Multicultural Australia, Where to Taste Australia’s Culinary Diversity
Multicultural Australia is where you can get a taste of Australia’s rich culinary diversity – in the suburbs of every city, and in towns across the Australia. This is a guide to where to sample everything from Vietnamese pho to Iraqi lamb – by local experts who eat, cook, grow, and write about food in Australia.
Food fixes everything, right? It’s my view that if we all shared more meals with strangers, the world would be a better place, so this is my response to a story I found offensive on the Sydney Morning Herald site yesterday.
For this guide to where to get a taste of multicultural Australia I consulted chefs and food writers, an urban farmer and culinary bookstore owner for tips on where you should go to eat Australian food with global roots.
I’ve got more contributions coming and I’m looking for tips from Hobart, which I’ll add when I receive them, so watch this space.
Where to Get a Taste of Multicultural Australia
The Sydney Morning Herald‘s travel website, Traveller, lowered the travel writing bar yesterday with a post titled ‘Un-Australian? The 10 Least ‘Aussie’ Places in Australia’ by Ben Groundwater. The intro, which has since been removed, read: “It’s amazing how some places that are iconically Australian can sometimes feel like they don’t belong here.”
Un-Australian? Don’t belong here? The echoes of the racist Australian politician Pauline Hanson made me ill. Ironically it was only a little over a year ago that the same paper published a story “Un-Australian is a lazy insult that really needs to be retired”.
The very white writer who I expect went a deep shade of red after the readers’ comments started trickling in, then went on to name places like Byron Bay and Bondi Beach, where “artsy hippie shows” and “foreign accents” made him feel like he was in Thailand. Of course, his Thailand is ‘tourist Thailand’.
Despite the deeply offensive title and introduction, the story itself was inane and ill researched. It was one of those pieces that writers can bash out in an hour or two when we have to. He bizarrely cites places like Thredbo in the snow, Norfolk Island, and the Benedictine monastery hamlet of New Norcia as being exotic and un-Australian.
He writes things like: “Those wanting to get a hit of Vietnamese or Chinese culture without leaving their own shores should head directly to Springvale.” Because white Australians all live by the beach. You know, like in Home and Away. But at least he mentioned Springvale.
Some of the reader comments reflected what I’d been thinking as I read the post:
“They all scream Australia to me. Must be my perspective of my country.”
“Excuse me, but what definition of “Aussie” are you using?”
“I agree – this journo has no knowledge of Oz history – for example German immigrants in SA were some of the earliest non-convict, non-British that came here. If people insist on writing up Australia as some jingoistic mono-culture as this article does, even if it’s only in the travel section, no wonder we struggle so much to come to terms with modern issues.”
“And the Chinese were also very early Oz settlers and influenced many rural areas, and Queen Vic Market is mid 19th C at the latest – so why are these ‘not’ Australian? Because the journo only sees one dimension and a cliched one at that.”
“What on earth is this article about…Australia feels like Australia wherever you are cos its Australia”.
Thank you, people. There were only a dozen comments, which means that either not many people read the Herald’s travel section. Or, they turned the comments off.
And just as I decided to write a post here on ‘Where to Experience Multicultural Australia’, these comments appeared:
“The headline should read ‘Best places to see Multicultural Australia: The places that show the diversity of the country’.”
“’Best places to experience multicultural Australia: The parts of Australia that don’t feel Aussie’ In Melbourne that would be Brunswick, Coburg, Fitzroy, Footscray, Yarraville to name a few.”
Soon after, surprise, surprise, they changed the title of the story to ‘Best places to experience multicultural Australia: The parts of Australia that don’t feel Aussie’, which frankly wasn’t much better, but not as borderline racist.
I still remain deeply offended. I’m the granddaughter of Russian immigrants who arrived in Australia post-World War II. My mother (a baby at the time), grandmother and great-grandmother spent time in a displacement camp in Greta, New South Wales. My grandfather, who had gone ahead and arrived on an earlier ship, was already working on the Snowy Mountains Scheme. They’d later have a market garden in Seven Hills and work in factories until they retired.
I was raised in the western suburbs of Sydney. Born in Parramatta, I went to primary school in Lidcombe. My sister was born in Auburn. We split school holidays between the homes of my Russian grandparents in Blacktown and my Australian-born grandparents, retired dairy farmers, in Northmead. My classmates were from countries like Vietnam and Lebanon, the children and grandchildren of immigrants or refugees themselves.
