Culture is multi-dimensional. If you are in Australia and you want to experience, say, what it feels like to be in China, munching on Sichuan food won’t be enough. You need to have the entire atmosphere around you. Chinese architecture, Chinese practices, and even the actual Chinese people.
That’s the reason cultural enclaves are awesome. They provide a multi-dimensional, 360-degree feel of a foreign lifestyle. The sights, the sounds, the feel, and even the smell. At the same, they provide foreigners a way to continue their way of life in an alien land.
And since Australia is mostly a patchwork of European and Asian migrants, it boasts of ethnic enclaves that are awe-inspiring and worth the bus tickets. Here are five of them, found in Sydney and Melbourne, in case you miss life back home or you just want to have a culturally charged experience.
Where: Haymarket, between Central Station and Darling Harbour
Chinatowns are undoubtedly the most common cultural enclave, as there close to 35 of these little Chinas in many parts of the world. Twelve of these are in Australia alone, the biggest of which is in Sydney, although it is smaller compared to most Chinatowns in other countries. it is smacked between skyscrapers, giving it a post-modern vibe.
The food, however, is an entirely different story. Here you can feast on the traditional Chinese fares such us hotpots, handmade egg noodles, shrimp dumplings, chicken feet (that’s not a typo), pan-fried green onion pancakes, the famous Peking ducks, and many more. The stalls offering street foods would cook the meal right in front of you as you wait and confusingly salivate whether those crab meat dumplings would go well with beer or sugar cane juice. Indulge in them while surrounded by glowing street lanterns, archways, and oriental architectures and you have got the feel of China in less than an hour drive.
The main event is the weekly Friday Night Market where novelty snacks and funky Asian fashion clothes are being sold by rows upon rows of vendors. Best time and place to test your haggling skills.
Where: Melbourne City Centre, eastern end of Little Bourke St.
Sydney’s Chinatown might be the biggest, but it is in Melbourne where it all started. Established in 1854, it played a pivotal role in setting up the history and culture of the ethnic Chinese immigrants in the country. The Melbourne Chinatown is the noted for being the longest continuous Chinese community in the Western World and the one of the oldest of its kind in Southern Hemisphere.
And that physical history did not go forgotten. The Chinese Museum and Chinatown Visitor Centre contains photographs, documents, and sculptures representing the lives of the first Chinese people in the country. The five-floor building showcases Australian-Chinese heritage at its best.
After you satisfied your hunger for history and information, you can also gratify your gastronomical pursuits here. Much like its cousin back in Sydney, Melbourne’s Chinatown is a food haven. Feast on yum cha’s, shark’s fin dumplings, crispy duck, seafood fresh from the tank, roast ducks, wontons, and many more. Whether you are looking for Sichuan, Jiangsu, or Cantonese, they have it.
And the annual Chinese New Year here is huge party. Big crowds, dancing dragons, street performances, music, and more food. Their New Year beats everybody else’s New Year every time.
Where: Haymarket on Campbell Street, to the east of George Street.
Over the past few years, Thai food is gaining recognition on the international scale, being recognized alongside Filipino, Korean, and Vietnamese cuisine. But here in Campbell Street, it is very much a live for a decade and a half now. Established in 2000, Thai Town has been the epicenter of Thai culture in Australia. And it is only logical, since Sydney has the highest concentration of Thai population in the country.
Though not as expansive and complex as Chinatown up there in west of George Street, this conglomeration of Thai restaurants, food stalls, groceries, and video stores is a lively haven for Thai residents, foodies, and Thai culture enthusiasts. Splurge on the traditional Thai treats such as pad thai (fried noodles), tom yum goong (spicy shrimp soup), gaeng keow wan kai (green chicken curry), and tom kha kai (chicken in coconut soup), and then wash it down with either cha yen (coconut milk tea) or Thai beer.
A simple tip here: if you somehow get lost with all these choices and do not know where to start, get your cue from the Thais themselves. Go to where the lines are the longest, as they know which foods is worth the bang for your buck.
Where: Lygon Street, Carlton
Not all enclaves in Oz has an Asian vibe. For those looking for something more European, there’s the Little Italy along Lygon Street between Gratton Street and Argyle Place North. In this small strip of the street runs the many ristorantes, trattorias, pizzerias, enotecas, and tavernas, each serving old-school Italian delicacies like pastas, insalatas, pizza, risottos, porchettas, cheeses, pastries, sorbetos, and of course, coffee. It is believed to be the place where Melbourne’s café culture began.
But the draw of this strip of Italian joins isn't limited to food alone, as it captures what it’s like to grab a meal in Rome’s Via Margutta (without the overly narrow roadway of course). The lines of tents, the crowd mumbling their orders, greetings, and conversations, and the trees providing warmth in otherwise chilly nights.
If you are done satisfying your palate, you may also shop along the 28 specialty stores found here including Country Road, Forza Italia Melbourne, Alberto Piazza Shoes, Silk Lane Boutique, and yes, they have Woolworths here, too. Or if consuming art films, indie movies, documentaries, and foreign flicks are your thing, Cinema Nova has all of those for you.
Where: Eastern end of Lonsdale Street, Melbourne city centre.
No. Greek Precinct isn’t a place in Melbourne where uproarious Greeks go to be confined. Rather, this lively little town smacked in the city centre is where Greeks and other people alike go to enjoy Greece’s best treats and offerings.
Melbourne, known to cradle people of diverse cultural background, is also home to the largest Greek population of any city in the world outside Greece. So it only make sense that they establish a piece of their country here. You can find here restaurants, book stores, record shops, bars, jewelry stores, and shoe shops all offering Greek products. The towering Greek Centre is the centerpiece of all these with its functions, exhibitions, performances, and educational events all showcasing Greek culture.
And after have indulged in these displays, you may satisfy your tummies next in the many estiatorios, psistarias, ouzeries, and tavernas lining the street. Here, you can sample Greek and Mediterranean foods like eliopsomo (bread with olives), garides saganak (shrimp in spicy tomato sauce), fakes (lentil soup), bamies (okra with tomato sauce), chtapodi sti schara (grilled octopus in vinegar), moussaka (eggplant-based dish), tzatziki (greek sauce served with grilled meats) and many more. You may wash them down with beer, ouzo (an alcoholic drink), ouzito (the Greeks' answer to mojito) or good old Greek wine.