Have you ever wondered how a few of our favourite cuisines first arrived in Australia?
The endless possibilities of exotic cuisine grew thanks to multiculturalism and we can’t be more thankful.
The first Chinese men came to Australia before the Gold Rush in the 1850s. They came specifically from southern China and worked as rural labourers and cooks in outback stations and country pubs. Once gold was discovered, cookshops were established near Chinese mining communities where they served Cantonese dishes based on fresh produce, fish, poultry, pork and rice. By the 1970s there were 150 Chinese restaurants in Melbourne‘s CBD and surrounding suburbs. Cantonese restaurants became increasingly popular during World War II, where restaurants were put in the city near war related industries. A 2013 study by the immigration and border protection shows 427,590 immigrants who were born in the People’s Republic of China are living in Australia.
The number of Thai immigrants are quite uncertain in the 1850s as many of them were grouped as Indo, Chinese and Korean because the number of Thai immigrants were small. This changed after the census in 1901 but numbers remained under 50 before the 1950s. According to a study done by the University of Sydney, the existence of Thai restaurants in Sydney were non-existent until 1976, when its first Thai restaurant Siam opened. By 1999, there were over 400 restaurants in Sydney alone. The Australian Restaurant directory website suggests that today there are 678 Thai restaurants in Sydney.
Thai Central in Sydney exists on George Street, Campbell Street, Pitt Street and Goulburn Street. On October 2013, the Sydney City Council approved three street signs on the corners of the four streets officially marking them as Thai Town.
A rush of Italian immigrants surged through Australia after the first World War because of restrictions in immigration to the United States of America and Canada. During 1922 to 1925 15,000 Italians from northern Italy migrated to Australia – 18,000 more during and after World War II. The influx of Italian immigrants brought the taste of Italy along with them, as well as igniting the beginnings of Australia’s craving for coffee. Bar Sport, one of the country’s oldest Italian restaurants, opened in 1956 on Norton St in Liechhardt. Bar Sport barrista Frank Natoliello said when he grew up, no one drank coffee and now everyone loves it. Liechhardt’s Norton Street is one of the best places to find Italian cuisines and is known as the Little Italy of Sydney.
Due to the Ottoman (Turkish) control in Lebanon in the 1850s and their disapproval of non-muslims, many Christian Lebanese people moved to Australia in the 1870s. Most of them settled around Redfern, Waterloo and Surry Hills in Sydney. Wilson’s Lebanese Restaurant in Pitt Street, Redfern is known to be one of Australia’s first Lebanese Restaurant which opened in 1957. The restaurant is run by John Perez and his wife Samia Perez, which was handed down by family friends. Mrs Perez says the Lebanese food has been popular from the very beginning and continues to be popular. Gourmet Safaris have singled out Punchbowl as the suburb of Lebanese cuisines.
A number of different exotic cuisines have come into Australia over the decades, only adding to the diverse selection of food and flavours that can be enjoyed by Australians. The introduction of Thai and Cantonese dishes have also brought upon more than 30 different cuisines all under the classification of Asian food, and Italian falls under its own category of continental cuisines. The offering of exotic cuisine in Australia was only a fraction compared to the multitude of foods available to us today. In Australia you don’t need to travel overseas to taste the best global cuisines because you may just find culture and food around the corner. – Daisy Montalvo
Top photo from Werner Kunz’ Flickr photostream.