I’ve written about the long complex history of immigration in Australia a lot on this site, largely in the context of food, from the Chinese who arrived as early as the late 1700s as seaman (in this post on Sydney’s Chinatown) to the ongoing and successive waves of immigrants soon after the 1788 British occupation and colonisation of Aboriginal Australia (in this story on Contemporary Australian Cuisine and this guide to ‘ethnic’ Melbourne restaurants).
Australia’s immigration history is long and complex, marked by successive waves of immigrants from China, the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, and wider Asia. It’s worth noting that an Italian convict and French winemaker and merchant were on the First Fleet of ships to arrive. The first major wave of immigrants in 1851 consisted of 50,000 Cantonese for the Gold Rush. In the 1880-90s, Lebanese and Syrians escaping the Ottoman Empire settled in Australia while Russians started arriving after the 1905 and 1917 revolutions, and again after World War II.
The vast majority of Australians are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, whether they arrived as colonisers, convicts, refugees, exiles, economic migrants, or expats – the white author of that story included. If we think like Groundwater, the only real Aussies are the Aboriginal peoples, our indigenous Australian compatriots, the original Aussies.
But as far as I’m concerned, we are all Australians, no matter what our history and heritage – right up to the recent wave of refugees from the Middle East and Africa who have sought shelter, safety and security on our shores and in our suburbs, and made Australia their home.
Cabramatta and Springvale are as Australian as Darwin and Alice Springs.
As the easiest way for people to access Australia’s rich cultural diversity is through its food, and there are so many cuisines that can be found right across Australia, we decided to provide a guide to where you can get a taste of multicultural Australia.
I could have shared the places we love and frequent when we’re back home visiting family and friends or working on stories and guidebooks – Sydney’s Chinatown, Richmond and Dandenong in Melbourne, Northbridge and Fremantle in Perth, Darwin’s Parap Markets.
I loved the Campsie Food Festival, which reminded me of that very multicultural childhood – a far different childhood obviously to that experienced by Groundwater and the editor who made the decision to let the odious “unaustralian” URL remain.
But instead, as I live in Cambodia and return infrequently to Australia, I decided to consult local experts, friends and colleagues in Australia who work in and write about food, for their tips as to where get a taste of multicultural Australia. I’m kicking off with Thang Ngo and Lorraine Elliott, whose food blogs give loads of coverage to the suburbs of Sydney that the inner-city focused travel and food sections of newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald largely ignore.
Where to Get a Taste of Multicultural Australia
In Real Australia, One in Five Speak a Language Other Than English at Home
Sydney can seem “un-Australian” if your flavour is bleached, smooth and beach-ready stereotypes you see on Home and Away. In real Australia, one in five speak a language other than English at home. In Sydney it’s one in three. In the Fairfield local government area where I live it’s 7 in ten.
Pad Thai is one of the most popular dishes for home delivery. Vietnamese Banh Mi must be up there. Is that un-Australian? I wrote a post about what is Aussie food recently and the venerated food critic interviewed was scratching his head. That’s probably because our nation has always been made up of migrants. Today migration is a greater contributor to population growth than natural increase.
For best Vietnamese pho head to Cabramatta, for Iraqi lamb shank stew try Fairfield, dosa deliciousness can be found in Harris Park, Lebanese chicken is conquering Sydney with the most popular place in Granville.
Just about every type of regional Chinese is represented in Hurstville, Strathfield for Korean Kim chi moreishness, Sydney’s North Shore for Japanese, spongy Ethiopian injera in Merrylands. What’s not to like?
Thang Ngo writes about culture and food. He is a contributor to SBS News and blogs at noodlies.com.
“Un-Australian” Eats in the City that is Diversity – Darwin
When I was asked to put together some suggestions of “un-Australian” eating establishments in Darwin, I didn’t realise how hard it would be. This is the town whose daily newspaper runs a “best Laksa in town” two-page spread and ignites a debate across the city. Their choice was Yatsi at Parap Markets but my personal favourite is The Rendevouz, a café that started out selling open Danish sandwiches (hence the European name) and ended up being the go to place for curry laksa.
We are a city of Markets. Mindil, Parap, Rapid Creek, Nightcliff and Malak markets all feature some great food from the 70 ethnic groups that make up our city’s population. Malak Marketplace features organic foods and a wonderful paella. With over 200 stalls Mindil market is legendary for it’s diversity.
