September 2023 Food Champions Challenge : Multiculturalism and food

Being born in 1953 I witnessed a change in Australia . We took the most migrants of any country post WW2 . One of the things I noticed at primary school was the different foods the " New Australian " kids ate at lunch time . Herbie and Paula , both German , with their pork German sandwiches , Liz and Barbara , both Polish with their bologna rolls and sandwiches . Vincenzo and Maria , both Italian , with olives and sweet cakes , the list could go on and on .


Last months Challenge was well supported . Thank you for all who contributed .

From @Gaby @phb and @vax2000 Food Champions


My mother taught Migrant English at my Primary School before it became a Thing (English as a Second Language etc). Children with no English unable to participate in class were sent to her for a couple of hours a week. Immediately she understood these children needed “Survival English”. What’s your name? Whose is this? It’s mine.

As they did the shopping she made up teaching materials and asked them what they ate/cooked and took them on shopping excursions to ask for 2 oranges, a pound of biscuits (no self serve, biscuit came in tins and were put into paper bags). We regularly got ethnic dishes cooked in appreciation for the extra hours my mother put into helping them integrate, and for us, as children, who helped put all the materials together - we had an old letterpress printing press and I would do the composition and printing, with Mum gluing photos in place and stitching the booklet. Sometimes a shopping and recipe book.

We ate a wide variety of foods, and I loved it. My father came from a poor family and was used to plain eating and didn’t like “wog” food, but even he found a few he liked. Our new dishes became family staples, some “Westernised”, my mother grew new vegetables and I made non-English speaking friends with gestures, food and fun. It is an opportunity that made my life so much richer.


One of the greater changes would be the new foods introduced on the market to make those dishes which had been staples in the country of origin: where could eggplants be sourced to make Moussaka or eggplant Parmesan?
Many vegetables like zucchini, artichokes, lettuce other than the Iceberg variety, were farmed by immigrants and soon made their way into the local cuisine.
Sausages like the German Bratwurst were made by immigrant butchers, and the mozzarella cheeses by Italian cheese makers.
Another great change would be to go from being a nation of tea drinkers to being one of the best makers and drinkers of coffee.

There’s so much to be said about those early immigration days but the journey is ongoing as we now have also taken-up Asian/Indian/Middle Eastern/African flavoursome healthy foods, but that’s for another challenge :wink:


Before World War 2 the food situation in Oz was very constrained. There had been several waves of immigration starting with the first Anglo-Irish convicts, army and settlers. There were some Chinese immigrants during the goldrushes during the 19th century, mainly from the south who spoke Cantonese and brought that culture.

Before WWI there were some Germans too, including my grandma who came alone at 14 YO on a sailing ship knowing not a word of English. She came from a large family and I have pondered the reason why she made such a voyage and why her parents sent her off to her elder sister who had immigrated with her husband beforehand. The only reason I can find is poverty, she was a mouth they couldn’t afford to feed. I wish I could say she taught me all I know but the truth is she was a very ordinary cook who favoured grilled chops and overboiled veges. She sometimes did rouladen which I think she learned from her sister.

During that era there were very few restaurants and many of them did sausages and veg, roast dinner etc. Some country pubs still do. There were a few French and other continental restaurants in big cities and Cantonese in Chinatown but few people went there and what people ate at home was monotonous. In the suburbs there were almost no restaurants at all but some pub food.

Ingredients were very limited then too. There were no zucchinis, chillies or green ginger, garlic was hard to come by. Delicatessens mainly sold ham, block cheese and corned beef. There were specialty shops but few and far between and most people didn’t shop there because they didn’t know what they had, how to pronounce the name or what to do with it. It was all “Wog food”.

The Presbyterian Ladies Cookbook started in 1895, I have the 21st edition 1936 and includes gems such as Sheep’s Head soup, Bloater Paste and Stewed Hough. It does however mention macaroni and Pavlova!

After WWII it all changed. In 1950 if Monsterchef was on the radio it would have been taken off after a few weeks because nobody would have tuned in. The Chinese spread out into the 'burbs and by 1960 many had a restaurant. It was all Cantonese and we didn’t know there was any other but at least we tried it. The Mediterranean immigrants of WWII brought us much more and as they started to integrate so did their food. People ate olives and salami and started to cook with olive oil instead of lard. You could get an Indonesian feast if you had connections and would book the whole table. It was in a private home but very good.

