A large window with 'Smith & Daughters' imprinted on the front and people dining at tables inside a well-lit room

Travel Guide: Diverse Foodie Culture in Multicultural Melbourne

Multicultural Melbourne nurtures a diverse foodie culture that mirrors its cultural history.

With the 10th largest immigration population in the world, Melbourne has been described as a ‘multicultural melting pot’. From Chinese dumpling houses in Chinatown on Little Burke Street to small Italian cafes on Lygon Street, Melbourne’s cultural fusion renders it one of the most unique and upbeat cities in the world.

Melbourne’s multicultural melting pot

There were three main waves of migration for Victorians. Firstly, the wave characterised by European settlement. Secondly, the Goldrush wave. And thirdly, the wave following World War II.

European settlement

In the 1830s, the first wave was characterised by a European settlement of mostly Anglo-Celtic people who displaced the people of the Kulin Nation.

Food of the First Nations people included things like kangaroo and possum, the native cherry, and the native potato. However, European settlement radically interrupted this way of life. As a result, by 1830, mountains of sheep dominated lands that were once home to native Australian marsupials. The traditional diet was now rather monotonous. It included foods like meat (beef and pork), flour and sugar.

The Goldrush

By the 1850s, people from all over the world flocked to Melbourne with news of the Goldrush. This increased Australia’s population, improved the economy, and stimulated the beginning of a new national identity. Gold-seekers were primarily English, Scottish, Irish and Chinese. During this time, the diet of the goldfields consisted mainly of mutton and damper (soda bread). But the influx of Chinese migration also saw a proliferation of Chinese cookshops selling more European-style meals. For instance, roast meat and soups.

A painting depicting men searching for gold in a small body of water surrounded by dirt planes, trees and scattered white tents in the background
Image Source: Painting by Edwin Stockqueler, courtesy National Gallery of Australia

Post-World War II

The third wave of migration was characterised by refugees from Europe and assisted migrants to strengthen population growth in Australia. By 1976, 20% of Melbourne’s inhabitants spoke non-English as a first language.

An influx of people from Cambodia and Vietnam increased the presence of authentic Vietnamese food like phở and bánh mì. For these newly arrived people, cooking became a way to earn money whilst learning to speak English.

It is now widely accepted that Melbourne’s identity is a multicultural one. Its food scene is just one of the many markers of this (others include art, design and music).

Lygon Street, Carlton

Lygon Street – running from Queensberry Street in the South and Elgin Street in the North – is Melbourne’s Italian precinct. Also known as ‘Little Italy’, Lygon is home to countless rows of Italian restaurants and alfresco cafes.

Groups of people sit at tables on a street outside a restaurant, lit up cafe signs illuminate the dark street and heaters hang from above the shelter
Image Source: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Food on Lygon Street

The Carlton Wine Room

Address: 172-174 Faraday St, Carlton VIC 3053

The Carlton Wine Room is a stylish restaurant in an old 19th century building. It specialises in wines sourced from around the world. These wines are then matched perfectly with a palette of fine food creations.

View of a street corner with people sitting at a table outside a white and navy building to the left of the frame
Image Source: Tim Grey (via Broadsheet.com)

Donnini’s

Address: 320 Lygon St Carlton VIC 3053

First opened in 2002, Donnini’s is a traditional family-owned Italian restaurant specialising in modern Italian Bistro (in particular, the lasagna!). The owners aim to curate an intimate dining experience, bringing people together with good food and wine.

From focaccia and egg yolk tagliatelle to vanilla panna cotta and tiramisu, Donnini’s offers its guests an authentically refreshing taste of Italy.

A man stands with his arms crossed in the middle of a street under a restaurant sign that reads 'DONNINI's'
Image Source: croftshoes.com.au

Oakleigh

Did you know, the city of Melbourne has the largest Greek population outside of Athens? Oakleigh is a rapidly gentrifying hub of Greek-Australian culture. The expansion of Greek businesses in the area continues to bolster its status as a Greek precinct.

