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Foodie Culture: The many layers that make up multicultural Melbourne

multicultural melbourne

Foodie Culture: The many layers that make up multicultural Melbourne

Melbourne is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, experiencing many waves of migration from all over the globe. The diversity of our communities has contributed to an ever-evolving melting pot of history, food and culture.

Victorians come from more than 200 countries, speak 260 languages and dialects and follow 135 religious faiths.

Victorians came here by four main waves of migration.

The first wave was European settlement in the 1830s by mostly Anglo-Celtic people who displaced the area’s original inhabitants, the people of the Kulin nation. First was the arrival of Batman and Fawkner from Tasmania, a pair known as the founders of Victoria, which was quickly followed by the officials from Sydney setting up the customs house, which is now the Melbourne Immigration museum.

The indigenous community grew food for consumption and foraged the lands. Foods of animal origin included kangaroo and wallaby, possum and wombat, and penguins (both the flesh and the eggs) and various molluscs and crustacea. Their plant menu included fruits such as the native cherry, native currant and kangaroo apple, and vegetables such as the native potato and native carrot.

The British arrival drastically disrupted Aboriginal society and its food culture – by 1830, a million sheep grazed on lands that were once the territory of grazing marsupials. Traditional English foods like pies, meat and veg were their staples.

The second wave was a flood of hopefuls from all over the world trying their luck during the 1850s Gold Rush. The gold rush brought people from all around the world to Australia, with a majority being English, Irish, Scottish and Chinese. This led to further Aboriginal dispossessions, especially inland from the early Melbourne settlement. The influx saw the arrival of significant numbers of Chinese.

The goldfields diet was largely mutton and damper, but Chinese cook shops also played a role selling mainly European style food soups, plum puddings, and roast meat.

The third wave was post-WWII refugees and displaced people from Europe, as well as assisted migrants to bolster Australia’s population. By 1976, 20 per cent of the city’s population spoke a non-English first language.

Arrivals from Vietnam and Cambodia played a big role in this era. Back before we could get bánh mì at the airport or phở at a food court, Vietnamese food was exclusively the domain of family-run kitchens in yet-to-be gentrified suburbs.

multicultural melbourne

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, food was a means of survival for newly arrived refugees. Cooking—whether from a home business or at a restaurant—was a way to make money while still learning English.

In recent years, large numbers of international students have also contributed to the multicultural fabric of Melbourne.

It is now widely accepted that Australia is a multicultural society and will continue to be so. Our streets are lined with cafes and restaurants from around the world and the flavours continually develop. With Ethnic precincts to suit your fancy only in Melbourne are we lucky enough to be transported to another country within our city.

Some notable Melbourne precincts are:

  • Italian – Lygon Street, Carlton
  • Greek – Oakleigh
  • Little India – Dandenong
  • African – Footscray
  • Vietnamese – Victoria Street, Abbotsford
  • Chinatown – Little Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD

If you want to experience Melbourne’s foodie culture, join a Foodie Trail and let their knowledgeable guides help you taste, experience and explore Melbourne through their eyes.

Book the tour HERE

Tour Details:
STARTS AT: Immigration Museum – Discovery Centre
WHEN: 10.30AM – 2:30PM Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays
COST: $125, inclusive of admissions and food tastings


Foodie Trails

Foodie Trails is a multi award-winning cultural experience provider. Foodie Trails conducts cultural food walks and cooking classes in Melbourne as well as international foodie tours. Under the festival banner, Foodie Trails also curates a wide range of cultural festivals in venues like Queen Victoria Market, Bunjil place and MCG. The events are a celebration of food, community and culture. Got a story to tell? Get in touch: editor@culturalpulse.com.au