Sugar bananas, dragon fruit, rambutans, durian. Sticky rice, papaya salad, egg custards. No, we’re not at a produce market in Thailand. We’re in Darwin, where every weekend the local markets are bursting with fresh food and produce.
When you think of Darwin do you think of fresh durian bigger than your head? Probably not. But the markets are a huge part of life for the locals, and prove that the Northern Territory is home to more than red dust and crocodiles. Here’s our guide to Darwin’s best markets.
Darwin locals rise early to beat the heat, so to beat the crowds, Parap Markets is best tackled early. Make a beeline for the car park, where food stalls set up from as early as 1am to secure their favourite spot. They’ll start serving food from 6am and by lunch time have lines three and four deep. Your best tactic at Parap is to divide and conquer – grab one of the plastic tables and some chairs tucked under shade cloths and send someone out to gather the food.
Mary’s Asian Laksa is legendary, with the whole family pitching in to cater to the crowds that gather each weekend. You’ll spot grandma standing in the back manning the mortar and pestle, grinding the peanuts for their famous papaya salad. Fresh fruit smoothies, French crepes, Chinese, Thai – there’s a smorgasbord of stalls at Parap. Have a quick peruse of the clothing stalls after you’ve eaten but escape before the brunch crowds arrive. Saturdays, until 2pm, Parap Village, Parap.
Mighty Mindil. No trip to Darwin during the dry season is complete without a night to Darwin’s largest markets. To eat, yes, but also to watch the sun sink down into the ocean. Sprawling across the beachfront, almost 200 food and craft stalls set up every Thursday and Sunday afternoon to feed, entertain and educate masses of locals and tourists. You’ll find Mexican burrito trucks, wood fire pizza ovens, vegan bars, sushi stalls, souvlaki grills and smoothie stands – there’s a smorgasbord on offer, but it’s not even the main event. Grab your food and head down to the beach for a spot on the sand as sunset paints the sky crimson. You haven’t seen an Australian sunset until you’ve seen one on Mindil Beach. The beach gets busy so reserving a VIP table ($12) gets you an esky full of ice (the markets are BYO) right on the beach. Once the show is over, head down to the art and craft section of the markets, where local artists and performers showcase their skills. If you’re lucky eMDee aka Mark Didge will be playing – with four didgeridoos at once, it’s something that needs to be seen, and heard, to be believed. Thursdays 5-10pm, Sundays 4-9pm, April – October.
Held on Sunday at the local Rapid Creek shops, these markets are a little off the tourist trail but are a fantastic insight into real Darwin life. The arcades of this small mall are taken over with stalls selling every imaginable vegetable under the sun. Bunches of fresh chili beans, impossibly long cucumbers, and enormous pomelos – you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped into the covered markets of Singapore or Thailand, but all of the produce is grown locally on farms just outside town. The multiculturalism of Darwin is at its most obvious at these markets, where you can tuck into fresh samosas and curries while buying up durian and mangoes by the box. Sundays, 6.30am – 1.30pm.
These Sunday markets are a favourite with locals who like to steer clear of Parap’s crowds. You’ll find many of the same food, clothing and brick a brack stalls, but in a more relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. There’s a big shaded playground for kids and plenty of chairs and tables up the back of the markets, with local community dance groups and bands providing a bit of light entertainment. Take the opportunity to try some of local Alley Cat Patisserie’s famous baked goods – the popular Darwin eatery’s lemon meringue topped cronuts and jumbo muffins practically fly off the shelves. This is also a good opportunity to stock up on souvenirs, with plenty of handmade dresses, jewellery, toys and even fudge on offer. Sundays, 6am – 2pm.
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