Notably, Oakleigh gained international attention in 2017 when a food editor at The New York Times praised the pork gyro he ate at Kalimera Souvlaki Art – a Greek Eatery in Oakleigh’s Chester Street

Food in Okleigh

Kalimera Souvlaki Art 

Address: 43 Chester St, Oakleigh VIC 3166

With a unique combination of traditional and progressive, Kalimera is an innovative souvlaki bar specialising in lean meats, handmade dips and char-grilled pita

A sepia toned image of a young child and a middle-aged man in chef uniforms at a table cutting up meat
Image Source: kalimerasouvlakiart.com.au

The souvlaki bar has been featured numerous times in the media as one of the finest places to taste authentic Greek cuisine. The Age Epicure issued an article about the best souvlaki places in Melbourne, placing Kalimera number one!

A landscape view of a newspaper article titled 'Super souva' with a large image in the centre depicting chefs working in a kitchen
Image Source: https://kalimerasouvlakiart.com.au/news/

Pagoto Gelato & Waffle House

Address: 26 Portman St, Oakleigh, Victoria 3166, Australia

This pop-art style shop hosts an array of amazing ice cream flavours. From simple cookies and cream to traditional Greek dessert flavours like baklava and watermelon and feta!

A cafe interior with a neon artwork on the back wall, tables lined against the left wall, and the ice cream bar on the right
Image Source: https://gelido.com.au/

Dandenong

The Little Indian Cultural Precinct in Dandenong is a time-honoured authentic cluster of Indian culture.

Greater Dandenong is home to more than 12,400 Indian born residents. The streets are lined with specialist shops from eateries to traditional fashion, and public artworks beautifully adorn walls and poles.

Food in Dandenong

Arya Indian Restaurant 

Address: Shopping Centre, Shop10, 101 Seebeck Drive, Amberly Park Dr, Narre Warren South VIC 3805

With ‘Arya’ meaning ‘pure’, this restaurant seeks to capture the essence of simple Indian cuisine whilst using food as a ‘celebration of life’. The owners emphasise a respectful balance between food production, animal welfare and the environment. They also aim to reduce food miles to reduce environmental impacts, and source goods locally from the surrounding area.

Biryani House

Address: 343 King St, West Melbourne VIC 3003

Biryani House specialises in, you guessed it, Biryani! This delectable Indian meal is a mixed rice dish that originated among the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. Indian spices, rice and vegetables are core staples in this meal.

A bowl of orange rice and meat sits on a teal cloth on the table's surface with a bowl of cream coloured sauce in the background
Image Source: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Footscray

Footscray’s multicultural shopping area reflects Melbourne’s flow of immigrant migration. Once a dominated primarily by Greek and Italian migrants, Footscray later became a hug for Vietnamese and East African immigrants.

The ‘Little Africa’ precinct is located around the Nicholson Street mall. It features fashion and food from the African continent from handmade dresses to Somali Sambusa pastries.

Food in Footscray

Cafe Lalibela

Address: 91 Irving St, Footscray VIC 3011

Described as a ‘down-to-earth’ restaurant with African art and wicker baskets, this tiny Ethiopian-style eatery holds a true adherence to authenticity. Certainly, the lack of cutlery encourages you to embrace using your hands with a ‘tear and scoop’ motion in true Ethiopian tradition.

The food ranges from slow-cooked meat stews (wats) to vegetarian lentil mounds eaten with spongy sour bread (injera).

A man sits at a table with a plate of food and a can of coke, behind him is an orange patterned wall with framed paintings scattered across it
Image Source: Peter Tarasiuk (via https://www.broadsheet.com.au/)

Awash African Restaurant & Bar

Address: 64/82 Hopkins St, Footscray VIC 3011

Awash has been designed to serve authentic and delicious traditional Ethiopian delicacies and coffee.

Greeting guests in a unique way, the restaurant offers a traditional coffee ceremony. In Ethiopian coffee ceremony households, this tradition is a daily practice. It begins with the handwashing and roasting of coffee beans over a charcoal burner. Interestingly, the aroma of the scorched beans is said to create a certain ambience at the table.

Victoria Street, Abbotsford/Richmond

As a result of an influx of migrants after the Vietnam war, a miniature Vietnamese hub resides on the Eastern stretch of Victoria street.

