Native Australian ingredients provide visitors to the Northern Territory with a true taste of the Territory.
A typical Northern Territory meal once consisted of steak, steak and more steak, washed down with plenty of beer.
The Northern Territory of 2021 is a destination for culinary travellers. Not simply because there’s plenty of fresh produce (did someone say seafood?), but because few places on Earth infuse ancient bush tucker ingredients and flavours into their menus quite like they do in the Top End.
There are many exceptional food experiences to be had in the Northern Territory – providing visitors with an insight into 65,000 years of Indigenous food culture.
Here’s some of the eateries in the NT that do it just right.
You’d come just for the cocktails – Charlie’s Of Darwin was named No. 18 in the Top 20 Bars To Visit in 2021 by The Telegraph in the UK. This is Darwin’s first gin bar – and it’s just released its first in-house gin featuring botanicals from all across the NT. You’ll have to use your smarts to find Charlie’s; owner Bec Bullen was inspired by Melbourne’s inner-city laneway bars and the bar is hidden down a graffiti-adorned laneway.
Everything on the cocktail and dining menu screams local produce. From bar snacks such as kangaroo and plum spring rolls to pepperberry kangaroo tataki, and desserts such as wattle seed affogato and white chocolate lemon myrtle mousse. Take a seat at the rooftop bar and order a cocktail that infuses everything good about the NT; especially the Tropical North Gin Fizz, featuring local Davidson plum gin and Davidson plum syrup. Open since last March, you won’t sample better bush-infused flavor in the tropics.
There couldn’t be a more quintessential Northern Territory restaurant experience than a meal at Snapper Rocks. Few restaurants in Australia infuse modern Australian cuisine with bush tucker elements quite like this, and with all the Top End quirks. You will feel like a true Territorian when you kick back at the beach bar and order the salt and pepper croc.
Take in the three hour G&T happy hour (3pm–6pm) on an outdoor table with views across Darwin Harbour, then choose from a menu championing local produce and bush tastes. We recommend The Buff, a burger featuring house-ground local buffalo. And don’t forget to try the crocodile jerky. Executive chef James Fiske comes with a Michelin-star background, and in two years of running the beach-chic restaurant has won multiple awards, including Gold Plates 2020’s Best Contemporary Restaurant Of The Year.
You don’t even need bricks and mortar for a gourmet feed in the Territory. How about a pop-up food truck set beside Darwin Harbour with a street-bistro-style menu that changes weekly depending on what’s ripening or biting? Take a seat at a picnic table under trees overlooking Nightcliff Jetty (you might see a local fisherman bring in a decent-sized catch) – or on a blanket on the grass – beside Needle In A Haystack, and watch the sun set (just north of the city).
This kind of relaxed outdoor vibe sums up life in NT, but it’s the food that captures the soul of the state. From favourites such as local jewfish with lemon thyme pangrattato to desserts like dolce du leche, and mango bread with roasted macadamia, Needle In a Haystack embraces ancient Indigenous ingredients with the best available local produce and serves up a true taste of the Top End.
It’s not only Darwin where you’ll discover food in the Northern Territory is truly world class. Take a three hour-drive south to Katherine (45 minutes from Katherine Gorge, or Nitmiluk) and take a seat at a table beside a water-lily-filled dam to see how modern Australian cuisine can connect with ancient Indigenous influence. Kumbidgee was Katherine’s favourite eatery ever since it opened in 1995. New owners Chris McManus and Carolyn Grace moved from Sydney and reopened the restaurant, introducing a menu infused with whatever local produce is available, loaded with bush flavours. Try the croc dumplings for starters, and the kangaroo san choy bau, or native basil arancini balls with bush tomato sauce. Finish with a Davidson plum whiskey sour, or a lemon myrtle gin fizz.
No-one has done more to promote the foods of Australia’s Central Desert than Kungkas Can Cook co-founder, Rayleen Brown. Rayleen doesn’t just serve up meals with ingredients sourced from the desert; she serves up the stories behind the dishes, too. Kungkas Can Cook is a 100 per cent owned and run Aboriginal business that only uses wild-harvested bush tucker ingredients sourced directly from the women (the first farmers on Earth) who gather the food from the local desert.
Local treats like saltbush flakes, desert raisins, wattle seed dukkah and bush tomato chutney and quandong relish come from ingredients harvested by hand. And, best of all, every ingredient comes with a story that connects it back to local Aboriginal people.
This is one of the most iconic cultural dinners available on Earth. You’ll be taken by 4WD through the desert to a red sand dune with views to Uluru and the domes of Kata Tjuta. Tables for two are set up with candles and white napkins in preparation for a four-course meal showcasing the best Indigenous ingredients – every course is infused with ancient native herbs and spices using in-season local produce.
You’ll have sunset drinks under a clear Southern Desert sky, as an Indigenous man plays the didgeridoo by a campfire. Your meal might consist of local themed dishes like pressed wallaby with fermented quandong, and pan-roasted toothfish with coastal greens, with desserts using local fruits like Davidson plum. After dinner, you’ll hear stories from a Tali Wiru Indigenous local.
Taste Of Kakadu has become Australia’s most significant Indigenous food festival – one that’s been 65,000 years in the making. Nowhere else in Australia celebrates indigenous culture quite like this. Only in its fifth year, Taste Of Kakadu – held from May 21– takes visitors deep into the heart of one of Australia’s most significant Indigenous sites (Kakadu), but takes you beyond what others can experience in the World-Heritage-listed national park. The 10-day program includes pop-up dining experiences, traditional ground oven feasts, handcrafted menus from celebrity chefs, forage walks with traditional owners, and ancestral stories and cultural workshops.
There’s nowhere better in Australia to get your head around the nuances of the ancient Indigenous diet. Visitors will journey across Kakadu to study the landscape that inspired the diet of Indigenous Australians. And they’ll eat the animals and the dishes they come served up in, which Indigenous people have eaten for tens of thousands of years. Taste Of Kakadu showcases the skills of Australia’s most gifted practitioners of Indigenous food, who deliver a new take on the paddock-to-plate experience.