Olive Magazine
Images of Torres Strait, including boys playing in the sea, a boat and a fish dish

Cook like a local: Torres Strait

Published: January 17, 2022 at 12:25 pm
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Experience the multicultural flavours of this Australian island strait, from soy-braised chicken to citrus and coconut-marinated fish

Want to learn about Australian food? Looking for Australian recipes? Read Nornie Bero's guide below, then check out more Australian recipes.

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Recipes extracted from Mabu Mabu, by Nornie Bero (£22, Hardie Grant)


The Torres Strait was multicultural long before the rest of Australia. Our dishes have strong Japanese and Southeast Asian influences, filtered through an Island lens. The Islands traded food, plants, baskets and nets with Papua New Guinea and Indonesia for generations. The Japanese settled there as early as the mid-19th century, diving for pearls and bêche-de-mer (sea cucumbers).

Flour is an essential part of life in the Torres Strait Islands. While many kids come home from school and have a slice of bread, Island kids have dombois, which are similar to doughnuts and can be savoury or sweet. They’re very filling, especially when cooked ‘sabee’ style, in rich coconut cream.

Damper is the bread I grew up with. You don’t get freshly baked loaves off the barges – just flour and tins of butter. It was always made ‘Island style’, wrapped in banana leaves and steam-baked in the kup murri (underground oven).

You don’t often find a kangaroo tail in the meat aisle but Aboriginal people have been eating it for generations. They know it has some of the juiciest meat. Whenever we cook an animal, we make sure we eat the whole thing. Seafood is abundant – garfish, squid, oysters, mussels and periwinkles are all fished and foraged. Native Island ingredients include the sea succulents samphire and karkalla, and seeds such as pepperberry and wattleseed, a seed with a hazelnut flavour.


Torres Strait recipes

Semur chicken

Semur is a hearty dish in which a whole chicken is cooked in a thick soy broth with vermicelli noodles – lemongrass, soy and chilli feature in many dishes from the Torres Strait Islands, influenced by the multiculturalism there.

A metal pot filled with roast chicken, glass noodles and leafy green vegetables

Wattleseed scones

Wattleseed has a hazelnut-like taste and thickening ability similar to ground almonds – serve the scones with golden syrup butter or cream as part of an indulgent afternoon tea.

A tray of golden scones with one sliced in half and topped with cream and jam

Namas

This dish is prepared in a similar style to ceviche. It’s always best when made with fresh fish straight out of the ocean. The raw fish will cure in the citrus and coconut to create a smooth, fragrant and refreshing starter. The hint of soy brings these multicultural flavours together.

A blue bowl filled with ceviche with tortilla crisps on the side

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