From lamb chops to labne

Perhaps the most palpable impact migrants have had on Australian culture has been through food.

The dismantling of strict immigration laws in 1948 open the door to groups of migrants who brought with them an array of strange and delicious gastronomy that would transform the nation.

In the years after WWII Melbourne and Sydney were the powerhouses of food culture as southern Europeans settled in large numbers bringing with them coffee, olive oil, salami and pasta.

In Melbourne a ‘Little Italy’  began to grow along Lygon Street, in Carlton, where alfresco diners still enjoy authentic vino, hearty pastas, and more.

A must visit for Italian food aficionados is Toto’s Pizzeria, which has been in business since 1961, and was the first of its kind in the whole country.

With each wave of migrants came another cuisine.

Post-Vietnam war migration brought an influx of Indo-Chinese people after 1975, which saw the birth of Little Saigon, along Victoria Street, in Richmond.

Melbournians can now find authentic pho, Vietnamese grocers and specialty items here with little trouble, and appreciate the preservation of culinary culture with an excess of restaurants bidding for your business with affordable prices.

Indian migrants have brought a more recent addition to Melbourne’s repertoire of international food, as three-quarters of Indian born Australians arrived after 2006.

As a result, the Indian diaspora is far and wide, notably Little India in Dandenong for its authentic selection of Punjab restaurants and cafes, but also stretching into the CBD and Wyndham, in the city’s west.

Tonka, sandwiched between Exhibition and Russel streets, is the perfect demonstration of Indian cuisine adapting to Melbourne’s scene.

Run by Indian chefs Hendri Budiman and Adrian D’Sylva, Tonka provides a successful modern take on the well-loved cuisine, pushing it from casual, to fine dining.

Within Sydney, Ashfield offers a plethora of Chinese restaurants, particularly influenced by the Shanghai region. Shanghai Dumplings in particular has earnt a reputation as Sydney’s premier dumpling restaurant.

Albee’s Kitchen in Campsie is widely held to be the city’s premier Malaysian restaurant, although Kensington and Kingsgrove offer the broadest variety of options.

The thriving migrant population of Lakemba supplies foodies with excellent Bengali, Lebanese and Afghani goods, while Marrickville is renowned for its Vietnamese influence and Top Ryde’s three Persian restaurants are quickly gathering recognition.

A prime feature of this ‘foodie0 reputation is the sheer quality of Melbourne and Sydney coffee, with professedly “Melbourne-style” vendors observed in locations as far as Montreal and New York, and hosts of young barista-trained Aussies capitalizing by working in the trade overseas.

The genesis of this cultural trait can be traced back to Italian migrant and founder of Melbourne institution Café Florentino, Rinaldo Massoni, who brought the first espresso machine to Melbourne in 1929.

Greek immigrants then contributed the lever-pulled machines used by cafes today.

Frank Camorra, born in Andalucia, Spain and migrating to Melbourne at age five has demonstrated first- hand the valuable role played by migrants in bringing different culture to food.

MoVida, arguably the highest profile Spanish restaurant in the city, is Frank’s way of “bringing traditional food here from our heritage”, by conceptualizing it in a restaurant.

MoVida is an outlet to share traditional Spanish culture with Melbournians and food lovers alike, as Frank points out that the restaurant is all about “cooking food that I grew up with. Investigating and learning more about it and outing it into an Australian context”.

MoVida is a two-hatted restaurant and has been mentioned with great commendation in every ‘The Age Good Food Guide’ since 2008.

Guy Grossi is one of the country’s most dearly beloved representatives of Italian cuisine. Being the author of best-selling cookbooks (Love Italy, Recipes from My Mother’s Kitchen, and Grossi Florentino) and owner of multiple successful restaurants, Grossi claims he owes his success to his Italian heritage.

“Our family has influenced us greatly. Obviously, culturally, they have imparted their Italian heritage on us, which is strong and which we are proud of,” he said.

Initially from Milan, the Grossi family was a part of the migration wave from Italy in 1960 and found work as cooks running small businesses.

Another legend of food is Aussie-Chinese celebrity chef, Kylie Kwong.

For Kwong, cooking Cantonese food at home was a way of maintaining her heritage with her family whilst being so far from the homeland. Food is at the centre of her home, and so her star restaurant Billy Kwong can be seen as Kylie’s way of opening her home, and her tradition, with the curious citizens of Sydney.

Food, for Kwong, “is at the centre of everything”.

CGU reports that nine out of ten businesses in Australia are small businesses, of which one third are run by migrants, including the 35, 000 restaurants in Australia that are classified as small businesses. There’s no doubt that Australia’s multicultural food sector results from the innovative spirit of migrants who begun their lives here by cooking.

The dissemination of ideas and culture since the abolition of The Immigration Act in 1948 continues to increase ever since the abolition of the White Australia policy, enriching Australia’s proud history as the world’s most diverse nation, and putting world-class cuisine on our tables.

By Portia Conyers-East