Faraway Fish Banh Mi

Faraway & Fishing

A favourite Aunt once told me that the boldest way to travel was to head to the furthest point and work your way back. “Giant leaps of faith”, she declared, “were always rewarded”, and that’s how I found my way to Garig Gunak Barlu National Park

This faraway patch of paradise on the tip of the Northern Territory’s Cobourg Peninsula takes some determination to reach. It’s a dusty, half-day’s drive beyond Kakadu National Park, but when you subscribe to the belief that the view at the end of the road is always brighter, going the extra mile is part of the plan.  

It’s no exaggeration to spruik that Cobourg’s fishing grounds are amongst the best in the Top End. So far from civilisation, the waters are utterly pristine and the white sand beaches lure nesting sea turtles ashore. But here’s the hitch: you’ll need to bring your own boat if you really want to explore. From the national park boat ramp you can reach nearby reefs and sandy shoals where queenfish, cod and golden trevally wait, and there’s plenty of Spanish mackerel and long tail tuna too. 

On windy days, head deep into Port Essington’s mangrove-fringed bays to wage battle with barramundi and mangrove jacks. The ominously named Caiman Creek is a top little spot to flick a lure and set mud crab pots, but remember to keep all limbs inside the boat! 

Despite the fact that crocs and jellyfish make swimming a perilous sport, there is so much to do. Allow a half-day to explore the Victoria Settlement ruins along an excellent, easy walking trail (3.7km) that loops lazily past the chiselled stone footpads of Victoria’s tiny homes, hospital and gravestones. Spot old tamarind trees and wild cattle known as banteng left by Indonesian Macassan traders, dugongs and dwarf spinner dolphins from viewpoints along the Coastal Drive, and toast the sunset from the Smith Point memorial.

You can beachcomb, birdwatch and join free ranger-led walks, and the Black Point Cultural Centre is stocked with so many locally gathered treasures. What thrills visitors the most is the fishing, and it’s impossible to return to camp empty handed after time on the water. With wood provided for campfires, every night ends with chairs pulled close to the flames, cooking up the day’s catch over hot coals. If you make it there this winter, be sure to cook up our fish-loving take on a tasty Vietnamese classic. 

Faraway Fish Banh Mi

Serves 4

500g firm, white fish (4 fillets)

2 tbsp lemongrass paste (or equivalent fresh, chopped)

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 

1 tsp grated ginger

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp coriander paste (or 2 tbsp finely chopped coriander root & stems)

2-3 tbsp plain flour

salt & pepper

extra 2 tbsp oil for frying 

Quick Pickled Vegetables:

Thinly-sliced, crisp veggies: 1 carrot, 2 radishes, 2-3 mini cucumbers

2/3 cup vinegar (apple cider or rice wine)

1/3 cup hot water

½ tsp salt 

1 tbsp sugar

To serve:

8 mini Vietnamese-style bread rolls

½ cup whole egg mayonnaise

1 tsp hot sauce (or 1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce)

1-2 cups fresh coriander sprigs

1-2 fresh red chillies, sliced 

Create a marinade for the fish by combining lemongrass (paste or fresh), garlic, ginger, soy sauce, fish sauce, oil and coriander (paste or fresh). Rub over the fish and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

For the pickled vegetables: 

Thinly slice or julienne a carrot, cucumbers and radishes and place in a bowl. Dissolve the salt and sugar in hot water, stir in the vinegar and pour over the vegetables. Set aside and drain well before serving. 

When ready to eat, drain the fish well. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat (either on the stovetop or campfire coals). Season the flour with salt and pepper and toss the fish lightly to coat. Cook the fillets, turning, for 3-5 minutes until golden. Transfer to a plate. Slice open the bread buns (toast if preferred) and spread generously with mayo seasoned with some hot or sweet chilli sauce. Add some pickled vegetables, pieces of fish, and top with fresh coriander sprigs and sliced red chillies. Enjoy! 

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