We toured Northern Australia, the region that was untouched by the dramatic fires that devastated the east and south of the country at the beginning of the year. With some advice for where to eat (including raw worms, if desired) and, above all, to drink beer.

The real journey, as an introjection of an ‘outside’ that’s different from our usual one, implies a total change of food, a swallowing up of the visited country, its fauna and flora and its culture […] making it pass through the lips and the esophagus. This is the only way of traveling that makes sense today, when everything that is visible can also be seen on television without moving from your armchair“. The quote is by Italo Calvino who wrote it in the collection of short stories Under the Jaguar Sun. The quote doesn’t impress much for the incontrovertible truth contained in the few lines, but above all because the consideration dates back to half a century ago. And now more than ever the concept of tasting a place visited to learn of its soul, in a real and not a metaphorical sense, is quite current.

Northern Australia: ancient traditions and flavours

One of the destinations that can best convey this idea is – with a good dose of certainty – the Australian Northern Territory, Aboriginal Australia where you can immerse yourself in a millenary culture made of unimaginable traditions and flavours. This is especially so for us Europeans. Truth is that we know very little about that part of the world, perhaps because it’s too far and difficult to reach: few people decide to travel there to discover the territories, even if the number of curious travelers is growing increasingly, especially among the most ardent and daredevil foodies. That Australia is a huge and boundless country, however, is well known: anyone wishing to undertake this journey without resorting to organized packages must have an idea of where to go and what’s in store, in particular if interests are stimulated by gastronomic attractions.

Northern Australia, from red centre to top end

As can be easily imagined, the Australian Northern Territory covers the northern part of the continent called Top End, but its desert extension begins from the centre of the country, the so-called Red Centre. Compared to the size (almost one and a half million km²), the population only counts 230,000 inhabitants, a quarter of whom are Australian Aborigines. When packing your suitcase, be prepared to learn that you will be a corner of the planet that is still very authentic, at times wild, even if largely evolved. If wondering about the gastronomic places to visit… well, consider that there are no gourmet restaurants, but the authenticity is as rich as the heritage you’ll discover. With a long flight you will arrive in the capital Darwin: a lively city, where the majority of the population lives, and which offers a good place to start exploring, and a happy welcome. Along the main road, Mitchell Street, you will find various shops, bars and restaurants: for a good ice cream go to John John, for an excellent pizza visit Italian native Alfonsino’s, for an exquisite barramundi (the most popular local fish) go to the waterfront and book a table at Wharf One. For a more upscale dinner, reserve at Char. For a fine craft beer the One Mile brewery will welcome you. Take a half hour to explore a well-stocked old-fashioned deli that sells every quality food, Parap Fine Foods: it’s always been in the hands of a Greek family and here you will also find a section dedicated to spirits including the famous Australian Green Ants Gin inside which you will see floating small green ants, rich in formic acid and widespread in the area, used as a botanical during the production of the distillate.

In the footsteps of the aborigines

Back on dry land, treat yourself to a regenerating and romantic aperitif overlooking the ocean at Nightcliff, enjoying a truly special sunset paired with the food of several quality food trucks that take care of your dinner. Names? The small food truck Needle in a Haystack serves excellent cuts of goat meat and cheeses. But you will have to think about the wine by buying your bottles and uncorking them on site. You will experience one of the most fascinating sunsets ever. Darwin will certainly give you a pleasant welcome but you’ll realize where you actually are when you take a plane (barely 2-hour flight) to reach the heart of the outback. We could say the “hearts” because different scenarios feed this special world: for sure, Alice Springs, Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kakadu National Park and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park are the most striking (remote and lost) within a wonderful context, surrounded by the desert and in an atmosphere that’s hard to imagine. A veritable living cultural landscape that has been home of the local Aborigines population for over 65,000 years: one of the rare places in the world included in the UNESCO World Heritage list for its natural and cultural values.

Culture since nature has unique and spectacular expressions: the presence of Aborigines civilization is the protagonist with its ingredients and fascinating ancient traditions. This is definitely the deepest experience you can have in Australia.

by Giovanni Angelucci