Then followed waves of immigrants from Lebanon, Vietnam and hundred other places. The Chinese, Greeks and Italians had done the heavy lifting and so when the rest arrived and new cafes opened and new ingredients hit the grocer or deli we gave them a try. I am not sure if Pizza on every corner is good but we have it.

Now some of those country pubs have hats and people travel to have the experience. My children could use chopsticks at age 5. A Nepalese restaurant opened in town; it was heavy, fatty stodge, just what you would need if stuck on a mountain in need of calories to avoid freezing; but we tried it once.


I had a head start, as my maternal grandmother was of Malaysian descent and her husband was Chinese, both born in Australia in the 1800’s. She grew a lot of unusual vegetables and fruit. I think she managed to get seeds and produce from distant family. There was always a tin of Ve-Tsin, (MSG) beside the wood stove. Nothing was wasted.

Their parents started on the gold fields, camp cooking. She presided over a massive Station Homestead garden & orchard that reliably fed all the family and workers. She was an old lady when I was a child, her husband had died before I was born, the Station had been cut up into housing, but part of the garden was still there.

I had crumbed brains in honey sauce, rice cakes, something like a vermicelli rice noodle in thin vanilla tasting liquid, squillions of unusual vegetables, beans, stalks, roots, dried things, powders etc. She died when I was still at school. I never remembered the names of these dishes, and despite walking me around the orchard and naming everything, I can’t remember the unusual ones. Wish I could turn back time and ask her. I guess I can thank her for my willingness to “try anything”.


During the sixties and seventies our family welcomed in through marriage non Anglo/Celts . We had Russian , Italian , Egyptian and Jewish members added to our family . The old Aussie "bring a plate " took on a new meaning when I got to sample some delicious food from their cultures .


Oh envy.

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I’m a migrant, but from another English-speaking country, and have always found whatever I wanted to eat here - the food is terrific and fresh.
I also have taught English as a Second Language to adult migrants and have enjoyed the different foods at end-of-term parties. I love all the different ways people make dumplings / rouladen / filled cabbage or capsicum rolls …
My mother’s parents were immigrants to the US from (what is now) Slovenia, and while there were the usual holiday treat foods, food was pretty plain. This was in the 60s.
I used to live in Washington DC and there was a large Ethiopian community there - they opened restaurants from the late 1980s and the food was fantastic - and very different from the “usual fare” that I grew up with, of meatloaf / potatoes / salad (with vegetable oil and white vinegar dressing… hmm). The Ethiopian restaurants served spicy stews which you ate with pancakes made from teff flour - absolutely delicious.


The need for semi-skilled and unskilled labour in post WW2 Australia fuelled the assisted passage programs to bring in Greek and Italian workers. But the Policy was to assimilate and become Australians as quickly as possible. Thankfully the irrepressible culinary needs of those cultures emerged intact from assimilation.

Non-whites were still exclude, ‘undesirable’ migrants given a ‘literacy’ test but in a language foreign to them so that they failed to gain entry.
The White Australia policy was dismantled by the Whitlam government in 1973, and multicultural policies were formulated to respond to the pressures of new forms of migration and the post-war mass migration. The Racial Discrimination Act come into force in 1975, and the Fraser government promoted the reforms in 1978.

It doesn’t seem so long ago but the difference it has made in the Australian way of life has had far reaching consequences and has marked the Australian Government and the Australian people as being one of the greatest in the world in terms of embracing diversity and creating unity.


May I come at it from the other side? Arriving to Australia in the mid 1950s was an eye opener for the family. The food choices were so limited, as were the fashions and most other things.

European food was hard to find with ony a handful of delicatessens and butchers in the whole of Sydney selling food we were used to and could relate to. A fortnightly trek (by public transport) was madatory to stock up on the essentials for cooking. I still have memories of us being abused by fellow passengers more than once for not speaking in English on the bus.

