“What is Australian cuisine?” It’s a nebulous question, and one that cooks and former Masterchef contestants Poh Ling Yeow and Adam Liaw travel around Australia trying to answer in their new show Adam & Poh’s Great Australian Bites. From lamingtons to meat pies, fried ice-cream, banh mi and dishes loaded with native ingredients, they taste the length and breadth of Australia’s diverse, cuisine-agnostic eating culture.
“Travelling across the vast Australian landscape and experiencing myriad food traditions reawakens stories of belonging and migration,” says Yeow. “From old Chinese restaurants in Ballarat with untouched decades-old menus to mind-blowing banh mi in Canberra, it’s been wonderful to learn of the stuff we’re made of, and why … Australia has one of the most tenacious food cultures in the world. [And] to properly hang with some of my trailblazing childhood heroes like Elizabeth Chong and Ken Done was the cherry on the cake.”
Yeow’s laksa recipe is a celebration of the thriving laksa culture of the Northern Territory, which reflects the gravitational pull of neighbouring Southeast Asia. Her version stars native ingredients, including barramundi, finger lime and wattleseed.
Poh Ling Yeow’s “Top End” laksa
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
80ml (⅓ cup) vegetable oil
1 tsp ground turmeric
1.5L chicken stock
800ml coconut cream
2 tbsp lemon myrtle powder, plus extra to serve
1 tbsp wattleseed
2 tbsp tamarind puree
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
500g skinless barramundi fillets
250g fried tofu puffs, halved
1kg fresh hokkien noodles
200g dried rice vermicelli noodles
1 cup loosely packed Vietnamese mint leaves
1 cup loosely packed coriander leaves
Finger limes or sunrise limes, to serve
Laksa rempah (makes double)
6 large red chillies, deseeded
6 dried red chillies, soaked in hot water
15g belacan (shrimp paste)
2 brown onions, chopped
5 garlic cloves
5cm piece ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
6 macadamia nuts
Sambal belacan (optional)
1 tsp toasted belacan
2 tbsp sambal oelek
For the laksa rempah (laksa paste), place all the ingredients in a food processor and process into a smooth paste. You can add a bit of the chilli soaking water if you need to help it catch the blades.
If making the sambal belacan, crumble the toasted belacan into a bowl, add the sambal oelek and stir to combine.
Heat a large pot over low-medium heat and add the oil. Add half the laksa rempah (freeze the rest for up to 3 months) and fry in the oil, stirring frequently for about 15 minutes or until the oil separates from the paste. Add the turmeric and fry for a further minute, then add the stock, coconut cream, lemon myrtle, wattleseed and tamarind puree and stir to combine well. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Stir in the sugar and fish sauce and taste to adjust the seasoning. Add the barramundi fillets and tofu puffs, and simmer for a further 10 minutes or until the fish is just cooked. Carefully break the fish into chunks in the soup.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles according to the packet directions. While different brands will vary, generally hokkien noodles will just need to be blanched for a few seconds and drained. Pour boiling water over the rice vermicelli and stand for 5 minutes, then drain. Blanch the bean sprouts in the boiling water for 30 seconds.
To assemble, warm the noodle bowls (you can do this by pouring a bit of the laksa soup into the bowls and then returning the soup to the pot). Divide the hokkien noodles, rice noodles, tofu puffs and bean sprouts between the bowls. Cover with the soup, then garnish with Vietnamese mint, coriander and a sprinkle of lemon myrtle powder. Serve with a little finger lime or sunrise lime.
This recipe appears in the new show Adam & Poh’s Great Australian Bites,Tuesdays from August 8, stream first on SBS On Demand and at 8pm on SBS Food.