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Eating out in Cairns; a delicious adventure

From seafood to Aboriginal cuisine, the Cairns dining out scene is a vivid and immersive culinary experience with a lot on offer.

When you are familiarising yourself with Cairns, you will know that it is located in Tropical North Queensland. The coastline ensures that you are perfectly placed if you are looking for some great seafood. And, that climate is perfect to grow a range of tropical fruit and a huge range of amazing vegetables.

Cairns is unique in terms of diversity and abundance when it comes to food production. Some of the food produced here is what you would find commonly across Australia, however, a lot is specific to the tropics. Reef fish, prawns fished from the wild, fruit such as mangoes, bananas and pineapples are found in abundance. What is very special to the region is the range of Aboriginal spices and foods that have been gathered off the land and are available in local markets. And if you look in the right places, bush tucker is on some restaurant menus too.

Explore the region’s lush farms and producers

Head up to the Atherton Tablelands and you will find yourself in coffee and tea plantation land. Here you will find acres of cattle farms as well as aquaculture farms. There are several biodynamic dairies that produce and supply milk as well as products such as cheese and yoghurt. If you want to explore this region, all you need to do is pick up a map, mark out a trail and head on out. Of course, you could also sign up for curated food trails. And if you would truly like a taste of the land, then look up an indigenous expert to take you a bush food trail.

Local markets for food

If you love wandering through local markets, then look up the ones at Yungaburra or head on over Rusty’s Market, all of which carry produce that is local to the tropical north. The market dining scene in the region is expansive and you can choose from a wide selection of offerings – going from Asian to Italian and much more. If Native Australian ingredients and cuisine is what you are looking for, then you are never too far away from one such that has some good kangaroo, emu and crocodile on offer, not to mention seafood as well. No matter what kind of palate you have, there is going to be something to satiate those taste buds.

Healthy eating for the paleo/ vegan friendly

With the focus now equally on flavours and health, there are several healthy cafes that you can find in Cairns. Lafew Café and Kombucha Bar on Sheridan Street feature a plant based menu, some great organic tea and a range of vegan delights. Pantry 15 does some great breakfast plates and offers vegan. Vegetarians as well as those on a Paleo diet a lot of great options. Snoogies Health Bar has quite a few options for the health conscious that is vegetarian as well as vegan when requested.

What and where you must eat in Cairns

Every place has got a few of those dishes or core ingredients that you simply must have when you are there. Here is a look at what should grace your plates in Cairns:

Mud crabs: A suggestion that is repeated often here is seafood. While that is great, the shellfish is what you should particularly try and find. Oyster and lobster/ crayfish are more a South Australia specialty. In the tropical north Queensland region like Cairns, mud crab is what you will find extensively on menus. These are found in the sand of coastal rivers and estuaries. While you can simply order it at restaurants like the Prawn Star in Cairns, you may want to indulge in some mud crab catching of your own. Get on a fishing charter from Cairns to Port Douglas and throw in a crab pot into the water to catch your own grub.

Red claw: From mudcrabs, move on to the red claws that are freshwater crayfish indigenous to Northern Australia. It takes a while to get a hold of them if you are in the mood of picking some for yourself. A better bet would be to order some at the Smokehouse Café at the Australian Platypus Park. But if you insist on DIY, grabbing some yourself and cooking over an open fire, then you best head to Lake Tinaroo.

Barramundi: You cannot be in this region and not take to the barramundi, which is quite close to being called the official fish of tropical North Queensland. Found only in this region, Cairns is a great place to try and indulge in some. You could fish for it yourself during the official fishing season between February and October. Or you can simply sit back at some restaurants like Tamarind at The Reef Hotel and enjoy a whole one.

Chocolate: There is only one place in all of Australia that gives you a bean to bar experience and that is at Charley’s Chocolate Factory on Mission beach. Head on over, make some chocolate yourself, listen to all things chocolate and then indulge in all things chocolate. If you want to pick up some for friends and family, you will find a good stock available at Jonsson’s Farm Market.