At primary school I was constantly being picked on for having ‘wog food’ for breaks/lunch and the other children making various derisive noises and comments when they saw what I was eating. In fact it became a ‘thing’ for groups of kids to come over and gawk and make fun of my meal every lunch time.

The Italian greengrocers carried the closest thing we had to the vegetables we knew, and after getting to know our local greengrocer they would sometimes bring in and sell to us produce that they bought for themselves but didn’t sell, as ‘the Australians wouldn’t buy it’. I can’t remember any examples at the moment, but I do remember that the payment for this went straight into the leather apron, not into the till.

Fortunately, through the 60s attitudes changed and it became ever easier to buy the cuts of meat, delicatessen items, vegetables that we used for our cooking.

Nowdays, you can go to the supermarket and much of those commodities are there. How times change!


I was born in 1953. I also descended from Chinese. My Grandmother was Chinese, she married an Irishman. We ate some interesting food. To this day a family favourite is foojook, made from dried bean curd. My grandchildren love it they ask for it for their Birthday dinners. There are a number of vegetables and dishes we were brought up on and still eat, but foojook is a favourite. Our kids and my nephews and nieces fiancés have to sample foojook and like it, before we approve of accepting them into the family. This is in a joking manner, we don’t really reject anyone.


There’s no denying the presence of Chinese cooking in Aus pre-WW2, from the 1st Chinese restaurant in the goldfields of Ballarat in 1854 to the many market gardens abounding in freshly grown F&V established by Chinese farmers.
But then the numbers of Chinese migrants began to dwindle due to the White Aus Policy introduced at the start of Federation which was designed to limit non-British migration and which also meant deportation of non-white migrants.
After WW2 that policy was relaxed to allow refugees and other migrants to come-in and with the large influx of Italians and Greeks came the dishes and flavours which have made such a difference to the Aus eating habits.

The White Australia Policy was abolished about 50 years ago, and the progressive influx of immigrants from many diverse countries including from China, especially after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, has been a great influence in what we can now source in food stores/eateries.
Chinatown in Little Bourke street Melbourne, which dates back from the gold rush days, houses many eateries and top class Chinese restaurants.

The pendulum has swung back.


I wonder if we are nearly all migrants of another country. At least those of us whose ancestors arrived from 1788 onwards.

Imagine for the first of those decades when locally sourced European produce was scarce settlers relied on sailing ships for supplies. A very restricted selection of non perishable survival rations based on English tradition. I’d suggest it would have been those who came voluntarily or forced from other parts of the British Isles who offered the earliest signs of a multicultural cuisine. A desire to recreate the traditions of Irish and Scots fare in the face of imposed rationing likely the earliest examples of innovation and invention. Making something out of very little would have been the norm for the many from poor backgrounds. More than likely useful when serving those in more important roles, accustomed to the finest of silver service.

If that sounds out of place, consider that large numbers of the early Scots who arrived in the early decades spoke little or no English. Little different to how it must have been for the latter arrivals out of Europe and Asia. Equally challenging in other ways.

Without Scots there would be no Haggis or Deep Fried Mars Bars. Without the Irish there would be no Boxty or Guinness Pies.

Whether we eat better for all the other cultures that followed, there is no shortage of choice. Is it worth suggesting the full experience of different cultures is not complete without including the inspiring uses of native foods and ingredients by well known chefs?


When I look in my fridge, freezer and cupboards and see the herbs, spices, sauces, grains, oils etc I give thanks for all the wonderful tastes now available to me that were definitely not part of my childhood. We owe so much to the migrants who introduced them to our country. They also introduced us to different ways of cooking. For most of my teaching career in Sydney I taught in areas that had migrants from a range of countries and that was another influence.


The eating habits of the early settlers in Australia reflected the countries they came from. It was a diet perfectly acceptable and liked by them, the only problem was that it wasn’t appropriate for the Australian climate.
Based on the need of calories of a colder European climate, heavy on meat consumption, narrow in the variety of veggies which can grow well in a cold climate, calorie dense warming dishes which required a lot of cooking over fireplaces used also to generate warmth and light in kitchens which rarely saw the light of the sun.
In Australia crops and vegetables of many varieties grow and flourish, and it is no wonder that with the coming of settlers (which we now call migrants) familiar with a more varied, less heavy diet the change inevitably happened. The rest is history.

