Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Eat Drink Perth 2011 - Twilight Hawker Markets

Perth is often tagged as ‘dullsville’ but not anymore, there have been many events popping up all over the place. Last year the inaugural Beaufort Street Festival drew huge crowds and the introduction of Fringe World at PICA in February this year had sold out shows at the Speigeltent. The Eat Drink Perth 2011 program this year is bigger and better, and one of the most anticipated events on the calendar are the Twilight Hawker Markets at Forrest Place in the city on Friday nights throughout March, 5pm-8pm. One thing that has become apparent is that when events like this happen, people are eager to come down and check it out.

The turnout for the first Twilight Hawker Markets was outstanding to the point where it appeared that the stalls were not prepared for the onslaught. Rocking up quite early in the evening after work to check out happenings I found that close to 5pm people were still frantically setting up. Throughout the evening, lines of people stretched far beyond the stalls which needed to be a bit more spread out to avoid congestion. However, this kind of added to the atmosphere, if you imagined yourself at a real hawker market in Asia, moving through small spaces, being crammed in queues and jostled as you order your meals is all a part of the experience. Some stalls had sold out of food by 6.30-7pm which shows that the response had probably been way more than anticipated. If you rocked up to the Hawker Markets later in the evening you would have missed out on treats like paella.

The big paella pan was one of the first things that caught my eye as I entered the Twilight Hawker Markets. I have never seen such a big pan of paella before and the sight and smell of it cooking away brought about excitement from onlookers.

I tried some of the paella and there was a generous mix of ingredients including pork, chicken and lots of different types of seafood including prawns, mussels, clams and squid rings. With the first few mouthfuls I could taste loads of flavour packed into the mix…although with a few more mouthfuls it became apparent that the paella was a bit saltier than I would have liked. One of my friends said that what the paella needed was a big pint of beer, with every mouthful of paella my friend wished that she was also gulping down some beer and then this would have been a perfect meal. While the City of Perth has opened Forrest Place to street eating, street drinking is an offence under Western Australian alcohol laws. 

It became apparent later in the night that the WA police take law and order quite seriously as my friends and I watched a police car trying to ram its way through a very crowded Murray Street Mall where the City Food Fair was taking place.

I also consumed some empanadas, which never disappoint. I have consumed Marcelita’s Columbian empanada’s at various other markets and I am quite a fan. What makes them so good is the use of corn maize flour for the dough which results in an incredibly light and crispy exterior as well as producing a vibrant yellow empanada resembling the vegetable squash. What I also appreciate about these empanadas are the tasty fillings. From the menu you can tell that a lot of work has gone into the fillings for the empanadas – shredded beef brisket with potato and capsicum, pulled pork with lime and coriander! This would have involved hours of slow cooking so that the meat becomes tender enough to be pulled apart. I have heard that it takes a whole day to prep the fillings. The empanada’s are made in small batches fresh to order - you can see the empanada dough being flattened, shaped, stuffed and then fried as you wait to order. One of the beauties of hawker food is watching your meal being prepared right in front of you.

I only managed to consume some paella and empanadas but there are also a lot of other foods on offer. I spent some time watching the Turkish stall of ladies who looked like they were a family. To me this is what hawker food is about. In many countries hawker stalls are family-run eateries and are a means for migrants and families to sell food on the roadside to make a living. In Penang, the city most famous for its hawker food, many of the most popular stalls are operated by third generation vendors. It was a beautiful sight to see these ladies together happily creating food for the masses. The Turkish stall had a range of foods on offer including gozlemes, baklava and sweet cakes and I definitely want to try some foods from this stall next time. 

The most popular stall looked like the satay sticks. The marinated chicken sticks are basted with bruised stalks of lemongrass and grilled on charcoal fire so you get an authentic slightly smoked flavour. You could smell the aromas of the satay sticks drifting through the air and it was very enticing but I didn’t end up getting any as it always had the longest line. I plan on getting in early for some satay sticks next time. 

(line for satay sticks late into the night)

I loved the effort that had been put into livening up Forrest Place to create the atmosphere of a hawker market with lanterns everywhere and roving entertainment from chefs on stilts and jugglers. However, calling this event the Twilight Market Hawkers is a little misleading. This event would be more aptly called the ‘Twilight Street Food Market’. Hawker food is traditionally associated with Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine, and although I saw Singaporean noodles advertised I didn’t see stalls selling any. Whilst the Twilight Hawker Markets don’t provide a lot of ‘true’ hawker dishes, you can consume a wide variety of food from many different cuisines including Romanian, Spanish, Turkish, Indian and Columbian. I think this is to the benefit of all, as it allows people to explore street food from around the world and taste delicacies from different cultures.

One of the best things about the Twilight Hawker Markets is that it brings people together. Food brings people together, but this casual outdoors style of dining even more so. We love having barbecues right? Like me, it appeared that everyone had planned to meet friends here after work to check out the hawker market and grab a bite. 

There are around ten stalls at the Twilight Hawker Markets but I only tried two stalls on the first night so I am looking forward to going back again this Friday and the following Fridays in March to check out the rest. The ‘Twilight Hawker Markets’ is where I want to be every Friday after work, it’s a great way to start the weekend.


  1. this looks great! such a shame (though not at all surprising) about the over-policing and no beers allowed, but baby steps, huh?

  2. Yeah, things are really starting to happen in Perth. Hopefully overtime, events like this will be better organised, be more free and relaxed (and alcohol would be a plus!).

    We had no idea what the police car was trying to do driving down a street jam packed with people. Looked a little ridiculous!

  3. Love hawker markets & street food! Glad the concept has made it to Perth :)

  4. Hi Jenius, it's great to finally get a hawker/street food market in Perth. Hopefully in the future the Malaysian Kitchen Food Market might come our way too!

  5. Great write up! We sadly got there too late to have much of anything, but we happily managed to get our mitts on some empanadas :)

  6. Police were not 'ramming'!

  7. The police were not exactly ramming their way through the crowds but as my friends were watching this unfold at the Carillion overpass we questioned why a police car was trying to drive down such a busy Murray Street Mall. Didn't appear to be any disorderly happenings, it would have probably being better if the police car took another route that night to minimise disruptions to the people who were enjoying the Hawker and City Food Fair happenings.

  8. Thanks for the write-up. Nice to see what I have been missing! It looks like I am going to have to bail on karate next Friday and pop in early to beat the crowd :D I can't go another month without trying Marcelita's empanadas :D

  9. Looks like an awesome event - thanks for the post! I will have to make it along to these markets before they close.

    H :)