Food & Culture

Jimmy Shu on egg noodles, barramundi in Darwin, and his Chinese-Sri Lankan heritage

The chef turned television presenter gives us a taste of the Top End and shares his love of rare seafood delicacies.

By Jordan Kretchmer
You've been living in Darwin for 29 years now – how did you first come to Darwin?
I was running three restaurants in Melbourne and I was always on the hunt for beautiful ingredients. Growing up in Sri Lanka, we'd always buy silver barramundi. I looked all across Australia for it but, back then, there was only brown barramundi. Eventually, I found Billy Boustead, who was breeding silver barra here in Darwin, and came here for it. Soon after I arrived, I stayed and opened Hanuman – I've been here ever since. Now every restaurant I open has a silver barramundi dish on the menu.
What are your food memories of growing up in Sri Lanka?
My father ran a Chinese restaurant and was one of the first to make fresh egg noodles in Sri Lanka. He brought the first machine over from a Chinese expo, and I used to make 30 kilos of egg noodles for the restaurant and to sell every day. He used to put smiles on people's faces, and that's what I wanted to do.
In your new TV show, you visit Darwin's Rapid Creek Markets – what do you love about them?
We all have a comfort zone and the Rapid Creek Markets are mine. Everything is under one roof – things from my childhood, healthy things, home-grown things. Buying direct from the growers means you get the freshest stuff: the sap is still oozing out of tropical fruits, the herbs smell incredible, the vegetables are stunning. For me, I live to eat, so these things are all I want.
Darwin's Indigenous people have a great connection to the land and influence on the food there – what have you learned from working with them?
You have to appreciate that these traditions have been going for thousands of years. While we can explore and use these ingredients, we first have to truly appreciate Indigenous traditions and ingredients. Take the magpie goose, for example. Bininj chef Ben Tyler showed me how they cook this bird over firewood. Eating the brain is an absolute delicacy – it tastes like the best French pâté you've ever eaten… I couldn't stop thinking about it.
What are some other interesting ingredients you've worked with?
Paspaley Pearling Company operates out of the Northern Territory and after harvesting the pearls, there is beautiful, fresh pearl meat left. We cure it – it's a bit like ceviche – in a Thai-style nam jim. It's $120-$140 a kilo so it's precious – but you just have three of four slices and enjoy the freshness. It's like a softer abalone – it's divine.
Speaking of seafood, you're a big seafood lover – what else do you enjoy?
I love to go crabbing – it's so special. Also sea cucumbers – there's a huge demand for them around the world.
We can't travel for a little bit, but if you could go anywhere in the world where would you go?
I've always wanted to go to Peru – to go to the home of ceviche would be amazing. Then I'd love to go back to Japan – they understand seafood so well. They have fine-tuned everything – they appreciate everything from little anchovies to unagi and sea urchin.
Darwin also has an abundance of fruit thanks to its climate. What are some of your favourites?
Paw paw or green papaya salad is loved here. I also love how many different kinds of mangos we have here. Making green mango salad, mango lassis, or Filipino-style pancake with lasagne-like layers of custard and mango. We also have jackfruit – eaten ripe on its own, or using the young ones in a curry. It replicates the texture similar to meat – it's beautiful.
Your restaurant combines flavours from Thailand, Malaysia, China and Sri Lanka. What's your approach to creating those combinations?
Sometimes there's too much going on with fusion food, but there doesn't have to be. It can really go back to basics, to make beautiful food with different ideas. There can't be innovation just for the sake of it – it should be for the palate and have
a purpose. It's all about fine-tuning.
Jimmy Shu's Taste of the Territory is available to stream on SBS On Demand now.