Melbourne is the capital of the state of Victoria, and a truly multicultural city with over 140 countries represented in its inhabitants. Its vibrant community includes residents from Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, South Korea, Britain, Italy, Greece, Japan and India. Plus, of course, its own indigenous population.
Some of these nations are recent arrivals to Australian shores while others have been around long enough to have contributed to Melbourne’s history and culture. In fact, some nationalities have their own districts that combine with each other to make up the heart of this metropolis.
It was the discovery of gold in Victoria in the 1850s that prompted a wave of migration from China. The influence of this latest nationality to settle in Melbourne can be seen in and around the streets and alleyways surrounding Little Bourke Street, home to Australia’s oldest Chinatown, which came to life in 1854-55.
Today, Chinatown is a centre for all types of Asian cuisine, not just Chinese. Thai, Japanese, Malaysian and Vietnamese restaurants rub shoulders with European and Australian eateries. It’s also the home of the Asian Food Festival, which is held from September to October each year. The Festival celebrates the best of Asian cuisine, and restaurants from across the city take part in the event.
Chinatown is home to the city’s most-awarded silver service restaurants. By contrast, hawker-style eateries make an appearance on the third Friday of each month as this is market day in Chinatown. Market goers are tempted by the appetising aroma of rice, noodles, dumplings and satays on offer at the pop-up food stalls.
Vietnam on Victoria Street
The Vietnamese surname, Nguyen, is the second most common name in the Melbourne phonebook after Smith. Originally Vietnamese migrants congregated around Victoria Street and turned a once rundown shopping strip into a thriving community.
Although there are now hundreds of Vietnamese restaurants throughout the city to choose from, it’s worth a trip to Victoria Street where it all began. Natives of Melbourne claim it’s still the place to find the cheapest and best Vietnamese food, from noodle dishes and rice paper rolls to large bowls of pho.
Greek migration to Australia goes back to 1827, but the majority of Greeks arrived between 1945 and 1982. Today, Melbourne is thought to have the largest Greek-speaking populace outside of Europe.
Melbourne’s Greek Precinct is home to numerous Greek restaurants, cafes and cake shops. Located on Lonsdale Street and between Russell and Swanston streets, it’s the focal point for the annual Antipodes Festival, which is held every March. If you’re looking for traditional Greek fare, modern fusion or fantastic cakes and pastries, head to the Greek Precinct.
Dishes include seafood moussaka, souvlaki of lamb or chicken, calamari and traditional Greek mezes. As well as original Greek fare, a number of eateries are now offering modern interpretations of Greek classics. Using ingredients such as octopus and halloumi, chefs are producing delicious modern day mezes with a contemporary taste.
The suburb of Carlton is traditionally home to Melbourne’s Italian community. These days the percentage of Italian residents is fairly small compared to those originating from eastern and south-eastern Asia, and the United Kingdom.
However, the celebration of all things Italian is kept alive on Lygon Street, the birthplace of Melbourne’s café culture. This is the street that first introduced the espresso machine to the city in the 1950s, igniting the local population’s passion for coffee. The district still prides itself on the quality of its Italian restaurants and speciality delicatessens. It’s the place to go to if you’re looking for perfect pasta and pizza and tantalising tortes.
Explore Melbourne’s laneways
A series of laneways weave their way across Melbourne. Beautifully lit at night, these charming arcades house a surprising variety of exotic eating houses. Real foodies will take great delight in exploring the laneways in search of hole-in-the-wall cafes and one-off restaurants.
The enjoyment of this city is finding that it still has quirky corners and hidden delights. It offers everything from award-winning contemporary restaurants to traditional alfresco eateries. With such a diversity of cultures and cuisines, Melbourne is heaven for food lovers.