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Also born in 1953, I came here in 1959 as a Dutch migrant. I have my dad’s memoir of that time describing just how bad the English food we were given in the migrant hostels was, and how happy we were when our mother was able to cook good Dutch food. “Bring a plate” was part of Mum’s experience (only once, obviously).

Things we were used to were difficult to get and we looked forward to the parcels we received from the Netherlands which included the things we hankered after, especially salted licorice!

There were some German butchers around so we could get staples: pork, Gelderse worst (very hard to find now) which was essential for pea/ham soup, and bloedworst (black pudding, also hard to find now unless you downgrade to English!) Aah. The memories.

I remember going to Cahills in Park Street, Sydney, in the '60s for schnitzels and European food. That then led to Italian (when Cabramatta was an Italian suburb) through Lebanese and then to Vietnamese. What a fabulous journey.

I have an email from a late '60s school friend who still remembers the Dutch spice cake (peperkoek) I used to bring to school, as a sandwich. (Ironically, he was Hungarian).

I became a teacher, as was my wife. We taught in Sydney so the connections with migrant communities were always there. Their generosity always amazes us, especially when it came to food. Too many stories to tell.

In the '80s, we adopted a daughter from Sri Lankan which opened up even more cuisines. We’ve now lived in Indonesia (glorious food) and have spent a lot of time in South East Asia. What delicious food that entails. But so many of those cuisines are now available in Australia.

Again ironically, I’ve just come from a community gathering at the local Chinese, which has been here since at least 1982. Very Australian Chinese, in contrast to our experience in SE Asia, but still quite palatable.

The journey has been incredible. The burgeoning of different flavours as our migrants have sought their own flavours and spices has only added to our beautiful rich culture.

Thank god.


The 1952 riot at Bonegilla was mainly caused by the lack of work for immigrants, but the rioters also protested about the quality of the food. It was called the “spaghetti riot” because Italians emptied plates of (presumably tinned) spaghetti at the door of the camp director’s quarters. After the 1952 riot, Italian cooks were appointed to the Italian sections of the camp, with special supplies of fish, macaroni, spaghetti, salt, tomato puree, olive oil, garlic, and coffee. This caused a certain amount of outrage among “old Australians” and letters to the newspapers showed little sympathy for the plight of the new arrivals.


As kids, we were principally brought up on ‘meat and three vege’, with a trip to a local restaurant with ‘exotic’ cuisines for a extremely special occasion. There was ‘Witches’ restaurant at Ithaca and a French restaurant at New Market I can recall going to.

My father however cooked pizzas (inc. making bases) from time to time. Mum would cook lasagna and fried rice as well. I used to love lasagna and it was my called for birthday dinner each year.

We had family friends which had migrated from overseas which would also cook traditional dishes when we visited. Going to their houses were memorable experiences.

Going to university and travelling changed the foods we regularly eat. At university going out meant getting a cheap ‘feed’ before heading out to ‘paint the town red’. Cheap feeds were family run Indian, (western style) Chinese, Thai, Lebanese, Greek and Italian. We also mingled with post grads who came from all corners of the globe, and wanting to share food culture with those who were interested. This led to an enormous broadening of food tastes.

Traveling overseas and living in China further altered our tastes where now ‘meat and three vege’ meals in our house are a rarity. We consume home made meals using recipes from all around the world.

I am truly thankful for Australia being multicultural and those who have migrated to our country. No only have they brought their own tastes/cuisines and food culture, many have also now started speciality supermarkets to allow home cooks to get the ingredients necessary for exploring the tastes of the world.


As a high school student in the early 60s my epiphany came courtesy of a class-mate who invited me to her home for lunch. Her parents were Greek immigrants and her Grandmother cooked us a wonderful lunch with the most delicious salad I had ever eaten.
It was dressed with olive oil and lemon juice at a time when the only olive oil in our house was a small bottle purchased from the chemist and used for ear-ache and the only salad dressing was ‘mayonaise’ made from condensed milk.
The experience changed everything I knew about food and set me on a lifetime of experimenting and trying new cuisines and my life has been the better for it.