Not only does Parap market have the top two laksa stalls, Mary’s and Yatsi, you can get an excellent crepe. Rapid Creek is Darwin’s oldest market. There you can pick up the freshest Asian greens, homemade tofu or dried anchovies. Nightcliff’s food offerings range from the spicy Thai to pastries from an artisanal bakery.
A town with our Chinese heritage quite rightly features some outstanding choices. The Hingston in suburban Anula has the most amazing crispy roast pork, Loong Foong in Marrara specialises in the freshest of seafood, while Happy Garden in Parap is an institution of Cantonese style cooking.
The Roast and Noodle in The Galleria is a great lunchtime spot with lots of roast duck noodles walking out the door. Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, Korean, and Vietnamese all have a place in the local menus. The award winning Hanuman mixes dishes from across the region.
A hidden gem is the Bamboo Lounge in Tipperary Waters. This is owned by a Nepalese woman who makes the most awesome garlic chicken wings. It’s right next door to the charcoal chicken shop, producing a favourite lunchtime comfort food, chicken and chips with gravy! Chow at the Waterfront serves an excellent Pho as does Ruby in the Mall. Pearl from the Asian Pot makes an amazing fried beef hor fun.
Greek food options are also outstanding, with a café like Manolis, which serves the biggest meat platters ever and a gorgeous skordalia to die for, while Yots at Cullen Bay can be depended on to have a tender barbecue octopus and fried calamari, just like on the Greek Islands. If you ask nicely at Finnegans Fish and Chip shop in Nightcliff they will make you a grilled fish with just the right amount of lemon and oregano.
Those who like Italian can go upmarket at the Casino with Il Piatto or casual with Fannie Bay Super Pizza where the pizzas are cooked in a wood fired oven with personality thrown in.
For those looking for “Australian Food” the pub is your best bet. The Cav serves up a great steak but watch out, because they might entice you with a beef rendang or a pulled pork taco instead.
Katrina Fong Lim is the Lord Mayor of Darwin. Her great grandparents arrived in Australia from China in the 1880s.
In Sydney, the Suburbs are Where a Lot of the Great Food Finds Are
While Chinatown is convenient for those that live near the city, the suburbs are really where a lot of the great food finds are at. And nobody knows these suburbs like a local so we always get a local to show us around their favourite finds in our Meet My Suburb series on my site.
For the most incredible xiao long bao at an absolute steal wander along Ashfield‘s Liverpool Road. Or try nearby suburbs like Burwood where you can buy knives and moon cake moulds from Leung Tim Choppers Company as well as Korean goodies, excellent char siu cooked to order and crispy salty fatty pork and Taiwanese sweets.
The Homebush West/Flemington area has fat, delicious banh mi served alongside beef brisket stew or Hong Kong style barbecue meat. It’s a few doors down from the huge queue that snakes out from Pho Toan Thang, where you can choose from 13 types of soup noodles.
Or go further west for a glorious day’s eating at the intriguing suburb of Harris Park. Wigram Street has a collection of Indian restaurants, all with their very own personality and menus. Look out for the fairy lights and go from place to place all day long. There’s even a hybrid Chinese-Indian restaurant called Indian Chopsticks! Auburn has fantastic dondurma (stretchy Turkish ice cream made using mastic) and Petersham is the place to find Portuguese charcoal chicken and Pasteis de Nata custard tarts.
It’s not all out West and back east Double Bay has great kosher food. Kingsford and Kensington have a plethora of Indonesian eateries serving murtabak, bakso and pempek and areas like Woollahra, Bondi and Randwick have great Polish and Hungarian food.
Lorraine Elliott writes on food and travel at Not Quite Nigella. Her mother was from Singapore and her father Hong Kong Chinese.
Where to find Middle Eastern Food in Melbourne and Sydney
The suburbs of Melbourne have some great little pockets of Middle Eastern food. Brunswick and Coburg are obviously closest to me – and my heart. You can get hummus and fatteh as good as Tripoli and felafels as good as Cairo. In Sydney, you just have to go out to Auburn or Punchbowl or Bankstown to eat the best charcoal chicken and toum (garlic dip), great Lebanese sweets and relax with a shisha.
Multicultural Eats with Korean Roots in Carnegie, Melbourne
Evolving from a strip of predominately Korean cheap eats and grocery shops to one of the most multicultural eat streets in Melbourne, Koornang Road, Carnegie, is now also home to a variety of other cuisines. It is a celebration of Thai, Chinese (more than an handful of dumplings and regional Chinese eateries), Vietnamese, Malaysian, Japanese (Shyun Ramen for one of the best Japanese ramen noodles in Melbourne) and Italian cuisines on the one street. The Korean presence is still strong, with newer additions specialising in Korean BBQ, and Korean Fried Chicken and beer. Cheers, mate!
