonderful tropical fruits, piles of Asian greens and eskies filled with mud crabs, head to Rapid Creek Markets on a Sunday morning.
It might be set in a suburban shopping centre, but no serious foodie will want to miss this bustling Asian market, with its maze of stalls teeming with fresh-picked vegetables and fruit sold by Filipino, Tamil, Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese growers.
It’s a popular haunt for local chefs such as Ben Andrews, who swears the best banana fritters this side of Bangkok can be found here, hot from the fryer, between the bright-green pandan cakes and the golden galangal.
“Every week, I stumble across an ingredient I have never seen before. It’s as exciting as any south-east Asian market,” he says.
“I like to visit early to beat the crowds, and the heat. Plus, the banana fritters are best at 8am.” Arrive hungry to hoe into delights such as spicy jackfruit curry and roti wraps.
5. Nightcliff Markets
There’s less food and more tie-dye at Sunday’s Nightcliff Markets, a popular brunch spot where locals kick back to live music and have their tarot read over a coffee or three.
Highlights include the near-perfect pork banh mi (also available with tofu) from Ha Hong, Nutella and banana creations from Ken’s Crepes, and mixed berry donuts from the revered Alley Cats Patisserie.
In a town where you can get laksa on every corner, there is stiff competition for the best bowl of this famous Malaysian curry soup. But Mary’s legendary laksa at Parap Markets (just look for the queue) – with its fragrant, noodle-stuffed broth, quality seafood and fiery sambal – certainly deserves the devotion it inspires.