• Presenter Jimmy Shu (Sally Ingleton/Jimmy Shu's Taste of the Territory)Source: Sally Ingleton/Jimmy Shu's Taste of the Territory
The Chinese-Sri Lankan restaurateur came to Darwin 29 years ago and never left - now he's hosting a brand-new Top End food series.
By
Camellia Ling Aebischer

16 Apr 2020 - 3:13 PM  UPDATED 20 Apr 2020 - 12:30 PM

Who is Jimmy Shu? Tell us!

I have to say to everybody I’m not a spring chicken, I just turned 71 and I’m still batting. I guess there’s a lot to do if there’s passion there.

I’m a bit of a mixed bag – both my parents are from Shandong province. Dad migrated to Sri Lanka of all places. He entered as a silk peddler selling silk on a bicycle and eventually opened a restaurant.

Living in Sri Lanka came at the expense of my mother tongue but as a typical Chinese-born in Sri Lanka I’m not very fluent in Sinhalese. My parents gave us the best education money could buy but I was never any good, only good with my hands. I couldn’t get into university because I failed Sinhalese and my father said ‘don’t’ waste anyone’s time, get in the kitchen’.

I couldn’t get into university because I failed Sinhalese and my father said ‘don’t’ waste anyone’s time, get in the kitchen’.

I later met a girl who decided to come to Australia, and we got engaged. She wanted to settle her parents here then come back to Sri Lanka, but she took a bit longer and I eventually followed her. This was 49 years ago.

Eventually, I joined a group of friends and started a vegetarian restaurant called Shakahari in Melbourne. It was voted best vegetarian for 15 or 16 consecutive years. From there I opened more restaurants, and now in total I’ve opened 13 restaurants. 2 in Malaysia and 11 in Australia.

Today with a lot of Asian migrants there’s a lot of competition so it’s difficult, but I’ve always maintained my passion. I love cooking, I love serving people and I say I love putting a smile on everyone’s tummy.

Episode guide | Jimmy Shu’s Taste of the Territory
Jimmy Shu’s Taste of the Territory takes you on a culinary journey to the multicultural melting pot of Darwin and the Top End.

How did you end up hosting the Taste of the Territory series?

It came out of the blue. I travel a lot constantly looking for new things. I had a call from the series producer, Naina Sen, who I didn’t know at the time, but perhaps she had done some research. She gave me a call and said ‘would you like to do a show?’, and I’ve always admired people like Luke Nguyen, and I thought ‘I’m just a kid from Sri Lanka’. Imagine a kid from some bush place plonked into Hollywood with all the bright lights. I thought ‘wow my gosh, I’m nearly retired’.

Jimmy discovers Darwin's signature sights, sounds and smells.

What’s your favourite moment from the series?

My favourite part is taking them to my second home, the Rapid Creek Markets. All my friends who visit ask to go to the Rapid Creek Markets. The amazing thing is that I get to talk to the growers themselves and they’ve got some really good stories. Most of them have hardships and come from a tough background but have contributed hugely to the food scene in Darwin.

Equally best was the traveling and meeting some amazing Indigenous Australians.

 

What’s your favourite thing about living in Darwin?

Are we still in Australia or are we in Asia? People will come here saying that. We have stunning weather in May, June, July. If that weather was like that all year it would be the capital of Australia. The seafood here is amazing too, we can have crabs just 30 minutes after putting crab pots down.

The series touches on a number of themes including native foods. What do you think the most underrated native Australian food?

I know this one sounds a little grotesque, but the best thing was the brains of the magpie goose. It was just cooked over some charcoal with no seasoning but after it was cooked the chef scooped a little bit out with a twig to eat – it’s like an amazing French pate.

Once you taste it and have it – wow – I think it’s the caviar of the region.

 

What was your favourite dish from the series?

You got me there! That’s a tough one. Well, the most exquisite thing used would be the pearl meat done very simply. Basically, we cure it with lime juice which we harvest from Humpty Doo. It’s soaked for just 10 minutes served with a nahm jim dressing and sprinkled with a few slivers of sweet basil. That stands out. It’s about $140/kg to buy so it’s up there with wagyu beef.

If you had to choose one cuisine to eat for the rest of your life what would it be?

If I was to choose one cuisine? Wow. That is a curly one because I’ve got to battle between a few… well I would have to say Chinese roast pork belly, that is to die for. Either that or the roast duck.

 

And to finish off, what is the best cooking tip/piece of advice you’ve received?

Keeping it simple. Because now there’s a lot of fusion going on to the point where it’s confusion. Keep it simple and use the freshest produce you can – especially seafood. For fish you smell the ocean, always use it fresh.

 

Explore a Taste of the Territory with Jimmy Shu in his brand-new series at 8:30pm Thursdays from 23 April to 11 June on SBS Food and SBS On Demand.

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Episode guide | Jimmy Shu’s Taste of the Territory
Jimmy Shu’s Taste of the Territory takes you on a culinary journey to the multicultural melting pot of Darwin and the Top End.
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