The Asian experience
Take an easy-access food tour to a world of delicious Asian cuisine.
Thai food is popular and it’s easy to understand why.
The ingredients, consisting of mainly fresh produce, and the variety of styles and flavours make it a wise choice in terms of fast food.
If you’re discerning and seek out exceptional Thai, it can be culinary fireworks – the beginning of a journey that you want to take again and again.
Orchid Plaza houses one such source of excellent Thai food. Once something of a wasteland in the CBD, an arcade of mainly defunct shops used primarily as a pedestrian thoroughfare between Abbott and Lake streets, Orchid Plaza now buzzes with life.
An Asian cultural hub of grocers, tour operators, travel agents and food outlets, Orchid Plaza’s eateries attract mainly visiting students, noted for a canny ability to spot an opportunity to fill their tummies for next to nothing. You will, however, also spot local business people sitting at the hawker-style indoor food court wolfing down bowls of noodles with chopsticks and there’s always a sprinkling of families on holiday, as well as groups of regulars.
Which means it’s not just cheap, but offers quality as well, or the return custom simply wouldn’t be there.
On a fervent recommendation, we visit Chilli Thai on the upper level.
Sitting among a strip of similar-style restaurants, its bright and cheerful appearance is welcoming, there are a suitable number of other diners to suggest widespread recognition and the front counter staffer appears convivial.
Photographs of dishes on offer all look appealing and the smell emanating from woks inside certainly gets the mouth watering.
Pictures of all the classic dishes are lined up for inspection, including Thai salads, satays, soups, laksa, a myriad curries and stir-fries with interchangeable meat/poultry/seafood ingredients. There’s also a bain-marie of four or so daily dishes ready prepared for those in a hurry and as such, the prices are slightly cheaper than for cooked-to-order meals.
A tom yum fried rice ($13.90) and stir-fried black pepper chicken ($11.90) arrive promptly. Both are man-sized and eventual requests for a takeaway container to doggy bag is met cheerfully.
The fried rice is a sweet and spicy combination of crisp vegetables, plump tender seafood, surprisingly succulent lean beef strips, chicken, tofu and just about every imaginable vegetable. Hmmm, fresh, full of vigour and gorgeously tasty.
The stir-fry is equally generous and it is clear the mastermind behind Chilli Thai takes pride in choosing the best ingredients. With so much good competition in such close proximity, it’s hardly surprising.
Next door to Chilli Thai is Japanese Onigiri Cafe OMU selling a variety of pretty onigiri (rice balls with a variety of fillings), sushi, bento boxes (a traditional lunch box with meat or seafood, rice and vegetables), teriyaki, noodles, karaage (seasoned, deep fried fish or meat) and curry. All the food is beautifully presented and prices very reasonable.
One shop along is the renowned Corea Corea, a legend in Cairns for scrumptious, quick, very substantial Korean meals at low prices. You’ll see sizzling platters of barbecued meats, steaming bowls of noodles, rice and kimchee being handed round with gusto. This place operates at two capacities – busy and packed to the rafters.
Next door again is Chopstix, selling simple, quick and reasonably priced Chinese food.
A little further along is Sushi Express, the forerunner to all sushi eateries in Cairns and still chugging along nicely.
The appeal of Orchid Plaza’s Asian eateries is as wide as the diversity on offer.
The seating plans are informal with all (except Sushi Express) offering seating to the side or front of the shop. This way you could potentially mix and match foods from different countries in one sitting, if inclined.
Just like Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysian hawker centres, Orchid Plaza offers an easy, fun, affordable way to enjoy a fabulous lunch. You need only eat as much as you want (you can always take the rest home) and there’s no pressure to spend on add-ons such as drinks and desserts.
In the unlikely event you can’t find anything that floats your boat, you could browse downstairs where yet more food is on offer, or visit one of the Asian grocers for ingredients to experiment with at home.
Orchid Plaza sits on Abbott St opposite The Cairns Post and provides access through to Lake St.
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