There is a huge yellow gate installation at the intersection of Victoria Street and Hoddle Street to recognise the cultural contributions of Vietnamese refugees.

A Melbourne road and its surrounding buildings is lit up by the glowing yellow and blue gateway installation in the distance
Image Source: Ruperthetherton via Wikipedia

Food on Victoria Street

Pho Dzung Tan Dinh (‘The Cow and Chicken Place’)

Address: 208 Victoria St Richmond, VIC 3121

This family-run kitchen has been described as an ‘old favourite’ by its customers. It is the perfect place for a bowl of aromatic pho or other traditional Vietnamese dishes such as vermicelli or some crispy spring rolls.

Minhminh Saigon Soul

Address: 94 Victoria Street, Richmond, Vic 3121

MinhMinh Saigon Soul is a family-run business and has been trading on Victoria Street for over 20 years. The restaurant has a warm ambience created by brightly coloured walls and vintage Vietnamese posters.

The food here is authentic Vietnamese cuisine with a modern twist. The most popular dishes are the duck spring rolls, crispy quail and the dumplings. But there is a range of vegetarian and vegan options too!

Circular and rectangular shaped plates with dumplings, meat, salad and white flowers are placed on top of a wooden table with a singular pair of chopsticks
Image Source: Minhminhsaigonsoul.com.au

Little Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD

Chinatown stretches down Little Bourke Street as an offshoot of Swanston Street and Spring Street.

Chinese immigration to Victoria was catalysed by the discovery of Gold in 1851. However, the ‘White Australia Policy’ initiated in 1901 led to a decline in populations and businesses . Today, however, Melbourne’s Chinatown is the longest enduring Chinese settlement in the Western World. The long stretch is home to many festivals throughout the year making it a popular destination for both locals and tourists.

A red, blue and yellow lit street with a huge gateway connecting the buildings either side and red lanterns hanging from the middle
Image Source: https://www.visitvictoria.com/

Food in Chinatown

Ta Ta House Restaurant

Address 179 Russell St, Melbourne

Ta Ta house specialises in Cantonese cuisine. Its delectable homemade dumplings that melt in your mouth are famous, along with its ‘winter favourite’ rice vermicelli served in a 200C stone pot.

A street with restaurants lined down the right, people stand outside the shop windows and signs hang from above
Image Source: http://tatahouse.com.au/

The Crane Restaurant

Address: 212 Little Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000

Located in the heart of China Town, Crane restaurant offers an authentic experience of Chinese cuisine. It has a casual and relaxed atmosphere. The extensive menu offers a range of delicacies from buttered scallops in pepper sauce to spicy Szechuan noodles.

View from across the street in Melbourne's Chinatown of a pale yellow building, a woman with a red trolley walks in front of the opening and a black and red sign sticks out from the wall
Image Source: http://thecranerestaurant.com.au/

Melbourne Coffee Culture

Melbourne’s iconic coffee passion was spurred by the influx of Greek and Italian immigrants in the late 1940s after World War II. In other words, it is inseparable from immigration. Ironically, despite strong anti-migrant sentiment, Australia embraced this new culture of the coffee bean.

Melbourne is known as the ‘coffee capital’ of Australia. Food critic, Pat Nourse, says ‘it’s safe to say Australian coffee is among the best in the world’. Nowadays, coffee is ‘trendy‘ – a street without a café is considered a naked street.

A hand holds a white text-imprinted 'we love to make coffee for the city [Melbourne] that loves to drink it'coffee cup with people at store fronts in the background
Image Source: chapelstreet.com.au

Coffee shops

Seven Seeds

Address: 114 Berkeley Street, Carlton

Established in 2007, Seven Seeds was initially established to roast coffee for the Brother Baba Budan café. The name takes after a renowned merchant named Budan who smuggled seven coffee seeds out of Yemen and into India in the 17th century. In doing so, Budan broke the securely controlled system that kept coffee cultivation within the borders of the Arabic World.

The café and roastery do not take bookings and run on a walk-in basis.

A navy painted wall with a barred window on the left and 'SEVEN SEEDS' painted in white on the right
Image Source: sevenseeds.com.au

Proud Mary

Address: 172 Oxford Street, Collingwood

Proud Mary is devoted to cultivating exceptional coffee, as well as relationships. Therefore, they take pride in supporting coffee producers and communities and pay visits to the farms and families each year.

