Four hundred people – it’s not the biggest crowd Adam Liaw has ever cooked for, but, he says, “It’s the most people I’ve cooked for on a beach!”
The beach in question is Cable Beach, the 20km stretch of white sand just outside of Broome, Western Australia. And Liaw will be cooking for 400 people for the Sunset Long Table Dinner, part of the annual Shinju Matsuri festival.
The festival, now in its 46th year, honours the ethnic and cultural diversity of Broome. Traditionally, says festival president Chris Maher, the festival was a celebration of the pearl harvest. “But because Broome has such a rich and diverse cultural mix, it’s now very much steeped in the ethnic diversity of our city.”
Indeed, Shinju Matsuri translates to “festival of the pearl” in Japanese, and the festival’s symbol is a Chinese dragon. Maher says the festival is a mix of traditional Asian celebrations like the Japanese Obon festival, Malaysia’s Merdeka Day and the Chinese mid-autumn festival.
Broome’s cultural richness lends itself to an amazing meal, says Liaw. “If you’ve never been to Broome, it’s one of the world’s most interesting, ethnically diverse places,” he says.
As well as being the traditional home of the Yawuru people, Broome’s thriving pearl industry attracted immigrants from China, Japan, Malaysia and more. “You’ve got Indigenous kids who grow up with Japanese fathers. There are Chinese families that go back hundreds of years in Broome,” says Liaw. “It’s a really interesting cultural mix, and we want to show that in the food on the night.” Liaw adds that the city’s cultural hodge-podge makes a nice parallel for him, too. “I’m used to working with all of those different influences,” he says. “I was born in Malaysia. I have a Chinese Dad and an Indonesian grandmother. I lived in Japan for a while. But of course, I am Australian. All of that came quite naturally to me.” Liaw says the aim of the dinner is to take the cultural influences so abundant in Broome, match them with the unique produce of the area – and make 400 people happy.
This is only the second year the Long Table dinner has run, but already it has become an unmissable event on the Shinju Matsuri calendar. Last year, the 200 seats sold out within 10 days, and this year, 400 seats were snapped up even more quickly.
While the logistics of cooking a 10-course dinner for such a large group of people on a beach have their challenges, Liaw isn’t deterred. “Sure, we’ll have no kitchen, no big supermarket nearby, but it all works out on the night, somehow. I remember filming Destination Flavour up near Broome a few years ago. We were in the middle of filming when we remembered we’d forgotten an ingredient we needed.” He pauses, laughing. “There’s no corner shop, you know? So we called someone in town – about an hour away – and one of the crew members hiked back up to the main road to wait for him to bring what we needed. Filming slowed down a little, but it still got done!”
For those who missed out on a seat at the Long Table dinner, there’s also a pearl meat tasting at Willie Creek Pearls, to celebrate the harvest. Never tasted pearl meat? According to Maher, it’s “in the scallop family, but much nicer.” In Broome, it’s on the menu quite regularly.
“Eventually,” says Maher, “we want the Long Table dinner to be one of the biggest regional food events in the country. Broome has so much to offer, and we love showing it off. The CEO of the Yawuru people, Peter Yu, always says that Broome is the home of fusion food – and he’s right!”
The Shinju Matsuri Festival runs from September 10-18. Find out more here.
Som tam is a Thai salad often made with green papaya or green mango, although any vegetable can be used. The key to a good som tam is to bruise the vegetables to release their juices into the dressing. This recipe uses pearl meat, but you could substitute scallops instead.