Rainforest Markets of the Deep North

Along the coastal road through Far North Queensland, markets and roadside farm stalls provide a bounty of produce. It’s always a risk leaving a big town, with its safe supermarket and air-conditioned aisles of familiarity, to head off into the wilds in the hope of finding fresher, less uniform produce along the way. It is a risk worth taking.

Papaya for a song
Papaya for a song

Heading north from Cairns, the main source of fresh tropical bounty is the Saturday Mossman market. North of Mossman, the supplies are minimal so time your visit well. The Mossman market is an eclectic mix of old Australian of the Devonshire tea variety, new Thai farmers, old hippy and earnest organic growers. I purchased freshly crushed pineapple juice, bags of cherry tomatoes, Thai herbs and spices such as fresh stem ginger, kaffir lime leaves, and chilli as well as tropical fruits, papaya, mandarins, and large hands of lady finger bananas, the latter courteously ripening two at a time as we travel along in our camper van.  Some children had a tiny stall with limes and sweet basil, and a late arrival brought along a table of freshly pulled purple shallots.

Never too old to Busk. Mossman Market, Far North Queensland.
Never too old to busk. Mossman Market, Far North Queensland.

Heading south from Cairns, roadside stalls begin to appear after Innisfail, with a few farm stalls along the way to Mission Beach and mandarin stalls in the misty hills near the Tully River. In the winter months, look for long green Thai eggplant, tomatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and chilli, as well as passionfruit, bananas, papaya, pineapple, limes, mandarin, and  bags of small avocados. The fruits end up in our daily Sunshine Pine Salad, named after our dear friend Sunshine Pine from Taraxville, a girl who loves orange!

Sunshine Pine Salad
Sunshine Pine Salad

The Sunday Market at Mission beach is another excellent source of freshly grown produce. I was delighted to find a fragrant bouquet of fresh curry leaves, carambola (star fruit) and a bag of baby sweet potato.

Carambola and Passionfruit
Carambola and Passionfruit

Fresh seafood is available at Cardwell.  Moreton Bay bugs taste as sweet as crayfish, and the local Spangled Emperor fish has firm, white flesh, perfect for a lunchtime BBQ. This fish is caught only in the Coral Sea and is worth a trip up north just to taste it.

Our road trip down the east coast of Queensland, from Cape Tribulation to Coolangatta, is a research journey as well as a holiday. While pubs and restaurants supply reasonably priced meals, most of these are deep-fried, standardised and bland.  Sadly, that’s country food. With a bit of forward planning and local knowledge, it’s possible to eat extremely well along the way. Pull up in your car, grab a picnic table, and eat with a view in the warm open air. Food never tasted so good.

View of Dunk Island from Mission beach, Far North Queensland, Australia.
View of Dunk Island from Mission beach, Far North Queensland, Australia.

 

24 thoughts on “Rainforest Markets of the Deep North”

  1. That local produce looks delicious. The seafood sounds delicious as well. I certainly know what you are saying about country food being pretty stodgy and fried. I really struggle to find much I can eat in areas like that. Pubs are usually my best resource. I can get some fish and chips and a salad, or roast and veg and have them leave off the gravy! Love the photo of the enterprising woman with the banjo!

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  2. Yes I like the photo of the “woman” too with banjo. Very unusual pose with ciggie in mouth. The type of characters u get up there. I love the Kuranda markets too as well as the Port Douglas market. Got a crocodile hat with genuine teeth from there. I was talking to one of the sellers at the PD market and she said she also sells her wares at the St Andrews market – must do the rounds. We caught the Kuranda train to the top of the Daintree, then caught the Skyrail cable car bac/k down to Cairns. Just beautiful. Enjoy up there Francesca.

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    1. Yes Chris, people who sell clothes from Asia do the rounds and they do go up and down the coast. The country North Queensland markets are full of genuine local food, which I love to use and cook.

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  3. Buying food from establishments can be a bit hit and miss when travelling but there are some gems amongst it but with such colourful and fresh market produce, DIY food is a wonderful local experience both the eating and getting. I never enjoy the supermarket in day-to-day life, on holidays I surely want to spend no time in them! Oh, but I’d like a tree lettuce. Sound fabulous!

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    1. Road trips allow this exploration only because we have a wee fridge in the hired Hobbit van. And then we tuck hard vegetables away in boxes in dark places. It is such a squeeze. I think I would like to move up here.

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  4. You were in my neck of the woods!. Mossman markets is my local market! 🙂 I am glad you enjoyed it. We are so lucky to live in this area. What I do at the local pub is order fish and chips without the chips as they have a salad bar. I remove the batter from the fish as the batter insulates it from the fat and you end up with a lovely moist piece of fish – so much better than the grilled fish they serve.

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  5. Country markets are like lucky dips, you never know what you might find but sounds to me as if you’ve been lucky. I agree that the fish caught in Australia’s northern waters is fabulous. I frequently get dud meals in Melbourne too…..

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