Food News

How Darwin became Australia’s laksa capital (and where to head for the best bowls)

Top End humidity plus spice noodle soup? They're a more likely match than you'd expect, and queues of hungry diners at the city's laksa market stalls and eateries are proof.

Illustration by Vivien Walsh.

Vivien Walsh (illustration)

You wouldn’t think it but Darwin’s tropical heat is an ideal match for laksa, its signature dish. In many ways, the spicy wonder is emblematic of the city and all that it values: food, culture and community.

As the meeting point between the influences of Southeast Asia – laksa’s natural habitat – and Australia, the territory’s capital is nothing short of a flavour bomb when it comes to the noodle soup. Locals love it, line up for it and, even in the Top End’s sweltering temperatures, always have room for another bowl.

So much so, there’s an annual festival that celebrates all that is laksa, with 2020’s festival hosting nearly 40 stall holders. Every slurp brings you closer to understanding locals’ cult-like craving.

Laksa is a true love child of myriad cuisines. Each laksa carries flavour notes of its ancestral roots in the Peranakan culture, which came about after Chinese and Indian traders settled in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia in the 15th to 17th centuries.

A bowl of laksa from Mary’s at Parap Village Markets.

There are two basic types of laksa: Assam and curry. Assam laksa is the lighter of the two, as it doesn’t contain coconut milk. Instead, it’s made from fish (mainly snapper, trevally or mullet), torch ginger flower and tamarind. Sour notes are delivered in a broth that balances tang and spice. Curry laksa on the other hand is what Australian’s usually recall when they think of the noodle soup. The creamy coconut milk and curry base is the launch pad for a chilli oil that sears the palate, while carrying its toppings with ease. It’s intensely flavourful and can contain any combination of fish balls, wontons, tofu, chicken, prawn and a mix of noodles. The toppings are as unique as the makers themselves, who mix tradition with personality.

Where most Australians would knock back a coffee in the morning, most Darwin locals would consider laksa a standard dish for a weekend breakfast… or lunch, or dinner. Really, any time is laksa time. As ex-Lord Mayor Katrina Fong Lim explains, it’s “the ultimate comfort food”.

A bowl of Singapore laksa at Asian Pot in downtown Darwin.

The exact history of how laksa came to the Top End is unclear but locals say it arose from the cultural diversity of its residents and a strong history of sharing food and culture between communities. Locals represent 60 nationalities and 70 ethnic backgrounds in Darwin; embracing each other’s heritage has become an intrinsic part of life in the capital. Being closer to Indonesia than Canberra, Darwin is a true slice (on in this case, a spoonful) of Asia in Australia.

The weekend markets are an example of this cross-cultural exchange in action, where the air is fragrant with spices and herbs and filled with the sounds of Thai, Cantonese, Filipino, Indonesian and Hindi used interchangeably in the crowd . It should come as no surprise then, that you’d sooner find a young mango salad than a sandwich here. The one thing that every market has in common? The long line at the laksa stand.

Where to find the best laksa in Darwin

A true Darwin local will give you their list of must-visit laksa joints in town. But much like the number of laksa connoisseurs in Darwin, there is no definitive laksa. Communities have long mixed and matched ingredients, following seasonality and taste. From variants of curry laksa, Assam laksa or a combination of both, there’s something for every taste. So what to pick? Here are three of our favourites to try.


Jason Chin grew up in the institution that is Chok’s Place. From the days his mother ran the show, to accompanying her on early morning trips to Sunday’s Rapid Creek Market and then completing a commercial cookery course, he’s been at the helm of the Darwin Galleria hotspot for the last 13 years. Creating a wondrous stock, or “flavour platform” as Chin says, is the key to a standout laksa – he uses aromatics such as curry powder, turmeric, garlic and red chillies in his.

Chok’s Place is one for consistent quality; being crowned winner of the Laksa Festival for the last two years doesn’t hurt the reputation either.

What makes it unique: The broth carries an intense flavour that’s all texture and tang. A just-set boiled egg tops it all off.

Where to get it: Darwin Galleria, 37 Smith St, Darwin

When: Monday to Friday 10am–3pm; Saturday 10am–2pm

The chicken, prawn and BBQ pork laksa from Chok’s Place.


It’s 2.45am and Guo Yang Yei, lovingly known as Mary, is setting up her laksa stall at the longest-standing local market, Parap Village. The sun is yet to rise, it’s dark but already the tropical humidity is dialled up to 11.

Mary’s first customer arrives around 4am. An aromatic halo forms around Mary’s stall, thanks to a secret recipe that has been tried, tested and perfected over the last 25 years. Here, every bowl is “made with heart”, says Mary.

What makes it unique: The broth is full-bodied, punchy and heaving with spice, while the noodles, wontons, curry paste, fried onions and sambals are made in-house.

Where to get it: Parap Village Markets, Parap

When: Saturday 8am–2pm


Neon lights and a queue of patient diners mark the Asian Pot, operated by Pearl and Sid.

Pearl’s mother passed down her prized laksa recipe which Pearl has refined over the past 25 years, fusing it with the flavours of her Malaysian and Singaporean heritage.

Freshness is at the forefront of the Asian Pot experience. The broth is made fresh every day – it “makes the difference”, Pearl says – and each bowl is prepared à la minute with the noodles blanched to order, the toppings arranged just so, and the laksa soup ladled in piping hot.

What makes it unique: The curry paste, made in-house daily, is as fresh as it gets. The noodles are handmade locally and delivered to the shop three times a week.

Where to get it: 6/21 Knuckey Street, Darwin

When: Monday to Friday 10am–2.30pm

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