Kenneth Meow, sometime restaurateur, culinary traveller and food lover.
In Adelaide, Head to the Northern Suburbs
The Northern suburbs are where a large population of the Asian community resides and is the place to start for traditional Asian food. The corner of Days Road and Regency Road, Croydon Park, is an awesome little Asian Mecca! Pho 75 is by far the best pho in SA and probably the original before pho boomed. I think it is arguably better or as good as the pho in Vietnam! Big call, but it’s cheap and super bloody tasty.
In this precinct there is also a small little place called Peking Duck BBQ. So small, if you blink you will miss it. Serving traditional BBQ pork belly and crispy roast pork belly, simply served in a little plastic bowl with rice, sliced cucumber and a small bowl of broth. Amazeballs and cheap! And to top it all off they also have a pretty good Asian grocer in the same block.
Again keeping to the Northern suburbs, there are many many more Asian restaurants. Hanson Road is also a great street for more Vietnamese food. One that stands out and a favourite is Pho Ba Ria 2! Everything from pho to all the Vietnamese treats. Just down the road is Vietnam, super well known and probably the original Vietnamese restaurant in Adelaide. Always fully booked and busy. Closest thing to eating food in Vietnam!
Prospect Road also has that great mix of ethnicities, especially the further north you go. Afghan, Lebanese, Italian, Polish, Vietnamese are all on the same street from restaurants to great Asian grocers, Indian Bazaars and Lebanese grocers.
Dennis Leslie is Executive Chef at Hill of Grace Restaurant, Adelaide. His mother is from the Philippines.
Brisbane, Where Greek, Italian and Vietnamese Communities Thrive
Hip, funky and cosmopolitan inner city West End was the original home of the Greek migrants and today you can still find many stalwarts of the Greek community there including the Greek Club, the Hellenic Club, St Nicholas Nursing Home, and the Greek Orthodox Church of St George.
Brisbane’s best Greek restaurants – Lefkas and My Little Greek taverna are found in West End and are the much loved, as are local providores, including Micks Nuts, Delta and Mega Continental foods. Paniyiri Greek Festival is held every year in May and is Queensland’s largest multi-cultural festival, attracting over 60,000 visitors each year.
The Sydney equivalent is Marrickville. There are some amazing Greek restaurants in Sydney, including Alpha, Apollo, and, of course, the famous Medusa Greek Taverna. In Melbourne it’s Lonsdale Street in the city or Oakleigh. Melbourne has the highest population of Greeks outside Greece in the world. It is also worth mentioning that Attica – Australian Gourmet Traveller’s #1 restaurant in 2015 and #2 in 2016 – located near Oakleigh is named after the region in Greece of which Athens is the capital.
In Brisbane, we also have a Vietnamese-Australian community. Originally Vietnamese migrants also settled in West End, but today a thriving Vietnamese community is found in Darra in Brisbane’s outer southwest. It’s quite common to find many Brisbane families out at Darra on a weekend enjoying a delicious pho soup or Vietnamese rice paper rolls or shopping the local produce markets.
And let’s not forget the Italians. New Farm may now be one of Brisbane’s most desirable (and expensive) suburbs, but it’s the Italians who settled there when it really was still a ‘farm’. To this day there are numerous signs of Italian and Genovese architecture found throughout the suburb and many fantastic Italian restaurants such as Arriva, Majo’s, the ANFE Italian Club, and what is arguably Brisbane’s best deli – the iconic New Farm Deli run by our neighbours, Vince and Maria Anello.
Sandy Papas is the blogger-publisher of traytablesaway.org. She married into the Greek-Australian community 22 years ago.
Where to Taste Multicultural Brisbane
As someone who just bought John Newton’s Wogfood, now a 20+ year-old book, this is a pleasure. For a taste of multicultural Brisbane, my absolute top suggestion is Sunday’s Woodridge Market at Station Road, Woodridge, where you can try the cuisines from every part of the Pacific and Southeast Asia and buy all the ingredients to make the food at home.
Brisbane’s primary Chinese areas are in Fortitude Valley and Sunnybank. Landmark in Sunnybank Plaza puts on a Cantonese Yum Cha that has the queue out the door (thankfully in an air-conditioned shopping centre) and still has trolley ladies.
