If you think the internet is a red-flag-waving time sucking vortex of TikTok dances, costumed cat videos, and a gathering point for the strange and freaky, Googling ‘weird foods of the tropics’ isn’t much safer.
Okay, okay, we jest – food in the north is excellent. It’s named the Food Bowl of the North for a reason, and that reason is that everything edible here is naturally delicious, and if it isn’t top notch in its natural state, local gastro-nerds, producers, and chefs will make it so. Whether you consider yourself brave, committed to eating, or simply curious, set aside your everyday food preferences and get your acquired taste buds around this lot.
Hey vegans - stand up and be counted! With plant-based diets on the rise, veganism has deftly pivoted from fringe food style to mainstream hipster, and we’ve got the pulled jackfruit burger to prove it.
Jackfruit, native to the tropical climate of North Queensland and South East Asia, is the largest tree fruit in the world, with jackfruit weighing up to 45kg. Best used in savoury dishes when slightly green, the flesh pulls away in strings like a slow cooked meat. Its neutral flavour makes it the perfect carriage for hearty sauces and marinades. Combine that with a crunchy slaw, some beetroot (we are in Australia, remember) and a soft brioche bun, and you’ve got yourself a treat!
Mason’s Café in the heart of Cape Tribulation is famed for the most excellent Pulled Jackfruit Burger. Wrap your mouth around theirs like a rampant carnivore, declaring ‘I can’t believe it’s not meat’.
We had to include crocodile of some description on the list, right? This is Far North Queensland after all, and there’s a few to go around! With cries of ‘it’s just like chicken’ echoing, we’re here to tell you that’s absolutely correct… except it’s much better. Edible crocodile meat is mostly obtained from the tail and is quite firm with a very slightly gamey notes, perfect for carrying other flavours, particularly those on the South East Asian spectrum. You can taste ol’ snappy – perfectly marinated and spring rolled – at Port Douglas hotspot, Watergate.
I remember growing up here in the tropics and eating the juicy booties of green ants was totally a thing. Not just for a dare, but because they were legit tasty. You might be right in drawing conclusions about the questionable things kids do here in the tropics for entertainment, but that’s for another blog post.
Anyway, Australian Green Ant Gin actually contains ants. They’re floating in the bottle. And it’s a spankingly good gin. And really high in Vitamin C, so it’s practically a health drink. It’s unusual citrus character shines and adds colour to citrus-forward cocktails like slings and spritzes. The visual of your martini with ants floating in it is hard to beat. But the citrusy ant note brightens your Gimlet, even adding a lime Skittles note when paired with a fresh lime twist. Can occasionally be found in select bars and restaurants like Seabean Tapas & Bar or Zinc, otherwise hunt some down online to show off to your friends.
The Queen of Fruits! While all the other listings here are actual dishes, the mangosteen gets its own unadulterated entry. And for good reason… this delicacy is in season for a mere 6 weeks of the year and getting your paws onto them is like striking gastronomic gold. They are ripe for but a nanosecond, and such is their rarity that in the 1890s, England’s Queen Victoria was rumoured to grant a knighthood to anyone who brought her one.
Pull apart their thick, purple outer skin to find white fleshy segments of the fruit. A little bit lemonade-y, a little bit peachy, lemon-and-pineapple-y, this beautiful fruit will burn an indelible place in your flavour memory bank. Can be found at the Saturday Mossman Markets during season.
Three words - Chocolate. Pudding. Fruit. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you that Mother Nature was indeed a binge-eating chocolate fiend deep down like all of us secretly, then the good folk from Daintree Ice Cream have doubled down to make an ICE CREAM from A FRUIT that tastes like pure CHOCOLATE. What is this sorcery?
Black sapote is related to the persimmon family, and with the word ‘sapote’ literally translating from Spanish to mean ‘soft fruit’, it leaves nothing to the imagination on texture. The flavour, on its own, is a cross between cocoa, date, and caramel (YUM), so when blended into handcrafted gelato and ice cream, you’ll be forgiven for never wanting to leave this actual Garden of Eden in Cape Tribulation.
If Mardi Gras was a fruit, it would be a dragonfruit. Hot pink, sweet but a little bit tarty, and self-garnished with black beauty spots, it’s glorious to look at and even better to enjoy up close. Salsa Bar & Grill are well known and well-loved for much of their menu, however their tropical cocktails will have you double tapping on Instagram feeds in no time. Their dragonfruit caprioska is a vision to behold and a sensation to savour.
It’s a nut cheese, but not as you know it! Gallo Dairy on the Atherton Tablelands is well known for its cheese and chocolate production, complete with a full-scale cheese making area that comes with a glassed-off viewing platform to see how the magic is made. Utilising all local ingredients to flavour their cheeses, this particular one has locally grown roasted macadamias infused into the milk, and then also added into the final cheese processing stage giving it an obscenely tasty, obviously nutty flavour and texture. Available from local grocers, including Yum Yums in Mossman, and perfect for those laze-by-the-pool afternoon snack plates.
From the crisp to the crunch it seems there is no end to our obsession in turning every vegetable ever into a chip. Because, you know, #healthyeating. We’re blaming you, kale. Chips and dips never looked so darn tasty (or healthy) before discovering the taro chips and guac combo at The Surfy in Port Douglas. Taro root looks like a weird distant cousin of the potato until the skin is removed, revealing creamy flesh patterned with thin purple lines. When sliced and baked, this humble root vegetable turns into stellar chips that rival any greasy potato chip. And matched with perfectly seasoned guacamole makes it eleventy billion times tastier (and healthier). Fact.
Don’t you just love the way some words sound? ‘Soursop’ sounds just like this fruit tastes – soft to touch, much like custard apple, and with a ridiculously delicious sweet and sour flavour. A bit like nature’s version of sour Warheads, except much, much better. It’s great on its own, but what food has never been improved by turning it into a cheesecake?
Exactly. A rich biscuit base topped with a creamy, slightly tart and very more-ish topping, you most certainly need the soursop cheesecake from Highfalls Farm in Miallo on your must-eat list. Take the afternoon to hang about the farm for a while, too, to discover all the other rare tropical fruits they grow onsite.
Okay, so North Queensland isn’t exactly known for its sweeping vineyards… but fruit is in abundance and we are a crafty lot up this way. Plenty of fruit? Feelin’ thirsty? Challenge accepted!
Known as a tree grape, the jaboticaba was introduced into North Queensland from southern Brazil over 20 years ago. The black grape-like fruit sprouts directly from trunk and branch, fruiting several times a year. The fruit is crushed before fermentation, and skins removed from the fermentation tank after sufficient tannins and colour have been extracted. And wa-lah! Move over, merlot - we have jaboticaba wine. Best tasted whilst taking in the sweeping views of the Shannonvale Fruit Winery.