According to Proud Mary’s founder, Nolan Hirte, Coffee is more than the hot beverage that amiably slides down your throat. Importantly, it is also the networks behind the cup.

Doubling as a café and retailer, Proud Mary sells a range of ground coffee from single-origin beans to blend mixes, as well as brewing equipment!

Market Lane Coffee – Prahran Market

Address: Shop 13, Prahran Market, 163 Commercial Rd, South Yarra VIC 3141

Market Lane opened their coffee and roastery store in the historic Prahran market in 2009. Making coffee accessible and exciting remains their primary committment ever since.

In addition, sustainability and a reduced environmental impact remain a core focus of the coffee company.

A man and a woman in aprons make coffee behind a wooden cafe bar-front with a woman in a dress walking up to receive her coffee
Image Source: marketlane.com.au

Vegan and Vegetarian Food in Melbourne

Melbourne is one of the easiest places to be a vegan or a vegetarian. There are options for non-meat eaters at most cafes and restaurants. Furthermore, the city holds countless hidden gems that specialise in these diets.

Gong De Lin

Address: 3/264 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000

Gong De Lin specialises in vegetarian and vegan Chinese cuisine. From chilli infused dumplings to sweet and sour pork, this place makes authentic Chinese cuisine accessible to everyone.

It’s been a tradition of mine to go to this place every Monday. Their vegan take on the classic Peking duck is a staple in every order. Sometimes, the staff even show you how to assemble the meal using only one hand and a fork!

Red Sparrow Pizza

Address: 260 Chapel St, Prahran VIC 3181 OR 406 Smith St, Collingwood VIC 3066

Red Sparrow is an independent and locally owned vegan pizzeria. First opened in 2017, it remains a popular choice for vegans AND meat eaters.

The first time I ate this wood-fired pizza, my friend had to reassure me over and over again that it was vegan because I just couldn’t believe it! My personal favourite is the ‘Bianca’ pizza – a creamy, garlic-infused white-based pizza doused in vegan mozzarella, potato and rosemary.

A tattooed hand reaches for a piece of pizza with greens, two pizzas are on either side with two cans of drinks
Image Source: redsparrowpizza.com

Smith & Daughters

Address: 175 Brunswick St, Fitzroy VIC 3065

Run by award-winning chef Shannon Martinez, Smith & Daughters creates dynamic vegan cuisine. From breakfast pizzas to vegan cakes, this place is perfect for all the non-meat eaters out there. The oldest pub in the neighbourhood is the home of this restaurant. This situates customers within a historic bluestone piece of Fitzroy history.

A Melbourne cafe front with a large window with 'Smith & Daughters' imprinted on the front and people dining at tables inside a well-lit room
Image Source: Peter Tarasiuk (via broadsheet.com.au)

Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (MFWF)

Docklands, Victoria

The MFWF began in 1993 to promote Melbourne as the ‘food and wine capital of Australia’  Whilst it initially operated with only a small program of events, the festival has bloomed to welcome cooking classes and huge ‘banquet-style’ lunches.

The aim of the festival is to bring communities together and showcase ‘what [Melbourne] does best’.

You can also check out this guide on the MFWF page to get the most out of your visit to Melbourne.

Groups of people gather on the grass with little lights and red flags draped across the trees on either side
Image Source: https://www.melbournefoodandwine.com.au/

Significance of Multicultural Melbourne

Successive waves of migration have moulded the Melbourne we know today. Consequently, it is one of the most harmonious and culturally diverse cities in the world. Melbourne’s food and culture scene represents over 100 cultures, from Victoria’s original First Nations inhabitants to migrants from countries in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Melbourne’s multiculturalism has contributed to Australia’s national identity. As such, we nurture the country’s economy, and as a result, a fruitful future for budding generations is protected.

On a single Melbourne day, you can delight your tastebuds with a diverse pallet of global cuisines. And for those who live in Melbourne, perhaps travel restrictions during the pandemic aren’t so bad afterall. Undoubtedly, we have the world on our doorstep.

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