One heads to Inala for Vietnamese, though more and more good stuff is hitting the inner ring, like Cafe O Mai on Cracknell Road, Annerley. Also in Annerley, the less adventurous might like to have their multicultural experience in more familiar ‘modern australian cafe’ surroundings – every Friday night, on a monthly menu rotation, Ben O’Donoghues’ Billy Kart Kitchen takes on a different world cuisine. You’ll need to book for a table.
I also recommend Taro Ramen in the City and Ascot, the Swiss Deli in West End for the best Portuguese tarts, New Farm Deli for Italian on Brunswick Street, New Farm, and Mamaku for Indonesian on Sandgate Road, Clayfield. The Ruski Way deli at Buranda awaits your next Brisbane trip, with a staggering array of locally and home made and imported Eastern European goodies.
At Moorooka, Ethiopian restaurant Mu’oz is well established these days, back from their time in West End, and still based around skills development for refugee women. A wonderfully sour injera is available at the Moorvale laneway bakery. I like mine spread with apricot jam and cream cheese and rolled up. How’s that for multiculinary Australia?
Therese Piper is a keen eater and consumer of food culture, history and writing, and an urban farmer in Brisbane.
Multicultural Brisbane is in Evidence in its Diverse Restaurants
Head to West End for Vietnamese restaurants, Swiss delis, Japanese, and many good cafes. I especially like Mu’ooz for Ethiopian food and Soi 9 Thai, where the owners are Thai and the chefs are from different regions in Thailand and will cook up their regional dishes when requested.
Calamvale is great for Malaysian food. I also suggest Mamaku restaurant for Indonesian at Sandgate Road, Clayfield; Macondo Cafe for Colombian food in Salisbury; Genkotsu Ramen in Toowong; and Kitchen Inn for freshly made noodles on premises.
Great cookbooks include Taste of Egypt: Home Cooking from the Middle East by Australian-born Dyna Eldaief, whose parents are Egyptian; Kumar’s Family Cookbook by Sri Lankan-born Sydney resident, cook and designer-illustrator Kumar Pereira; and Marion: Recipes and Stories from a Hungry Cook by Thai-Australian cook, author Marion Grasby.
Julie Tjiandra is the owner of Scrumptious Reads culinary bookshop, Shop 5 & 6, 19 James Street, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.
In Perth, Start with a Taste of Asia in Northbridge
Being the closest Australian capital city to South East Asia, Perth has a fantastic, diverse array of “ethnic” food options. I agree with Thang Ngo (above) that Pad Thai, as well as Laksa, Pho etc are all well and truly up there as de-facto Aussie national dishes these days.
We run our Taste of Asia Adventure tour in Northbridge as there’s just so much amazing, authentic Asian cuisine on offer in the area at the northern end of William St – Malaysian food at Tak Chee House, Szechuan at Shanghai Tea Garden and Chilli Panda, Vietnamese at Okay Vietnamese Restaurant, phenomenal dumplings at Authentic Bites – you really could spend weeks eating your way through this awesome little enclave and still not try everything on offer!
Another great, lesser known area for those looking to take their taste buds somewhere exotic is the flourishing multicultural hub of Victoria Park. A stroll down Albany Highway will take you past Korean chicken joints, all manner of other Asian eateries (we highly recommend stopping in at Good Fortune Duck house for some Peking Duck pancakes), Eritrean, Italian, Greek – the list goes on and on.
The port city of Fremantle also boasts a thriving, diverse dining scene. One legacy of the large Italian immigrant population that flocked to the area in the post war years is some of the finest Italian eateries to be found anywhere in the city. Nunzio’s, La Sosta and the Australian-Italian institution that is The Capri (still going strong after over 60 years) are all well worth a visit.
For those looking for something less continental, The Modern Eatery serves up some mouth-watering Japanese and the Fremantle Markets and Old Shanghai food court host numerous stalls that offer great, cheap-and-cheerful fare from a diverse range of backgrounds.
For those willing to hop in the car and travel a bit in the pursuit of some good food, there’s a Singaporean and Malaysian dining hub on Collins Road in Willeton and a Vietnamese enclave in Girrawheen.
Justin Blackford is a Co-Founder and Guide at Food Loose Tours in Perth.
Pictured above: Melbourne chef Joseph Abboud and the wonderful food from his Lebanese restaurant Rumi.
If you have any tips as to where to get a taste of multicultural Australia, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. I’d love contributions for Hobart, Perth and Darwin.