Davidson plum: This is a ‘bush tucker’ plum that is local to Australia and is high on antioxidants. Orchards of this fruit are largely from in the Atherton Tablelands. You could also head to Rainforest Bounty a farm that practices alternate methods of farming to reduce impact on nature. Of this berry are made conserves, jams and more. The Ochre restaurant in Cairns brings in a lot of native bush fruits into its menu.

Green ants: Yes, we said green ants. They have a great tangy flavour and are commonly used in Aboriginal culture as a home remedy for colds and to bring down fevers. They are also equally used to flavour dishes. You will find them used in making of gins, cheeses and several innovative ways. Think green ant gravlax at Ochre restaurant. There are several walkabouts that you can head out on to see them in their natural habitat.

Ice cream: No, the suggestions here are like no other ice cream you have tried before. Daintree Ice Cream takes fruit right from the orchard that it is located on, and makes some incredible flavours like black sapote or roasted wattleseed. They have a range of sorbets, gelatos and ice creams that keep changing all the time. Another place to try is Floravilla Icecream which does some incredible work.

Cheap eats in Cairns: If you are looking to eat out on a small budget, then here too there are plenty of options to choose from. Take a hearty appetite and sit down to a meal at The Cock and Plate. At the Rattle and Hum, you get the feel of a true Aussie bar. Barnacle Bills is where you got to for some great seafood that Cairns is famous for.

Besides the adults, kids can have a great meal at Cairns RSL that is open for all meals. Cairns Night Markets have so many quick dining options for you to choose from. Rusty’s Market is by far the most famous of this lot. Eating out on a budget in Cairns does not mean a compromise on quality or options. There is always going to be a lot for you to choose from.

What and where to drink in Cairns

Good food is quite easy to find in Cairns. If you are looking for some great stuff to drink as well, then the city has a lot of offer.

Café culture: Cairns has a great café culture that you should spend some time exploring. For some good seasonal food to go with your cup of coffee, Caffiend in Cairns is definitely where you want to go. For those of you who are doing your bit for nature, you will want to check out Smith Street Café where the owner does some amazing work in an eco-friendly restaurant with innovative food packaging. Anne’s Caphe Sua is a place to head to for various flavours of the rich, creamy Vietnamese Ice Coffee.

Tucked into the nooks of Oceana Walk is the Blackbird Espresso. Make sure to stop over for a shot when you are shopping in the area. It’s coffee with a view at the Wharf One. And if you are looking for something fancy, then The Chambers Café and Restaurant is definitely a place you want to take someone on a first date.

Bar Hopping: Cairns has a vibrant night life and there are several bars, both big and small for you to choose from. Rocco at Riley Cairns is a rooftop bar that combines awesome views with some great cocktails. It is a fairly new addition to the drinking scene and gives you a lovely view of the Coral Sea. The Three Wolves in the Cairns Centre is where good drinks are paired with some great offerings from the charcuterie. Grab a cold beer and chill under some palm trees at the Kewarra Beach Shack Bar. Beer lovers can head to Hemingway’s Brewery that is inside a heritage listed building and offers some wonderful views of the Trinity Inlet. The Vine Room is another great place for those of you who love your wines and beers equally. It makes for a great place for a sundowner.

Food experiences in Cairns

There are several interesting food experiences you can treat yourself to in Cairns once in a while. Perhaps a cruise with your lunch or dinner on the Spirit of Cairns. You could also give a traditional evening with the Tjapukai a shot. This is where you enjoy a cultural evening and some good indigenous food as well.

You could go on conducted tours of Tablelands to discover food and drink from here, or you could choose to tour wine, chocolate and cheese making outfits for an interesting time. Flames of the Forest is an immersive dining experience that gives you a taste of Aboriginal cuisine in the rainforests.

When it comes to food, drink and culinary experiences Cairns has so much to offer its residents. By the time you have explored them all. There will be a whole new set waiting for you to try them out. Explore the indigenous food offerings, try out the local food from the markets and enjoy the seafood.

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